Ontario seeks to restrict pesticides linked to bee deaths

Many beekeepers blame the use of pesticides for the increase in bee deaths over the past few years. Devin Sauer / Global News

TORONTO – In a nationwide first, Ontario’s Liberal government confirmed on Monday that it is seeking to become the first province to restrict the use of pesticides linked to bee deaths around the globe.

Neonicotinoids – or neonics – are sprayed on almost all corn and canola seeds. It’s also widely believed to cause bee colony collapse disorder, killing large numbers of bees by disorienting them, interfering with their homing abilities and making them vulnerable to other diseases.

Many beekeepers feel neonics’ blanket use is unnecessary and have been calling for restrictions or an outright ban on the pesticide.

READ MORE: Garden centre flowers test positive for pesticide harmful to bees, study

Bees pollinate an estimated three-quarters of the world’s crops.

Ontario’s provincial government formed the Bee Health Working Group in July of last year ways to mitigate the risk to honey bees from exposure to seeds treated with neonics. One of the options it’s considering, according to a story by the Globe and Mail, is to only allow its use by farmers who need it to battle pests in their fields. These farmers would need provincial approval to use the pesticide.

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Last year the European Union voted to ban the use of neonics for two years beginning Dec. 1, 2013.

On June 27 a 50-scientist task force released a study finding that neonics are contributing not only to bee losses around the world, but to the demise of other insects, such as butterflies.

WATCH: ‘Neonic’ pesticides killing bees, harming environment: scientists

“We’ll be looking at a very balanced approach based on sound science,” Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal told reporters after Question Period on Monday. “The licensing regimen is just one of the options that may be put on the table.”

“We want to get to the right, responsible position in Ontario, that reflects the important role of pollinators and our grains and seed sectors.”

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Monday’s announcement is welcome news for Tibor Szabo, vice-president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, who estimates he’s lost about 50 per cent of his colonies within the past year.

“The beekeepers are very, very positive about the announcement,” he said.

According to Szabo the cost of one frame of a bee brood – hatchlings – has gone up to $45 compared to about $25 two or three years ago.

But he’s concerned that chemical companies may manipulate the process.

“The risk is that the chemical companies … water it down to a point that it wouldn’t make a difference,” Szabo said.

“We’re going to try our best to not let that happen.”

Szabo said the Liberal government had promised the beekeeping association that if they were re-elected, within six weeks, “They would do this. And they’ve just come through with their election promise.”

Pierre Petelle is vice-president of chemistry at CropLife Canada, an organization that represents developers and manufacturers of pesticides. He’s disappointed in the proposed restriction, arguing it’s unnecessary and will add a layer of bureaucracy to a fast-moving industry.

READ MORE: Study says pesticides killing bees, but some beekeepers don’t want a ban

“We know that neonics are not the root cause of bee health, so any targeted action against this class of chemistry, to us, is ill-advised,” he said. 

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Petelle also believes that it’s difficult for farmers to even know where certain pests may be in their own fields and therefore would make it impossible for them to prove they need it.

Health Canada has been reviewing honey bee mortalities in Ontario and Quebec since 2012, after beekeepers reported large losses that they believed were connected with neonicotinoids used on nearby corn and canola fields.

In April, Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs offered the province’s beekeepers $105 per lost hive to  beekeepers who had 10 more and who lose over 40 per cent of their colonies between Jan. 1, 2014 and Oct. 31, 2014.

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