Canadian beekeepers welcome EU neonicotinoid pesticide ban

The European Union’s decision to ban a class of insecticides that potentially threaten bees is welcome news, says the president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association.


Late last month, the EU announced a two year ban on three popular neonicotinoids, which are primarily applied as insecticidal treatments to crops on millions of acres around the world.


The three products are thiamethoxam, a Syngenta product commonly known as Cruiser, and two Bayer insecticides, clothianidin and imidacloprid.


The ban represents a positive step forward, said Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario association, which has been lobbying for similar restrictions in Canada.


“I would describe it as pleased that someone is taking action on these (insecticides),” said Davidson.


The EU ruling will likely amplify beekeeper, public and environmental group demands for a ban in North America, he added.


Davidson said he wasn’t concerned about neonicotinoids until last spring, when apiarists discovered thousands of dead bees in their bee yards. Beekeepers suspected that dust from corn planters had blown onto plants and flowers near bee yards. 


A subsequent Pest Management Regulatory Agency investigation confirmed that corn seeds treated with clothianidin or thiamethoxam “contributed to the majority of the bee mortalities” last spring.


Davidson submitted dead bee samples from 10 bee yards and every sample came back positive for clothianidin. The experience altered his perspective on neonicotinoids.


“I had a conversation last year with a reporter and I wasn’t worried about seed treatments. That’s how quickly my mind has changed on these things,” he said. 


“We’ve seen dead bees in front of our hives before during planting time. But we didn’t realize what it was…. Last spring was the first spring we kind of connected the dots.”


The Ontario association is also lobbying for independent research on the threat to soil and water health.


“The long-term effect of applying water-soluble (neonicotinoids) on soil and the water table is not known,” the association noted on its website.


It also wants scientists to study alternatives to neonic seed treatments, such as integrated pest management and the use of less toxic pesticides.


“We’re looking for these (chemicals) to be replaced, for sure,” Davidson said.


The EU ban is based on scientific studies suggesting that neonicotinoids hamper bees’ ability to forage, hinder colony reproduction and have a detrimental impact on bee brain functions. 


The European decision follows a vote in March when EU member states rejected a neonic ban. 


The European Commission will impose the restrictions despite the vote. According to Reuters, the two-year ban will apply to all crops except winter cereals and crops that aren’t attractive to bees, beginning Dec. 1, 2013. 


Peter Kevan, a University of Guelph entomologist who heads up Canpolin, a Canadian research network on pollinators, said in March that such a ban is premature. 


“There’s very little evidence to say that neonicotinoids, in a very general sense, in a broad scale sense, have been a major component in the demise of honeybees or any other pollinators, anywhere in the world.”



Kevan said neonicotinoid seed treatments have likely damaged bee colonies in specific incidents, such as the case in Ontario last spring. However, such incidents do not represent a systemic agricultural risk to bees, he said.


Corey Bacon, a beekeeper from Kinistino, Sask., said the situation in Western Canada is different from that in Ontario. Seed treatment of canola doesn’t present as much of a risk as does coating corn with insecticides. Corn seeds have an irregular shape so it’s more likely that insecticidal dust will blow off the seed during planting. 


“Given the vast amount of canola seed … that is treated … so far I’m not sure if we’re seeing evidence of damage (to bees),” said Bacon, who is president of the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association.


Regardless, more evidence suggests there is a link between neonics and bee health, said Bacon, who is worried about the long-term risk of insecticide accumulation in the soil.


“If there are issues with the neonics causing issues in the soil … then definitely the (beekeeping) industry is concerned about that.”

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  1. John Harding on

    Look at the facts;

    France banned neo-nicotinoids in 2008 and yet the honeybee decline continues.

    Laborotary tests were overdosed with pesticides, however an opinion was formulated so an assumption was made to what is happening in the wild.

    When field tests were done it was found to be inconclusive.

    Pollen tested from beehives near to neo-nic`s,, only a millionth of a millionth was found on a pollen grain, this is not enough to give any honeybee an upset stomach rather than kill 80,000 honeybees in my colonies

    If it was neo-nic`s it would be local, within 2 miles, to that area where it is grown, not widespread across continents.

    My colonies are by and where pesticides are used and yet my honeybee colonies are NOT dying.

    The paracitic varroa mite is the key reason for the honeybee demise.

    There is one other phenonmena that kills or saves honeybees but allow the honeybee to control varroa mites.

    I have that answer. It has taken over 20 years of my 33 years beekeeping carear to find.

    John Harding

    • Bill on

      First of all there are no studies proving these neurotoxins are safe for bees except the short flawed studies conducted by Bayer. You claim bee declines in France continues when actually there is a significant improvement. Since no one knows if there is such a thing as a safe neonicotinoid dose for honeybees your millionth of a millionth theory doesn’t hold water either. As a beekeeper you should be asking for proof that these products are safe not proof that they are not!

    • Albert on

      This is from PMRA’s 2004 conditional registration document on Clothianadin.
      6.2.2 Terrestrial organisms
      6.2.2.1 Non-target terrestrial invertebrates
      Clothianidin is very highly toxic to honey bees, with a 48-hour acute oral LD50 of 0.00368 μg a.i./bee (= 3.68 ng a.i./bee). The transformation products TMG, MNG, TZMU and TZNG, however, were of relatively lower toxicity to the honey bees. Field or semi- field studies conducted in Sweden, the United Kingdom, France and Germany as well as in Ontario (Canada) and Minnesota (United States) indicated that there were no significant impacts on honey bees compared with the controls. All of the field/semi-field studies, however, were found to be deficient in design and conduct of the studies and were, therefore, considered as supplemental information only. Moreover, the results of most of the studies indicated that residues of clothianidin, when used as a canola (rapeseed) seed treatment insecticide, were expressed in pollen and nectar of the crop plants (or collected from foraging bees) in concentrations which exceed the measured
      Regulatory Note – REG2004-06 Page 31

      6.2.2.2
      acute oral LD50 to the honey bee. The effects on honey bee hives from chronic/long-term exposure to clothianidin residues are unknown. It should also be noted that clothianidin is very persistent in soil, with high carry-over of residues to the next growing season. Clothianidin is also mobile in soil.
      Given the foregoing, the risk that clothianidin seed treatment may pose to honey bees and other pollinators cannot be fully assessed, owing to the lack of sufficient information and data. Clothianidin may pose a risk to honey bees and other pollinators, if exposure occurs via pollen and nectar of crop plants grown from treated seeds.
      1 adult honeybee weighs approx 100mg so with a 3.68ppb LD50, 1 single gram would kill 25 metric tonnes of bees or 250,000,000.

  2. I don’t have the technical background of the other commenters, I don’t farm or beekeep. But I am a concerned citizen. I find the last sentence of the story particularly disturbing

    “If there are issues with the neonics causing issues in the soil … then definitely the (beekeeping) industry is concerned about that.”
    Shouldn’t the entire food industry be concerned? They make it sound like ‘beekeepers would be concerned’, but if I remember my grade school teachings, bees pollinate an awful lot of food producing crops. If they all die, don’t we follow?

    • “If they all die, don’t we follow?”

      No.

      In fact, honey bees are not even native to North America. They did not exist in N. America until Europeans brought them here. Plants still got pollinated.

      • Ian: Bumblebees and other pollinators are dying off as well.
        Albert Einstein was quoted as saying:” If the bees diasppear from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.
        No more bees, no more pollination…no more men.”
        However, I did read somewhere that they hand pollinate now where they wiped out their pollinators.

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