Toronto Star: Bee deaths linked to insecticides, Health Canada data show for second year

By:  News, Published on Sun Sep 29 201Early results from government tests on dead bees this spring and summer show levels of controversial pesticides are comparable with those detected last year, when Health Canada declared a link between the seed-coating chemicals and “unusually high” bee deaths, the Star has learned.

The news represents stronger evidence that types of neonicotinoids — a class of insecticides that act on the nervous system — lathered on corn and soy seeds are contributing to reported bee declines, say beekeepers and environmentalists who want the substances banned in Canada.

“To see it happen two years consecutively in documented reports . . . is not surprising to beekeepers,” said Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association. “We knew something was wrong for years.”

The latest neonicotinoid data were collected from sites in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec for an ongoing study by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), agency spokesperson Sean Upton said in an email. The preliminary results show the presence of neonicotinoids in 75 per cent of 102 dead bee samples examined as of Aug. 29, according to the document obtained by the Star.

Last year, the PMRA found neonicotinoids in 70 per cent of 127 samples, prompting the government to release a “mitigation strategy” to reduce bee exposure to these insecticides. The report suggested bees are getting in contact with neonicotinoids through contaminated dust emitted when pesticide-coated corn and soy seeds are planted.

“This year should have been much, much different,” said Sierra Club Canadaexecutive director John Bennett. “From the reports I’m getting, it could even be worse than last year.”

On Sept. 13, based on the preliminary results from this year’s study, the PMRA announced that current corn and soy planting practices are “not sustainable,” Health Canada said Friday. The agency has also declared its intention to institute “protective measures” for bees. These include mandatory use of dust-reducing lubricants for planting machines and new label requirements for neonicotinoid products.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has also recognized the link between bee deaths and neonicotinoids, releasing a statement Wednesday that her government is working to “raise farmers’ awareness” about alternatives to these seed-coating insecticides.

According to the Grain Farmers of Ontario, neonicotinoids are coated on virtually all corn seeds planted in the province. Crop science companies Bayer and Sygenta are the main manufacturers of the insecticides, while opponents of a ban say there isn’t enough evidence at this point to support a ban or suspension in Canada.

At the same time, pressure has been mounting on the government to address beekeepers’ concerns about neonicotinoids, particularly since the European Union announced a two-year moratorium on the chemicals in April.

The OBA and Sierra Club are circulating petitions calling for a neonicotinoid ban — the OBA’s has more than 41,000 signatures — while the National Farmers Union’s Ontario branch wants a five-year moratorium, beginning in the 2014 planting season.

Although other factors have been identified as potential causes of bee deaths, including habitat loss and parasites, recent reports have fingered neonicotinoids as at least a contributing force.

report released this week by the Xerces Society, an American non-profit for invertebrate conservation, called the chemicals “cause for concern,” concluding neonicotinoid variants used for corn and soy seeds are “highly toxic” to bees.

The PMRA is in the process of an “expedited” joint re-evaluation of neonicotinoid use with the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.

The estimated bee population in Canada has fallen by 35 per cent over the past three years, according to the Canadian Honey Council.