Ont. panel to study crop pesticide management for bee health

Faced with beekeepers demanding a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, and crop growers bent on keeping those products available, the Ontario government hopes a new “cross-industry” panel on bee health will find some middle ground.

The province on Tuesday announced the formation of a Bee Health Working Group, which it said will include “beekeepers, farmers, agribusiness representatives, scientists and staff from both federal and provincial government agencies” and will draft recommendations on “how to mitigate the potential risk to honey bees from exposure to neonicotinoid(s).”

The new working group is expected to meet for the first time this month and to provide recommendations by spring 2014.

“The creation of this working group is a vital step in our efforts to protect the environment and Ontario’s agri-food sector,” Kathleen Wynne, the province’s premier/agriculture minister, said in a release Tuesday.

“We look forward to working together to find solutions that will support a thriving, healthy bee population that will in turn support a strong, successful agri-food sector.”

The province’s announcement follows a joint call last week from the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA) and the Federation des apiculteurs du Quebec to their provincial governments to “immediately ban” neonicotinoid pesticides’ use in field crops.

Both provinces’ beekeeper groups said July 2 they’ve experienced heavy losses of colonies this spring, similar to those experienced in 2012. The losses, they said, show “what appears to be a longer-term decline in bee population as a result of the continued use of these highly toxic pesticides.”

“Our industry cannot sustain these losses,” OBA president Dan Davidson said in a separate release last week. “Reduced numbers of pollinators also threaten the viability of our local fruit and vegetable supply.”

The beekeepers quoted a report from Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) on bee deaths in spring 2012 as saying “information evaluated suggests that planting of corn seeds treated with the nitro-guanidine insecticides clothianidin and/or thiamethosam contributed to the majority of the bee mortalities that occurred in corn-growing regions.”

PMRA in February announced a review of Canada’s approved neonicotinoid insecticides — clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — following over 230 separate reports of bee kills in Ontario and Quebec during the previous spring’s corn planting.

Pending the review, PMRA proposed label amendments to a number of neonicotinoids to take effect this year in time for the 2014 growing season, to “alert growers and applicators to the potential hazard treated seed dust can pose to bees and to provide information regarding best management practices (BMPs) to be employed during the planting of treated seed.”

The products to which the amended labels would apply include Bayer CropScience’s clothianidin seed treatment Poncho, Valent Canada’s clothianidin treatment NipsIt Inside, Syngenta Canada’s thiamethoxam-based Cruiser seed treatments, Bayer’s imidacloprid-based Gaucho insecticides and Mana Canada’s imidacloprid product Sombrero 600.

Health Canada in April also published a list of BMPs aimed at reducing the risk of exposing bees to dust from neonicotinoid-treated seed.

The Ontario and Quebec beekeeper groups last week also noted the European Union went a step futher in April, announcing a two-year suspension on the use of neonicotinoids.

“Numerous risk factors”

All that said, Davidson added Tuesday in the province’s release that the OBA looks forward to “working with partners to find alternatives for insect treatment to better protect bee health and prevent the losses of honey bees and other insect pollinators that we have seen during the last two seasons.”

John Cowan, vice-president for strategic development with Grain Farmers of Ontario, said in the province’s release that farmers are “optimistic that the working group will lead to a practical, balanced approach” on BMPs.

But Cowan also noted Tuesday in a separate GFO release that “many” related North American studies are underway and “numerous risk factors to bee health have been identified, including varroa mites, poor nutrition/lack of forage, drought, winterkill and diseases.”

Neonicotinoid seed treatments are being blamed as a possible contributing factor, he said, but “it is critical that all risks are fully understood and all stakeholders consulted before considering a blanket ban on seed treatments.”

Without neonicotinoids, he said, Ontario’s corn, soybean and wheat growers stand to lose three to 20 bushels per acre in yields.

Banning the use of neonicotinoids, GFO said, would make it “impossible” for Ontario’s farmers to compete with those in other regions such as the U.S. and Western Canada, who “would continue to have access to these technologies.” — AGCanada.com Network

Related stories:
EU to ban pesticides blamed for bee losses, April 29, 2013
“Dust-off” in pesticides has farmers’ attention, April 19, 2013
Corn growers, beekeepers await insecticide review, March 22, 2013

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