Not-so-sweet death: Critics call on Canada to ban pesticide linked to dwindling bee populations

Fan-Yee Suen
CTV News
Date published: 
Sat, 2013-05-04

Food production and bees: Believe it or not, the two go hand-in-hand … like milk and honey.

Bees serve an all-important role in transferring pollen and seeds from one flower to another - a practice that supports at least 30 per cent of the world's food crops and 90 per cent of our wild plants, according to the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

But despite a bee's integral role in cross-pollination, news that their population is on the decline is unlikely to come up at the dinner table.

But it is catching the attention of governments around the world, including in Europe, the U.S, as well as here at home, in Canada.

In 2012, more than 200 bee yards in southern Ontario and Quebec reported an "unusually high number" of losses, according to a recent Health Canada report. An analysis of the dead bees found that approximately 70 per cent of their bodies contained residue of the commonly-used neoncotinoid class of pesticides. According to evidence from the European Food Safety Authority, neoncotinoid pesticides attack a bee's nervous system, potentially reducing its chances of survival.

Following the Health Canada report, the federal government launched a re-evaluation of the rules around use of these popular pesticides. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is currently conducting a review of three pesticides in the neonicotinoid class to determine if they pose an environmental risk to bees.

"The 2012 bee incidents will be considered as part of the re-evaluation…. If warranted, regulatory action will be taken at any time to further protect pollinators," Mary Mitchell, the co-chair of Health Canada's PMRA, said in a statement.

In the meantime, farmers and chemical producers are being encouraged to adopt such practices as avoiding pesticide use in areas where beehives are known to be located.

That nonchalant approach has the Sierra Club of Canada shaking its head.

"I think Health Canada has got it wrong," executive director John Bennett told CTV's Canada AM this week. "The government has chosen to protect the companies that produce the pesticides, not Canadians."

He believes the government needs to take immediate action by banning such pesticides, which are commonly used on tree fruit, corn and soy crops. Neoncotinoid pesticides are intended to protect crops often attacked by other insects, but Bennett says bees are getting caught in the crossfire.

"They're not the target insect," he said.

Bennett suggests Ottawa take a page from the European Union, which decided this week to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect the quickly-declining bee population.

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