Detectives are closer than ever to finding the culprit behind the case of the missing bees.
One suspect appears to be neonicotinoid seed treatment, which is used to protect corn and soybean crops. This insecticide has been found to be one of the killers of entire colonies in Quebec and Ontario and one group seeks a moratorium on its use.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has requested the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, that is investigating the issue, put a five-year hold on the insecticide to research the full impacts of its use on the agricultural industry.
The Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), a branch of Health Canada, has determined neonicotinoid seed treatments in corn and soybeans in Ontario and Quebec were a contributor to bee deaths in 2012 and 2013, states Ann Slater, NFU vice-president of policy.
Slater says these two years were very different as far as weather conditions, but both years show large bee mortalities during seeding time.
“They (PMRA) determined that the use of neonicotinoid seed treated corn and soybean seed is not sustainable,” said Slater.
She says almost 100 per cent of corn seeded in Ontario has been treated with the insecticide and close to 80 per cent of soybeans. Slater feels this seed treatment is unnecessary.
Plant experts in Ontario state that only 10 to 20 per cent of corn and soybean crops are actually at risk of insect infection, says Slater. “It has become widespread use as a preventative — not necessarily as a widespread problem.”
She feels research of the treatments is important as pollinator bugs, including bees, are important to crops. Vegetables and fruits rely on pollination and honey producers also lose out on the deal.
“The loss of bees and pollinators will lead, over time, to challenges as far as having access to many fruits and vegetables,” she stated.
“We don’t have a chemical for replacing pollination,” Slater added.
What does that mean for western Canada?
Bee mortalities in 2013 in the corn-growing areas of Manitoba have been observed, explained Slater. She says the western provinces do not appear to be having the same issues as Quebec and Ontario but studies are ongoing.
NFU’s call for a five-year moratorium on neonicotinoid seed treatments is meant to give researchers time to study the effects the insecticide. Slater says they understand the concerns of corn and soybean producers affected by certain bugs, “but right now we’ve got a situation where they’re being used even if the problem isn’t identified.”
The Senate committee has been talking with a wide variety of groups and Slater expects to see a report from their findings in June this year.