Saving bees from chemical death: Peterborough Examiner

In the eyes of bee lovers, a member of our ecosystem, who helps to put food on our table, might be getting a helping hand from us, for a change.

On Monday, Peterborough MPP and Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal announced a plan to have the Ontario government restrict the use of pesticides linked to bee deaths.

"Our intention is to move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides," Leal said in his statement Monday.

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides taken up by the plant from the seed and transported to all the tissues.

According to beekeepers and scientific studies, the plants become poisonous to the pollinator and have been associated with colony collapse disorder and death among bees.

In the coming months, Leal said he plans to consult with industry, farmers and environmental stakeholders to discuss practical options including the consideration of a license system.

In an interview Thursday, Leal told The Examiner he would "move forward in a balanced and transparent manner based on science."

Leal said he recognizes the crucial roles both pollinators and growers play in our sector.

Leal's move is already facing criticism.

Restricting a common but controversial pesticide blamed for the deaths of millions of bees could deliver a $630-million sting to Ontario corn and soybean farmers, a new study warns, QMI Agency reports.

And if those two big cash-crop groups re hit, consumers could also feel a welt in their wallets for food basics as the law of supply and demand kicks in. In yet another sign the debate about neonicotinoids and the collapse of bee colonies is only growing, the Conference Board of Canada costed the fallout of restrictions on using the family of pesticides in a study paid for by the Grain Farmers of Ontario and CropLife Canada, a pest-control industry group.

The Ontario agro-food sector brings in $34 billion in gross domestic product and employs 740,000 Ontarians, which Leal said goes to show the impact the agro-food sector has on the economy.

Health Canada is currently conducting studies and gathering information on the impact of the neonicotinoid pesticides on bees and, as agriculture minster Leal, said it is his responsibility to do the same.

He said he would be "consulting widely" with everyone that has a real interest on an important issue.

The MPP said decisions related to implementation wouldn't be made until the first process is complete, allowing time for the industry to approve the plan and transition before the 2015 planning season.

Canada Research chairman Dr. Dennis Murray said he is pleased steps are being taken to investigate the issue.

"It's absolutely commendable for this government to be taking this initiative," said Murray.

Ontario is the first province to make an announcement regarding a plan to restrict the harmful pesticides.

Murray, who teaches population ecology and conservation biology at Trent University, said he thinks it's about time North America stopped "dragging their butts" when it comes to its approach in handling our bee decline.

Murray made the statement in reference to a two-year partial ban on three kinds of neonicotinoid pesticides put into effect by the European Commission in May 2013.

"Studies show that in areas where these pesticides are being used, 30% of the bee population dies annually," said Murray.

Murray went on to say that at that level of decline, bees cannot replace themselves.

He explained that a general principle in environmental science research, called a precautionary principle, should be applied in this situation.

A precautionary principle takes a conservative approach when uncertain of possible damage being caused, until results can be proven.

"Thirty per cent certainly justifies precautionary principle," said Murray.

Murray said he felt that many people might not know the importance of bees in our ecosystem. He explained that fewer bees cause a lower level of pollination, leading to lower seed production, which equals less food.

With the partial ban in Europe having been in action for more than a year, Murray said it has been reported that the bee population is starting to recover.

Beekeeper Ian Critchell moved from a home he had been living in for more than a decade to provide a better life, away from pesticide use, for his bees.

"I moved for a clean and safe habitat for my bees," said Critchell.

The beekeeper relocated north of Havelock from Whitby two years ago after seeing too many of his bees die from "obvious chemical deaths."

By moving away from the agricultural sector that was costing Critchell his bees, it also has cost him financially.

Critchell's bees were used throughout 25 farms in Whitby, Durham, Peterborough, Northumberland and Peterborough.

"Renting bees pays well" but it was killing them faster than they could reproduce, said Critchell.

Critchell has been a beekeeper for more than 35 years, and it's something he said he will always do.

He now runs a much smaller operation or a "simplified life" of raising bees, selling queens and creating product.

"There's no point in keeping bees where they're being poisoned every day," said Critchell.

The beekeeper said he understands the agricultural need for pesticides, but said he like to see neonicotinoids banned - although he said he fears they could be replaced by something worse.

The only way he said he felt he could keep on doing what he "loves" is by to relocating to an area void of cash cropping.

"Eventually it breaks you and you move away, that's where I was at," said Critchell.

Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario Bee Association, said the pesticides are "flat out being abused."

Seeds can be purchased with or without the treatment of pesticides, Davidson said, but are sold at the same price, with fewer varieties of the untreated seed.

The association would like seeds to be sold untreated, he said, with farmers purchasing insecticides themselves if needed, and sold at separate price points.

When sold at the same price, farmers are more likely to purchase the seed already including a pesticide than to purchase one without, because they would have the additional cost of buying the pesticide, said Davidson.

The association reported more than 4.2 million acres of cropland in Ontario were treated with neonicotinoids last year.

"It doesn't need to be used like this," Davidson said.

Davidson said crop experts have reported that only 10 to 20% of corn acreage need pesticides.

"If neonics were used where they were needed, everyone could get along," said Davidson.

As an alternative, the OBA suggests farmers use a pyrethroid insecticide, which breaks down within 24 hours, instead of neonicotnoids, which have long-lasting effects.

"One third of the food we eat is directly related to pollination. Bees are doing 80%, and climbing, of that work," said Davidson.

"Without bees we're not going to have our fruits and veggies, or a balanced diet. We can't live off rice," he said.

Einstein said that four to five years after the bees go, humans will too, Davidson said.

While he said admits he doesn't think it will be that quick, "it'll happen" Davidson said.

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