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Pesticides blamed as local beekeepers’ losses soar

August 20, 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Tabitha Wells – It’s been no secret that the honey bee market is facing worldwide struggles as their bees are dying in vast and frightening numbers.  In Ontario, there has been a staggering 58 per cent loss of colonies across the province, leaving bee farmers struggling to make ends meet in their market.

But what exactly is causing the high level of deaths in hives? There is a great deal of evidence and research pointing towards neonicotinoids (also called neonics), a pesticide used on grain corn, canola and soybeans, as a likely cause. According to a study released in late June of this year, the pesticide threatens different pollinators such as honey bees and butterflies, but a residual effect could also be seen in birds and earthworms.

Locally, the devestation and loss has been hitting beekeepers hard, with some seeing up to an 80 per cent loss in their hives, according to Eagle’s Nest honey owner Henry Vilcinskis.

“It’s a very, very bad situation,” he said. “My whole life I’ve worked with bees, and even I don’t know what’s going on. It’s unbelievable and nobody knows for sure what’s going on.”

He added that since spring of this year he has lost more than half his bees. Whether or not he can blame it on the neonics, he’s not sure.

“It’s hard to tell,” he explained. “My bees are not near farms that use neonics, so I can’t say for sure that it is the neonics.”

Randy Leitch of Leitch’s Honey in Orangeville said that he’s noticed an increasing problem in the loss of hives over the last five years, and while he also cannot say for sure the root cause, the fact that most of the losses are in the summer speaks volumes against the neonics.

“I can’t pinpoint the root, but when bees are dying while they’re foraging in the summertime it’s got to be linked to the neonics,” he said. “I’ve never seen hives die in the summer like I have in the last two years.”

In a Globe and Mail article published following the late June report, reporter Eric Atkins wrote that neonicotinoids have been linked the deaths of bees in two ways, “by being exposed to dust generated by seed planting machinery and by ingesting insecticide-laced pollen, which weakens them and makes them more vulnerable to deadly viruses.”

Last year, Europe banned three types of neonicotinoids for the next two years, but Canada and the USA have yet to take an official position on the topic. Last September, Bayer, one of the two producers of pesticides containing neonics, moved forward with a lawsuit against Europe, claiming that there are no scientific grounds for the ban.

In an article published on September 9, 2013 in the International Business Times, Bayer CropScience spokesman Utz Klages wrote to the IBT that the link between neonics and the deaths of bee colonies was nothing more than a hypothesis lacking any real evidence.

“Leading bee scientists around the world have concluded that a variety of factors are responsible for bee losses,” Mr. Klages wrote.

The lawsuit led to online activist community, SumOfUs.org launching a petition to shut down the suit and for the company to consider their responsibility to environmental issues.

“Bayer is using the same tried-and-true tactics of climate-change denialists and Big Tobacco,” said Kaytee Riek, campaign manager for SumOfUs.org,in the article on IBT.

Locally, Mono is among municipalities that have been discussing their options and what kind of action should be taken. One problem that has arisen is that farmers across North America have said that they need the neonics to protect their crops.

In the Globe article, Barry Senft, the chief executive officer of Grain Farmers of Ontario, said farmers would not risk the loss of their crops over something that has not had full studies run on it.

This puts municipalities in a difficult position, if saving the bees means opposing their farmers.

Mr. Leitch reiterated, however, that the evidence seems to speak for itself.

“While the product has been around for 40 years, it’s only in the last seven to eight years that it’s been used on the soybeans and corn,” said Mr. Leitch. “It’s at a rate of five to seven times greater strength on the seed coating than other crops.”

He added that he noticed the problem starting about five years ago, as the usage of the crop neonics became more widespread.

In a recent survey conducted in partnership by the David Suziki Foundation, Ontario Nature and Physicians for the Environment, they found that 81 per cent of Ontarians want to see the government act quickly to protect the environment. The survey also found that more than 98 per cent of GTA residents are concerned about the threats neonics pose to bees and other wildlife.

“We’re pleased that the vast majority of Ontarians agree with the experts and want the provincial government to act quickly to protect pollinators and other wildlife,” says Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature. “Neonics persist in the environment for months and even years, contaminating our soils and waterways.”

According to Mr. Leitch however, a ban would not provide an immediate solution to the problem, as the effects of the neonics take quite a while to wear off.

“The problem is now it’s in the ground system and will remain there for at least five years,” he said. “Even though it was banned last year in France, they still haven’t seen any benefit yet because the residual effects are still in the ground.”

The last time the issue was brought before Mono Council, it was decided that the best course of action would involve looking into writing to the government to change legislation regarding the use of neonics.

         

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