Norfolk drawn into neonicotinoid debate

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SIMCOE - Norfolk County has been drawn into the crossfire between beekeepers who want a family of pesticides banned and farmers who say the pesticides are safe and beneficial to agriculture.

The ongoing debate over neonicotinoids and bee colony mortality arrived in the council chamber last week when Dave Bowen, president of the Haldimand-Norfolk Beekeepers Association, asked council to ban the use of neonicotinoids on county property.

Beekeepers are convinced neonicotinoids play a pivotal role in killing bees. Beekeepers have been desperately searching for causes of bee mortality in recent years due to accelerating rates of colony collapse.

Meanwhile, agricultural groups say there is no conclusive evidence neonicotinoids are at fault.

“Send a message to the world from Ontario’s Garden to 'bee careful’,” Bowen said in his presentation.

Neonicotinoids are applied to seed grain. They protect seeds in the ground from insects while they prepare to germinate.

Beekeepers claim neonicotinoidal dust from treated seed finds its way onto plants that bees feed on. As well, some neonicotinoids persist in plants as they mature, serving as a toxin for insects that come in contact with them.

Kevin Lichach, Norfolk’s general manager of community services, said the county uses few if any neonicotinoids in the care and upkeep of county property. Council asked Lichach to investigate further and report back on where – if at all – neonicotinoids are used within the corporation.

Ontario beekeepers are on a campaign to restrict the market for neonicotinoids at the municipal level. Prince Edward County, for one, has already declared a moratorium on their use.

Bowen cited research which suggests neonicotinoids affect bees at the neurological level. The pesticide, he said, appears to confuse bees and makes them forgetful. Bees, he said, fly off in search of nectar and then forget how to get back to the hive.

Council was served with conflicting information last Tuesday night.

Bowen said neonicotinoids are responsible for hive mortality rates in Norfolk as high as 90%.

Meanwhile, council fielded an information circular from agricultural organizations representing 28,000 farm families in Ontario. The groups cite Statistics Canada information which says the number of bee colonies in Ontario has risen 60% since 2003, the year neonicotinoid seed treatment was introduced.

“Honey production has increased 29% in the past year, and Ontario has a successful honey beekeeping industry which earned $30 million in 2014,” said the document, which is sponsored by the Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Granola Growers and the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers among others. “The fact is most bee experts agree that the top health issues for honey bees are parasites, diseases, inadequate nutrition, adverse weather and hive management practices.”

Monte Sonnenberg

519-426-3528 ext. 529150