Sierra Club weighs in on neonicotinoid-bee death debate

Beekeepers are walking a fine line if they campaign against pesticides along side environmental groups because beekeepers also use pesticides, says Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council.

“I think everybody has to bear in mind that beekeepers, themselves, use pesticides,” he said.

“It’s not like we don’t use products.”

The Sierra Club of Canada issued a statement in late November that called on the federal government to ban a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are widely used as seed treatments on corn, soybeans and canola.

The Sierra Club said a recent Italian study shows that clothianidin, a Bayer neonicotinoid, damages bees’ immune systems and destroys their ability to fight disease.

“It is important new evidence that helps explain the devastating impact these pesticides have had on bee populations,” said John Bennett, Sierra Club’s national campaign director.

The Italian study is the latest study to say that neonicotinoids are detrimental to bee health. Earlier this year, the European Commission suspended the use of neonicotinoids for two years.

Bennett said the Sierra Club of Canada is part of a loose coalition working to ban neonics, which includes the David Suzuki Foundation, the National Farmers Union, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Canadian Organic Growers.

Beekeepers associations in Quebec and Ontario have also campaigned for a ban following widespread bee deaths at bee yards over the last two years, particularly in Ontario.

Bennett said the Sierra Club has had conversations with the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association regarding the ban, but there is no formal relationship.

Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, said his association isn’t working with environmental NGOs to ban neonics.

“It’s not like we’re joining forces or aligning with environmental groups,” he said.

“I don’t think we need to ban all pesticides, that’s not what the Ontario Beekeepers stand for. It would be quite hypocritical considering we put pesticides in our hives to control varroa mites.”

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency announced in September that current agricultural practices, where neonics are applied to corn and soybean seeds, are not sustainable because tests on dead bees show that insecticide laden dust from planters are killing bees.

Other provincial beekeeping associations are taking a wait and see approach on neonicotinoids because many entomologists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other scientific bodies maintain that neonics may play a role in bee losses but are not the primary factor.

Bryan Ash, the Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association’s representative to the Canadian Honey Council, said it’s concerning that the Sierra Club is “dabbling” in this issue.

The Sierra Club campaigns against pesticides, in general, including an insecticide that beekeepers use to control mites called amitraz, Ash said.

“The Sierra group, they publish a long list of insecticides and pesticides that they want to see banned and amitraz is on that list.”

Bennett didn’t comment on the Sierra Club’s stance on amitraz. Nonetheless, he said the group does “have concerns about a lot of pesticides.”

Scarlett said the issue is a conundrum for beekeepers because they use insecticides, just like farmers who grow crops.

“The products we use are made by the same companies,” he said.

“We’re in a confusing spot where we rely on companies and we rely on people to do certain things and we’re also affected by certain things.”

Scarlett said the issue is particularly complex for the Canadian Honey Council because it represents all beekeepers, including those who have lost thousands of bees because of neonicotinoids.

Nonetheless, discussing insecticides and solving this problem becomes more confusing when the debate is carried out in public.

“The issue has taken a profile that perhaps we didn’t expect and it’s very difficult to accomplish things through the media in a positive way,” he said.

“It’s always black and white and there’s no middle ground, once you use that avenue.”

About the author



Stories from our other publications