Insecticide crackdown not enough to save bees: OBA

The Ontario Beekeepers Association is accusing the federal government of not going far enough in regard to a series of recently-announced measures aimed at curtailing a drastic rise in bee deaths.

Tibor Szabo, the OBA’s 1st vice president, told that despite the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s announcement Friday focusing on a tightening of rules in respect to the use of  neonicotinoid seed treatments, the plan as currently written is nowhere near sufficient.

Some of the protective measures for corn and soybeans – which the PMRA hopes to have in place for the  2014 season - are set to include requiring the use of safer dust-reducing seed flow lubricants; requiring adherence to safer seed planting practices; requiring new pesticide and seed package labels with enhanced warnings; and, requiring updated value information be provided to support the continued need for neonicotinoid treatment on up to 100% of the corn seed and 50% of the soybean seed.

“I’m concerned with the continuing emphasis focusing only on seeding dust as the cause of the pesticide bee kills. Has anyone ever actually traced all of the Neonic’s found on dead bees, stored pollen and water sources to the dust at planting time? Is there any real evidence to support this assumption?” said Szabo, adding that another relevant cause is water and soil contamination, which can be linked to pollen and nectar due to mobility dynamics.

“Since 80 to 90% of active ingredients do not enter the target crop and that NNI’s are persistent and water soluble, it seems to me that this source is more likely at the core of a number of bee losses. And yet this isn’t addressed or queried anywhere in the release of intent notice,” he said.

“This selective concentration on one aspect of the environmental mobility serves only to limit discussion and the development of appropriate science-based policy and responsive programs.”

The drastic drop in bee populations was first noticed by the Association more than three years ago, said Szabo, adding it was instantly-alarming in that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate 80 percent of flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything humans eat.

“Bees are of inestimable value as agents of cross-pollination, and many plants are entirely dependent on particular kinds of bees for their reproduction.

“In early May of 2010 we observed several hundred dying and dead bees on the ground in front of some of the colonies. They displayed the typical signs of insecticide poisoning; many were dead while others were on their backs with their legs twitching and proboscis extended. By late July, six colonies displayed dying brood and dwindling population. We were puzzled as to what was causing this since traditionally no insecticides were used in the area.”

Further, Szabo claims the use of such insecticides has not produced a greater yield for farmers, citing the work of American entomologist Christian Krupke. He also wondered what the government was prepared to do to help affected beekeepers.

“It is important to recognize that healthy comb is a significant business asset, essential to any commercial beekeeping operation. How am I, or any other beekeeper, supposed to maintain our livelihood in the face of widespread contamination?” he said. “Someone needs to be held responsible for these losses. I’d like to know what is PMRA’s position on beekeeper compensation?”

For its part, Health Canada is currently looking for comment on its report (which can be found here) through Dec. 12th, stating “Health Canada's PMRA applies a science-based approach to regulate pesticides. We continue to review new scientific information as it becomes available and we will take additional action as needed, at any time, to further protect health and the environment.”

Representatives from the Sun Parlor Congdon Apiaries in Cottam and the Essex County Farmers Association were unavailable for comment. Read