Ontario’s declining bee populations have dominated the headlines in Canadian Agriculture and Health news.
A new poll showed that 87% of the 1000 surveyed Ontarians were concerned about the harmful effects of neonics toward insects, birds and the surrounding environment. Additionally, 92% of participants want government action to protect pollinators.
Neonicotinoids are used in Canada for corn, canola, soy, potatoes and ornamental flowers. The chemical acts as a neurotoxin, disrupting insects’ central nervous systems therefore making it an effective insecticide against crop threats such as aphids and grubs.
“Systemic pesticides” like neonics are often applied to seeds and roots so the chemical becomes infused into the plants’ leaves, pollen, nectar, fruit and flowers. When pollinators and other species eat a plant or drink its nectar they ingest these nerve poisons which have been observed to impair sense of smell and memory, reduce foraging ability and increase susceptibility to disease.
Canadian beekeepers, farmers and picnic-goers alike are noticing significant decline in bees. A five year analysis conducted by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides examined 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonics chemicals are harmful to pollinator health. Pollinators are vital to our food supply and ecosystem. In fact, it is estimated that you can thank a pollinator for one out of three bites of food you eat!
Combined, the extensive research highlights an urgent need for regulation in order to protect biodiversity as well as agricultural sustainability.
If these pesticides are so harmful, why do we use them? Farmers contest that these seed treatments are vital to guarding against persistent pests. Certain Canadian agricultural pest control groups continue to reject the scientific evidence, blaming bee deaths on varroa mites, viruses and wintering starvation, all of which are serious threats to honeybee colonies worsened by neonics exposure. All Ontario corn acreage is treated with neonics but the provincial government claims only a fraction requires it.
Meanwhile, Canadians are taking action in their homes, gardens and communities! Garden-retailer Home Depot is set to begin labelling flowers exposed to neonics treatments. Families are encouraged to build bee-friendly environments by installing bee houses and ponds in their backyards and gardening with pollinator-friendly plants such as crab-apple, lavender and squash. Communities are writing to government officials encouraging active participation to protect the bees and the health of Canadians.
There is more good news – organic food is grown without neonicotinoids! Organic farmers are able to produce crops with high yields without the use of synthetic pesticides! Organic is the only type of agriculture with a set of principles that puts nature first. Organic protects our air, soil, water and biodiversity for sustainable agriculture.
For more on the topic you can check out Canadian Organic Growers (COG)’s Bee Health Sheet, find more resources at COG’s library and bee sure to check out fantastic related events during Organic Week 2014!