In what would be the first move toward cutting back pesticide use in North America, the Ontario government is planning to curb agricultural pesticides linked with honeybee deaths as part of a comprehensive Pollinator Health Action Plan. The plan seeks to battle the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which the province’s Environment Commissioner has called the biggest threat to ecological integrity since DDT–which was banned in Canada in 1972.
“Improving pollinator health is not a luxury but a necessity,” said Environment Minister Glen Murray of the move.
“Taking strong action now to reduce the use of neurotoxic pesticides and protecting pollinator health is a positive step for our environment and our economy.”
Bee populations in Ontario and Quebec have plummeted in recent years. According to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, which has about 3,100 members, Ontario experienced 58 percent over-winter losses in 2014–three times the average of all other Canadian provinces and about 20 percent more than in 2012-2013.
But the plan is not sitting well with the province’s grain farmers.
“A reduction at this level puts our farmers at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the country and the rest of North America,” commented Barry Senft, the CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario, a group that includes corn, soybean and wheat farmers, which has, according to its spokespeople, been investing in multi-year research to mitigate the risks of pesticide use on bee health.
However, a recent Health Canada report found that the majority of the bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec in 2012 had been caused by insecticides, and suggested that this was likely due to pesticide-laced dust during planting.
Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller recently called neonicotinoid pesticide use the biggest threat to ecological integrity since DDT, a pesticide that was banned in Canada in 1972.
“All the science is not done, but everything that I have before me… suggests to me that this is the biggest threat to the structure and ecological integrity of the ecosystem that I have ever encountered in my life, bigger than DDT,” said Miller.
The plan to curb bee killing pesticides is part of a comprehensive Pollinator Health Action Plan. The plan includes an 80 percent reduction in total acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean by 2017. It also plans to cut the over-winter mortality rate for honeybees to 15 percent by 2020.
“The province’s goal to reduce the over-winter honeybee mortality rate to 15 per cent by 2020 will bring the industry back to the pre-neonicotinoid average winter loss and will support a thriving, sustainable beekeeping industry going forward,” said Tibor Szabo, president of the Ontario Bee Keepers’ Association.
Over the next two months, the Ontario government will be seeking information about the new rules from the industry, organizations, researchers and individuals.
If the plan is finally approved, the rules will be in place by the beginning of July.
By Sid Douglas
Photo: Cory Barnes