Toronto Star Editorial: Ontario bees need swift action to save them from killer insecticides

The humble honey bee and its cousins play a vital role in Canada’s agricultural industry, pollinating $2-billion worth of fruit and vegetables every year. They help provide 30 per cent of the food on our dinner plates and 90 per cent of trees, flowers and other wild plants.

Yet as the Star’s Raveena Aulakh reports, Ontario bees are under threat. They are dying in large numbers and the loss is devastating.

While it’s true that bee populations have been struggling with poor nutrition, bacteria and parasites, in Ontario they’re now reacting as well to powerful corn insecticides called neonicotinoids and the dust that can be raised when treated corn seeds are planted. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food says there were roughly 200 cases last year of “likely acute poisoning” involving honey bee hives after nearby farmers planted corn seed coated with the chemicals. Additional losses this spring confirm that the bees continue to face a toxic burden. Something needs to be done — and fast.

Health Canada is currently “re-evaluating” the insecticides, along with American experts, but others have already acted. The European Union imposed a two-year moratorium to study the damage posed by the pesticides. While the moratorium was controversial, it speaks to the urgency of the issue.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, Sierra Club Canada and the Green Party are pushing for a federal ban. “It’s like a game of roulette now . . . nothing stops the bees from being in contact with the pesticides,” says association spokesperson Tibor Szabo. Corn farmers will have a different view. Still, apart from an outright ban, there are measures that can protect bees in the short term.

As the Ontario agriculture ministry suggests, farmers should inform local beekeepers about their planting dates, so that they can shield their hives. Planting can be done early in the morning when bees are less likely to be foraging. Or on days when the wind is low and dust doesn’t blow. It’s called old-fashioned co-operation.

We still need more science on this issue. But sheer common sense can mitigate the damage and let bees get on with their useful lives. Read