Protecting Pollinator Health in Ontario: Neonicotinoids and Bee Deaths

Ontarians have good reason to be concerned over the increasing number of bee deaths and the overall decrease in numbers of our native pollinators - deaths linked to the use of neonicotinoids (NNI), a relatively new class of systemic pesticides.

By Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko
Published January 28, 2015

Bees pollinate our crops. That's why Ontarians have good reason to be concerned over the increasing number of bee deaths and the overall decrease in numbers of our native pollinators - deaths linked to the use of neonicotinoids (NNI), a relatively new class of systemic pesticides.

"With five million acres of treated soybean and corn seed, there is much more concentration of this pesticide in Ontario than anywhere else in Canada," says Dennis Edell, Board member of the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA). Ontario grows 70 percent of the country's corn and soy.

"There is no where to place a hive in all this. It makes it very hard to make a living as a beekeeper," Edell says.

What's more, Edill says that they've had to import over 33,000 queen bees into Ontario last year due to lack of queen vitality: "That's one of the effects of pesticide poisoning. We lost 60 percent of our hives over winter." Typically, the count for winter loses in Ontario is between 15 percent to 20 percent.

Since queens survive winter to initiate the spring hive, the loss of the queens is particularly significant.

Edill reports that the OBA is very pleased that the Wynne government is regulating in the public interest (environment and food sovereignty first) and invoking the precautionary principle in its proposal to reduce the use of the NNI by 80 percent by 2017.

"It's a very courageous move given the pushback from players like the Grain Farmers of Ontario and seed corporations," Edell says.

Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle - the theory that if the effects of a product are unknown, then the product should not be used - is what groups like the National Farm Union (NFU) recommend as the best approach to regulate agrochemicals and new technologies like genetically modified (GM) crops.

They go further, recommending that a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed be implemented as soon as possible in both Ontario and Quebec.

The NFU supports the Ontario government's proposal to promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to address crop pest problems. IPM is a process to solve pest problems through a number of different management approaches.

"The use of chemical pesticides may be used, but as a last resort when other approaches don't work and when the pests reach an economically harmful level," says Ann Slater, NFU Vice President of Policy.

"We would like to see more public interest research and extension services devoted to IPM practices in Ontario crops," Slater continues.

"For that to happen, more financial resources need to be allocated to the Ontario Ministry and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs so that it can provide on-the-ground support to farmers as they implement more IPM practices on their farms."

Non-Target Species Affected

Stefan Weber works for St. Williams Nursery and Biodiversity Centre (SWNEC) in St. Williams, Ontario. "What really worries me about neonicotinoid misuse is the countless other, non-target species that are being affected. There's good evidence to show that neonicotinoids can persist in aquatic environments for much longer than originally thought, and damage whole food chains," Weber says.

Weber explains that from an industry perspective it's difficult to convince everyone to support the regulation of neonicotinoids because historically, this group of pesticides was viewed as a vast improvement to the previous generation of chemicals. Because it affected insects more than mammals, it was much safer for use in greenhouses.

"We use chemical insecticides as a last resort, and have not had to use neonics for almost two years," Weber says. The SWNEC uses a very small amount of chemical, compared to many large-scale greenhouses, and when they do, it's never the same active ingredient twice.

Cycling between products is important for ensuring pests don't build up resistance. "We also push the plants outside in the summer and let nature deal with the pests," Weber says, "there are birds and wasps and spiders that do a lot of unpaid work for us."

Must Demonstrate Need

Weber asserts that neonicotinoids can be a useful tool to manage potentially devastating outbreaks of insect pests: there are neonicotinoids in flea drops for pets. It's useful and relatively safe to humans and cats.

In the case of agricultural and horticultural use, however, Weber argues that the grower should have to demonstrate through a permitting process a need for such an extreme measure, and that the grower should have to monitor and report on its use to the proper authorities.

"The answer isn't as simple as banning them completely," Weber says, although he agrees that total use should be scaled back immensely to avoid further damaging non-target ecosystems. "Ultimately massive pest outbreaks are a result mono-culture and other modern farm practices," Weber says.

"A cornfield is an unnatural habitat that fosters the spread of pests, but there are about 6 other steps one should go through before arriving at "pesticide" when thinking about dealing with the problem."

Ontario's Proposal to Regulate Neonicotinoids: what's next?

The deadline for comments from the public on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change's Pollinator Health proposal (on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry) has passed.

Ontarians are looking forward to a positive outcome and an implementation of the plan.

Read the report here: Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario [PDF].

For more information on creating a habitat for pollinators in Hamilton, visit the Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project website.

Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a member of the dedicated team at Environment Hamilton.


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By mel (registered) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 13:20:14

No pollinators = no food, plain and simple.

Last year I installed a Solitary Bee House in my backyard and was delighted each time I noticed bees using it.

Easy to make one or buy a ready-made Solitary Bee House (available from a Canadian woodworking/gardening company).

Putting the 60s motto "Think Global, Act Local" into practice, one solitary bee at a time.

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By mememine69 (registered) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 13:46:52 in reply to Comment 108503

"SAVE THE PLANET" is the ultimate in fear mongering. Let's teach our children to love not fear nature.

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By mememine69 (registered) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 13:45:47

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 14:02:43 in reply to Comment 108504

Of course there would still be weeds. Not all plants are insect-pollinated.

The fear here, that NNIs are systematiclly destroying both wild and agricultural populations of bees, is quite real, backed by scientific research, and worth addressing on an urgent basis within agricultural policy.

Thank you Beatrice for the piece.

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By WILLIAMHGATHERCOLEANDNORAHG (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2015 at 17:50:16 in reply to Comment 108507

Neonicotinoid insecticides are NOT harming wild bees. They are NOT harming commercial bees. There is NO bee crisis in Ontario, except for a small number of incompetent and negligent bee-keepers who seek illegitimate compensation for their incompetence. Bee-keepers KILL bees, and NOT insecticides.

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By logimic (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 01:30:42 in reply to Comment 108521

Insecticides don't kill bees. Riiiight.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 14:22:05

NNIs may be the problem with the collapse of the bee hives. Maybe not. Some very smart people are looking into it and have been for a while. The bees started having serious problems about 10 years ago. Here and in Europe. There is a lot of investigating going on but no firm conclusions, yet. I believe that in the USA over 90% of the corn and soybeans are treated with it. The problems with bee colonies is not evenly distributed if compared to the use of NNIs. They may have something to do with the bee problem or maybe its something else.

I was under the impression that mites were the leading suspect in the bee problem.

Since the use of NNIs is pretty universal here and in Europe where are the queen bees being imported from? Why does that location not have a problem with bees dieing off? Since the researchers looking into the problem are not blaming NNIs why are you and the OBA doing it? I know its an easy jump to make but like all jumps use a little caution.

Comment edited by LOL_all_over_again on 2015-01-28 14:31:24

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By WILLIAMHGATHERCOLEANDNORAHG (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2015 at 17:47:42 in reply to Comment 108508


Internationally-renowned researchers, like Dr Geoffrey Williams and Dr Ernesto Guzman, widely agree that bee colony collapse disorder is impacted by a combination of factors, the primary one being varroa mites. Prohibition against neonicotinoid insecticides used by the agriculture industry is not necessary. According to Dr Ernesto Guzman, the bee researcher at the University of Guelph, varroa mites continue to be the prime suspect in the bee losses. Dr Guzman has often said that there is evidence that varroa mites are the primary problem associated to bee losses in southern Ontario, although neonicotinoid insecticides have been associated to some isolated cases of colony losses. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the single most detrimental pests of honeybees are varroa mites. According to the Alberta Bee-Keepers Commission, varroa mites are the cause of roughly half of bee deaths every winter. If varroa mites infest even one per cent of bees, within two years, the entire hive could be lost. The Alberta Bee-Keepers Commission, which represents the largest number of bee-keepers provincially, has never mentioned anything about neonicotinoid insecticides being a primary problem. In essence, bee-keepers must get their varroa mite problems under control to rein in the collapse of bee colonies. Unfortunately, bee-keepers appear to be unable or unwilling to get their pest problems, such as varroa mites, under control to rein in the collapse of their bee colonies. Moreover, bee-keepers ignore the weight of the scientific evidence that clearly shows neonicotinoid insecticides do not affect bees. Overall, if we had less conventional neonicotinoid use in the environment, we would still have bee colony collapse disorder, because many bee-keepers are simply not competent enough to manage their hives. PROHIBITION WILL NOT SAVE BEES.

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By WILLIAMHGATHERCOLEANDNORAHG (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2015 at 17:46:13


On November 25th, 2014, the anti-pesticide Ontario Liberal government proposed an 80 per cent reduction in the number of agricultural hectares planted with seed treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. In essence, this proposal represents a thinly-veiled prohibition, the very same kind of reckless and arbitrary legislation that has already destroyed Ontario’s professional lawn care industry. Since 2009, the carnage caused by this prohibition against so-called cosmetic pesticides has inflicted business destruction and business failures. Because of Ontario’s 2009 provincial prohibition, businesses operating in the professional lawn care industry have LOST OVER 500,000,000 DOLLARS, with up to 12,500 UNEMPLOYED. The destruction of the professional lawn care industry was extensive because there were⁄are NO valid economical alternatives to replace the prohibited products that were desperately need to control damaging pests of turf and ornamental plants. Similarly, Ontario’s agriculture industry WILL BE imminently facing destruction since neonicotinoid insecticides are desperately needed to effectively and safely control damaging pests of crops. The anti-pesticide Ontario Liberal government is falsely alleging that neonicotinoid insecticides are the cause of so-called bee colony collapse disorder ― in fact, bee losses occur because some bee-keepers may be wholly unsuited to be raising bees. Overall, there is NO bee crisis in Ontario because of insecticides, and ANY prohibition is NOT necessary ! The Ontario Liberal government, and bee conspiracy terrorists, are NOT credible sources of real scientific information upon which this political decision about prohibition can be made. It is inescapable that the allegations against neonicotinoid insecticides are FALSE ! If we had less conventional neonicotinoid use in Ontario, we would still have bee colony collapse disorder, because many bee-keepers are NOT competent to manage their hives. There is NO other recourse but litigation and complaints ! CropLife Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, and all agricultural businesses, must sue the anti-neonicotinoid SOBs’ brains out ! They must stop the proposed prohibition in Ontario, whatever the cost may be ! They must demand that the proposed prohibition be stopped, forever. For more information, go to The Pesticide Truths Web-Site ... We are the National Organization Responding Against HUJE that seek to destroy the Green space and other industries ( NORAH G ). We are dedicated to reporting PESTICIDE FREE FAILURES, as well as the work of RESPECTED and HIGHLY RATED EXPERTS who promote ENVIRONMENTAL REALISM and PESTICIDE TRUTHS. Get the latest details at WILLIAM H GATHERCOLE AND NORAH G


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By Diphylla ecaudata (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2015 at 20:44:24 in reply to Comment 108519

Killing insects is immoral.

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By WILLIAMHGATHERCOLEANDNORAHG (registered) - website | Posted January 29, 2015 at 11:58:41 in reply to Comment 108526

Really ?!?! Saying silly things is immoral too !

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By Bigbadbug (anonymous) | Posted January 29, 2015 at 08:11:13

Who says?

Not killing insects can be immoral.

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By Observed (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 00:01:09

The merchants of death are everywhere including on RTH, apparently. Neonicotinoids are persistent in the environment. Seeds, including of horticultural varieties, are treated and the poison goes into the plant material. It is harmful to all insects. Ban it.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2015 at 01:02:41

I'm imagining that Ryan is mentally scratching colony collapse syndrome off the list of topics he wants RTH to cover, because this thread is hilarious in its awfulness.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 11:40:30

I enjoyed this article and will recommend it to my niece.

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By HamiltonBrian (registered) | Posted February 05, 2015 at 21:55:22

This just crossed my reading path today:

A significant quote, i'd say, is, "This is not proof that neonicotinoids are solely responsible for the decline in insect pollinators, but a clear linear relationship is now established. We can now be confident that at these levels, neonicotinoids disrupt brain function, bee learning and the ability to forage for food and so limit colony growth."

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