Pesticides still threaten pollinators: Ont. beekeepers

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association wants an independent expert panel to assess the long-term effects of exposure

Ontario beekeepers say the high rate of bee deaths is continuing and the federal government must take action on certain pesticides to try and reverse the trend.

Andre Flys, vice-president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, told the standing agriculture committee in Ottawa last week during its study of bee health that the threat from neonicotinoid and other system pesticides hasn’t lessened.

Reports of bee kills in the province, which produces 15 percent of the value of Canadian honey, have continued at the same rates, he said.

Ontario’s bees play a significant role in pollinating the 37 percent of Canadian produce grown there.

Flys said Canada’s food security depends on reliable and viable pollinators.

“Canada must step up its efforts to significantly reduce or eliminate improper use of pesticides as a preventive measure,” Flys said.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency has said it would examine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency position when it decides on pesticides, but Flys said American decisions shouldn’t be relevant in Canada, “particularly when the EPA is under such intense pressure from the agriculture industry and is under threat of disbanding from partisan forces.”

The OBA wants an independent panel of bee health experts to oversee the reviews of all systemic pesticides. Pesticide makers have pushed new systemics into the market after neonicotinoids and others were restricted.

Flys said approval is often based on short-term exposure to pesticides but evidence now proves that chronic exposure contributes to bee mortality.

“Even low concentrations can put bees at risk,” he said.

“Neonicotinoids are thousands of times more lethal to bees than older insecticides like DDT.”

He said bee exposure to neon-icotinoids makes other problems, such as varroa mites and viruses, worse because bee foraging behaviour changes and development is delayed.

Since 2007, Ontario beekeepers have lost an average of 30 percent of their colonies each winter compared to 15 percent in previous years. That coincides with increased use of neonicotinoids, he said.

Colonies that don’t die immediately are also threatened because they are weak and can’t recover. Bee losses must now be assessed year-round.

“We urgently call on the ministry to support Health Canada and Environment Canada to revamp PMRA and the process for assessing and approving pesticides,” Flys said. “We need a systematic approach to assessing pesticides that is open, transparent and independent of industry.”

Flys said the OBA supports the import ban on bees from the United States and said it must continue. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has said importing bees could lead to threats from Africanized bees and a bacterial disease called American foulbrood and introduce treatment-resistant varroa mites. This would further harm the Canadian industry.

Finally, the OBA called on the government to take another look at the bee health roundtable formed by the previous Conservative government.

Although Ontario has the largest number of beekeepers, it wasn’t given a seat at the table, while agricultural chemical industry representatives and Grain Farmers of Ontario were, Flys said.

During discussion after Flys’ presentation, Liberal committee member Lloyd Longfield, who represents Guelph, asked why some scientists think neonicotinoids are safe.

“How divided is the scientific community?” he asked.

Flys replied that pesticides kill insects. There is evidence showing that the dust from seeds treated with systemic pesticides travels for many kilometres, he said.

He said agronomists say 15 to 30 percent of soils and crops in Ontario might need treated seed.

“Yet we have 99 percent of our corn is treated year after year, 65 percent of our soybeans and half of our wheat,” he said. “We’re asking that growers will take a hard look at what they’re growing and reduce those numbers.”

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