Ontario grain farmers fight back in neonicotinoid ban debate

Grain Farmers of Ontario is now actively campaigning to preserve insecticide seed treatments after taking a collaborative approach for several months.

The organization sent out postcards to its members in July asking farmers to contact their MP or MPP to stop a potential ban of neonicotinoids in Ontario.

The campaign is a response to efforts by the Ontario Beekeepers Association and environmental groups to persuade the Ontario government to ban neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides primarily used as a seed treatment on corn, soybeans and canola.

Neonicotinoids have been implicated in the deaths of thousands of bees across Ontario. Last year, the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency determined that insecticide-laden dust from corn planters was primarily responsible for bee losses.

John Cowan, GFO’s vice-president of strategic operations, said many stressors are responsible for bee losses, which is why the organization is campaigning for a science based policy on neonics.

“Canada has a great reputation in the world as a science based regulatory system and the PMRA is respected around the world,” Cowan said.

“We think it’s important that we continue to have a science based regulatory system and we need to wait for the scientific results of what the problem is and how we go about fixing it.”

Cowan said his organization is lobbying to prevent a ban because growers could potentially lose three to 20 bushels per acre to insect pressure without neonics.


Bees have become a hot topic in Ontario in the last 15 months. The media and politicians have repeatedly commented on the issue, and it was a central topic at the recent federal-provincial agriculture ministers meeting.

Cowan said a ban is a distinct possibility, given the media and political focus on neonics.

“Yes (it) is because there is a lot of emotion when it comes to the topic,” he said.

“The word ‘chemical’ solicits a lot of emotion.”

Dan Davidson, a corn grower in Watford, Ont., who is also president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, said he supports policy based on science.

Nonetheless, he said that if GFO wants public policy grounded in facts, it should also consider research showing that insecticidal seed treatments do not preserve yields.

“If the neonics need to banned, according to science and research, then (purported) yield benefits need to be proven by science,” he said.


“The trials that have been conducted have not shown significant yield advantages.”

Purdue University entomologists held field trials on corn seed treatments in 2011 and 2012 to measure yield benefits and found no statistically measurable yield gain from neonicotinoid seed treatments.

One possible approach might be to allow growers to use seed treatments only in years when insects are a serious threat to crops.

GFO has asked the Ontario agriculture ministry to look into that question.

“If we actually knew where we needed them and if there are some cases we didn’t need them, farmers are businessmen and they’d have no problem (reducing) their input costs,” Cowan said.

Davidson said it’s reasonable to study more efficient ways to use insecticidal seed treatments. In the meantime, the Ontario government should ban the products.

“We obviously need a science based decision … but there has to be some practicality to this,” he said.


“The simple numbers of samples that PMRA took, of dead bees, in the last two years show considerable poisoning by neonics…. We can’t let this get researched for years while our bees are dying.”

  • Rae

    With any Luck, Monsanto will be develop a seed that not require bees to complete the natural fertilization process. SO—
    In the meantime,lets just kill all the bees, as this will give even more stimulus to Monsanto in their never ending efforts to feed the Planet.

  • Rae

    Everybody knows that Global Warming is killing ALL the bees.

    Please! This is a cry from the Wilderness—
    Give more money to Monsanto so that they can

    SAVE the Planet.

  • Charlene

    We also need to consider viable alternatives to the neonic seed treatments. Putting the insecticide on the seed is supposed to be safer than blanket spraying these products through conventional methods, so if we aren’t putting it on the seed but are spraying it on the crops and that still kills non-target insects it’s a problem too.
    And seriously Rae, if you think Monsanto is the only company making money off agriculture you really need to pull your head out of the dark.

  • Bill

    Rae, it may be of interest to you that Monsanto does not manufacture a neonic insecticide for use. What would they have to gain from this? Or is it that anything involving chemicals in ag must involve Monsanto because modern agriculture is evil? Please, get your head out of the sand.

  • Angie

    Hmmm, if all of the commercial Bee Keepers banded together and trippled the price of pollination services, so they can offset their losses, then do you think the Farmers and powers that govern this industry might listen a little more closely? Environmental impact is only a small percentage of the risk calculation by the PMRA and FDA, while economical impact is everything.

  • Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” is almost here!
    It is stunning to people with any common sense that our goverment, to whom we pay all these taxes to supposedly to work in our best interests,are risking the decimation of our pollinators rather than rein in the “out of control” biotech companies.

  • Jayne

    John Cowan uses the term “emotional” to describe the response to bee deaths and the desire by others to not have pesticides indiscriminately applied to fields and seed. This is a false argument that bears no validity…demeaning the concerns of others is not a winning argument.
    It’s like the argument that the tobacco industry used for years…smoking doesn’t kill, cancer kills. There is lots of science if GFO cares to acknowledge its credibility.