"Now is not the time to relax" says Meaford beekeeper

By Scott Woodhouse


The Ontario government's announcement Tuesday that it would move to limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is welcome news, but local beekeeper Richard Elzby says the battle is far from over.

Speaking to the Grey County Historical Society at Meaford Hall on Nov. 26, Elzby said neonicotinoids are an ecological catastrophe responsible for killing "bees, butterflies, bats, birds and small mammals."

Elzby said the effects of the pesticide on the food system cannot be underestimated, noting pollinators - mostly bees, but also butterflies and other insects - are responsible for pollinating 70 per cent of the food supply.

"These chemicals kill bees," he said. "There are 800 peer-reviewed, scientific reports condemning these chemicals. Ontario's own Environmental Commissioner, Gordon Miller says they are destroying our ecosystem."

"Well, lets do something about it," said Elzby, who urged people to write their MP, MPP and the Senate with their concerns.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs laid out a three-point initiative Tuesday it says will ensure "healthy ecosystems" and a "productive agricultural sector" while reversing the downward trend of pollinator numbers. 

The strategy includes:

• An 80 per cent reduction in acreage planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017.

• REducing the number of honey bees that die during winter by 15 per cent by 2020.

• Developing a "comprehensive" action plan for pollinator health. 

The ministry will consult with stakeholders on a proposal to reduce neonicotinoid-treated seed, and if the proposal moves forward, new rules will be in place by July 1 - in time for the following years planting season. 

Elzby said it was good to see the provincial government stepping up to the plate, but accused the federal government of "sleeping on," in the face of overwhelming evidence of just how bad this type of chemical is.

"This product's own MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) states it is deadly to bees, aquatic life and small mammals," he said.

Elzby said the chemical companies' standard line is that "it's just a coincidence" every time there is a mass die-off of bees, but a study in Italy showed that bees died within seconds of drinking water in a field that had been planted with seed treated with neonicotinoids. Italy - and the rest of Europe - have completely banned their use, as has the United Kingdom.

The Ontario Provincial Winter Loss Survey, an annual effort to measure the survival rate of bees over winter, found deaths reached a record high 58 per cent last year. Elzby, who says he lost over 50 per cent of his bees in both 2013 and 2014, noted that the rate of loss is over three times the average of all other Canadian provinces and listed numerous other local growers who were suffering heavy losses.

Thomas Dean, who is involved in the local Bee and Butterfly Habitat Initiative,  worried the province was only starting to hold consultations with stakeholders and agreed with Elzby that citizens need to keep up with lobbying efforts.

"If you read the announcement closely, they are not banning them, they are consulting stakeholders," said Dean during a Q and A at the end of Elzby's presentation. "Now is not the time to relax - we need to increase the pressure on the government because you know these companies will be lobbying against it (a ban)."