by SUSAN MANN
Ontario Premier and Agriculture Minister Kathleen Wynne wants the federal government to speed up its review of neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments.
Her move comes as two camps of Ontario farmers are asking for government action on the insecticides. The Ontario Beekeepers Association is requesting a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides on field crop seeds in time for the 2014 spring planting. Grain Farmers of Ontario has asked its farmers to talk to their MPPs and MPs to prevent a ban.
Wynne’s spokesperson, Gabrielle Gallant says by email the premier wrote to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Leona Aglukkaq, former health minister before Primer Stephen Harper shuffled his cabinet last month and appointed Rona Ambrose as health minister. Wynne asked them to expedite the review of neonicotinoids currently being done by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), which is part of Health Canada.
“We know how important it is that our actions be guide by the best available science” and that’s why Wynne wrote to the federal officials, Gallant says.
She adds the Ontario government is “aware of the concerns that have been raised by beekeepers about links between bee mortalities and pesticide use.” The premier appointed a Bee Health Working Group in Ontario to look into the matter. It’s made up beekeepers, as well as grain farmers, academics and others and will report back to the government before next spring.
Sara Lauer, Health Canada media relations officer, says by email that when it comes to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed, Health Canada’s priority is the protection of pollinators, including honeybees. Health Canada is carefully examining the incidents of bee deaths reported in 2012 and this year and is working with provincial authorities, beekeepers and the pesticide industry to “implement exposure reduction measures in time for the 2014 planting season.” Governments and industry are also working to find additional ways to reduce pollinator exposure to the insecticides.
John Cowan, vice president, strategic development for Grain Farmers, agrees any government action should be guided by science. “Canada has a lot of respect for our science based regulatory system and if we start to go away from the science based regulatory system there are dangers in other areas.”
Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, says instead of sending out postcards asking members to talk to politicians, Grain Farmers should recommend its members educate themselves about these insecticides. “If everyone knows how bad they are, no one would be using them.”
Davidson says in an Aug. 8 letter posted on the association’s website, there’s already a moratorium on neonicotinoid use in Europe. In Ontario, “we had hoped that Best Management Practices might be effective and we developed tools and partnerships to that end. Unfortunately even with best management practices in place and efforts on the part of beekeepers to avoid exposure, bee mortality associated with plantings of corn, canola and soybeans has continued.”
Everyone first thought it was the dust during planting, but “we’re way beyond that now,” he notes, adding it takes 20 years after application for neonicotinoids to be out of the soil.
Referring to the ongoing PMRA review, Cowan says “we have to let that system do its work. Whatever PMRA finds that’s what we go with.”
Cowan calls this a “very complex issue” and says he’s read articles from around the world. In some countries that don’t use neonicotinoids, they’re having “bee issues.”
Grain Farmers wants to work with the beekeepers and agrees this is an important problem that must be studied. The group is promoting more study of the problem and is also contributing funds for additional study, Cowan says. “I just don’t want to see a reaction that doesn’t solve the problem and creates a new situation.”
Neonicotinoid seed treatments are an important tool for Ontario’s corn, soybean and wheat farmers and without it farmers have a potential yield loss of three to 20 bushels per acre, which would significantly cut their incomes. The loss of the seed treatments would also make it impossible for Ontario’s farmers to compete with their peers in other jurisdictions, such as the United States and western Canada, that have access to the treated seeds.
Cowan says he doesn’t want this to be an “us versus them” matter and notes it’s more than just about banning or retaining neonicotinoids. “Is that the only question or is the question how do we solve bee health? We’re not convinced banning neonicotinoids is going to fix bee health.”
The beekeepers association has a petition on its website calling for the neonicotinoid ban. So far there are 15,000 signatures but Davidson says they’re going to wait until there’s a large number of signatures before presenting it to the Ontario government. They hope to get 100,000 signatures.
The petition notes that Ontario’s bees are in unprecedented peril. In the past two year, Ontario has seen a 35 per cent decline in honeybees. BF