By Tom Collins and Patrick Meagher
OTTAWA — Neonicotinoids — an insecticide coating on seeds before planting — are not affecting bees as some groups would want us to believe, says the president of CropLife Canada, a seed industry supporter.
Ontario beekeepers lose bees every winter — typically about 34 per cent of their bees — but following this winter, the losses based on beekeeper self-reporting found that Ontario beekeepers lost only 17.93 per cent of bees, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists reported. That’s much lower than last year’s 37.8 per cent and 2014’s 58 per cent.
Beekeepers were asked to rank the reasons for winterloss numbers. The top four reasons in Ontario were “poor queens,” “starvation,” “weak colonies in the fall” and “don’t know.”
The Canadian average for winter losses in 2016 was 16.8 per cent.
CropLife Canada’s president Ted Menzies said fluctuations occur consistently in the bee industry, pointing out Ontario’s winterkill number was 12 per cent in 2012, the lowest in Canada at the time.
“These fluctuations all happened while farmers’ use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds remained relatively consistent,” he said. “So while certain politically motivated groups point to neonics as the primary cause of bee health issues in Ontario, the facts simply don’t support it.
“Unfortunately, the Ontario government bowed to pressure from activist groups and introduced regulations to severely limit farmers’ use of neonic-treated seeds.
The government’s stated goal with these regulations was to get overwintering losses down to 15 per cent. The numbers in Ontario this year are close to that level even before the new regulations took effect. The question then is why are farmers being handicapped with these restrictions when there is no apparent impact on honey bee overwintering success?”
The only other indicator that neonics were harming bees was neonic dust during planting. In 2013, Health Canada ruled that farmers must attach dust-deflectors on planters and add fluency agents to neonic-coated seeds to keep neonic dust down. A Health Canada study found that bee death incidents during planting was down 84 per cent in 2015, compared to 2013.
While there are lab studies that show neonics are bad when fed to bees, critics have long argued that they are unrealistic and that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs have not brought to the debate a single in-field study that shows neonics are causing bee deaths.