There can be a way forward on neonics after July 1

By MPP Toby Barrett
As of July 1, regulation is in place banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticide on 80 per cent of Ontario’s corn and soybean acreage – an action that has dominated farm meetings over the past year.

Neonicotinoids are the most commonly used type insecticide in the United States, Europe and Australia and have been in use in Canada, and Ontario, since the early 1990s.

The use of neonics, applied to the seed, has replaced earlier more toxic products that had to be sprayed on leaves at up to 20 times the neonic application rate. As a seed treatment, the product first addresses pests in the soil and then moves up through the seedling providing protection for up to 28 days before dissipating. Virtually none of the product makes it to the flower.

The July 1 regulation comes from an activist government in Ontario jumping the gun, in my view, by using questionable research to blame neonics alone for bee mortality. The scientific evidence remains inconclusive and, at best, circumstantial – as well findings are being ignored showing that realistic doses of neonics have no real effect on bees and that bee populations are on the rise.

On June 18 of this year, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) released charts indicating that “during planting period there was a 70% decrease in the number of reported yards affected in 2014 compared to 2013, and in 2015 the reduction was 80% compared to 2013”.

So, kudos to cash croppers and equipment manufacturers – they dealt with dust drift at planting by developing and using deflectors and seed fluidity agents – all this initiated before the advent of the draconian July 1 regulation.

The Ontario Pollinator Health Blueprint has been recently released by a task force of certified crop advisors, ag retailers, the seed trade, farmers and beekeepers – it was handed out at an ag forum I attended in Glencoe last week. Recommendations range from increased communication between farmers and beekeepers, to work on bee nutrition and habitat, to manageable and reasonable limits on insecticide use. The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs asked the cash crop and beekeeper community to meet OMAFRA half way, and they have. Yet, despite this, government remains adamant on its 80 per cent neonicotinoid ban by 2017.

There is another way forward.

In contrast to Ontario’s heavy-handed pitting of beekeeper against farmer, farm organization against farm organization, both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments have opted for stakeholder involvement and public participation. Both Health Canada’s National Bee Health Roundtable and the U.S. Pollinator Health Task Force have taken a very practical, collaborative strategy to research all impacts on bee health.

Rather than focusing on one aspect, these organizations and others continue to examine genetic diversity, weather, habitat, nutrition, pests, as well as farm and beekeeping management, including their use of various pesticides.

The present provincial government seems to have waded in with an activist-driven solution in search of a problem. Such a pre-determined edict – perceived as being anti-agriculture and bereft of any meaningful consultation – will foster non-acceptance by those most affected.

Opting for argument based on emotion, and science based on politics, can achieve short-term gain – but in the long run can be detrimental, in this instance, not only to the health of Ontario farms and agri-business but also to the health of bees themselves.