The Post: Elmwood beekeeper experiencing die-offs already

The first pollen of the season has brought some frightening sights for a local beekeeper.

Dead and dying bees are already showing up at his bee yards and Dave Schuit of Saugeen Country Honey in Elmwood said Friday it is a clear sign the neonicotinoid pesticides used on crop seeds are in the soil, water and plants.

"We believe it is in the soil, it is in the water," Schuit said from a bee yard near Elmwood where he was gathering dead bees. "The pussy willows are starting to come out, they are drawing up water and the pesticide goes up with it."

Schuit said the yard he was at Friday was the second one this spring where dead bees were found in the hundreds and thousands.

In both instances Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has been contacted to do tests on the insects. The bees had pollen on them and the wings were flared forward, a sign of acute pesticide poisoning, Schuit said.

"Just because we see some bees here that are dying, what about the bees that are not making it back?" said Schuit. "I am seeing a couple hundred here, but it is several thousand. It is just that they are not in front of the hive, the bees are not making it back."

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticide used on crop and vegetable seeds. They have recently been linked to colony collapse disorder, a blight that has impacted beekeepers since at least 2006.

Some scientists and insecticide companies have also suggested that mites are to blame for the bee deaths.

Schuit said 2012 was the first time he started noticing major bee kills at his hives.

"I have, over the last two years, lost over 65 million bees," he said. "I cannot sustain this."

Schuit said he should have about 2,000 hives in 35 yards in an area that stretches from Ayton to Scone. He doesn't know if he will have enough bees to operate 800 hives.

"I believe it is reverseable, but I am looking at five or six years before we see a great improvement," said Schuit.

A Health Canada spokesperson referred a reporter to a statement on the Health Canada website that was updated Thursday about the government agency's planned action on neonicotinoid pesticides.

The statement says new measures have been implemented this year to address the problems of exposure of bees during planting of treated corn and soybean seeds. The measures include safer planting practices and new labels with enhanced warnings.

Health Canada has also asked for additional information to support the continued need for neonicotinoid treatment on corn and soybean seed.

"Results of these measures to protect bees from exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides will be closely monitored as the 2014 planting season progresses," the statement says. "Pending the outcome of these measures we will consider if any further actions may be necessary."

The measures are in response to a notice of intent to protect bees from exposure to neonicotinoids by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

The Health Canada statement said a very high number of comments were submitted in response to the NOI consultation. Just under 90% of the respondents supported taking further action, including a ban or moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

"Health Canada shares Canadians' concern regarding the importance of and need for a healthy bee and pollinator population," the statement says. "We are working with regulatory authorities around the world to understand any potential impacts this class of insecticides may be having on bees."

A re-evaluation of neonicotinoids in collaboration with the United States Environmental Protection Agency has been accelerated and an interim report is expected by 2015, the statement says.

Sara Lauer, a Health Canada media relations officer, confirmed via e-mail Friday that Health Canada has received reports of bee deaths in southwestern Ontario this spring.

"Per normal procedure, these bee mortalities will be assessed to determine if there is any relationship with pesticide exposure," Lauer wrote. "These reports originate from similar locations as previous years."

Schuit said the measures being introduced don't go far enough.

"What they are doing is a Band-Aid that won't stick," said Schuit. "The outright ban is the only solution."

Schuit, who has posted videos of the bee kills at his hives on the Saugeen Country Honey Facebook page, said he isn't the only beekeeper experiencing the massive bee die-offs. There are reports of similar incidents across southern Ontario.

On Tuesday, an Oxford County beekeeper reported a massive bee kill at one of his operations near the community of Norwich. The bees showed signs of neonicotinoid poisoning.

Schuit said many beekeepers choose not to report die-offs because many have crop insurance and reporting die-offs can void that.

The issue is an extremely serious one for society as a whole, Schuit said.

"This is also going to be killing the native bees, it is going to kill all pollinators," he said. "When we have no pollinators left, there is no chocolate, there is no coffee, there is no fruit and vegetables.

"We can live without pork, we can live without honey, but we cannot live without pollinators."

Schuit is also concerned about the impact neonicotinoids have on the health of humans.

"It's in our water, it's in our food, it's in our drinks," said Schuit. "I don't know where it is not.

"You can't help but think it is going up the chain. The pollinators are blowing the whistle by their death."