Canada has no plans right now to follow the European Commission’s decision to ban a class of pesticides it believes is responsible for the deaths of many honey bees.
Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency said it already started a comprehensive review of three pesticides in the neonicotinoid class following last year’s accidental poisonings of more than 200 apiaries in Ontario and Quebec by farmers applying the pesticides during plantings.
But it said that review is continuing and more investigation is needed to determine if the pesticides pose a significant environmental risk to domestic and wild pollinators. In the meantime, it has issued new rules to farmers on how to avoid killing bees with the pesticides.
PMRA “is closely monitoring all new information on neonicotinoid insecticides and if warranted regulatory action can be taken at any time to further protect pollinators,” the government said in a statement. “At the same time, we are currently re-evaluating neonicotinoid insecticides, focusing on issues related to environmental risk and, in particular, potential risks to bees and other pollinators.”
The government’s position comes as Sierra Club Canada said Canada should follow the EC’s proactive decision to ban three neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid, unless science can show they don’t hurt bees.
The pesticides are widely used in corn, soy, canola and tree fruit production, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia They are usually delivered in the form of treatments on seeds farmers plant in the spring, or in foliar applications in orchards.
The industry says seed treatments, which specifically target pests that eat the plants, is less invasive than a topical pesticide sprayed over the entire orchard or field.
But beekeepers and some environmentalists, believe residues from those pesticides are making their way into pollen the bees collect and then take back to their hives for consumption. As a result, there are concerns the hives are being exposed to acute and sub-lethal levels of pesticides that then affect hive health.
John Bennett, the executive director of Sierra Club Canada, said PMRA’s job should be first to protect Canadians rather than “the profits of chemical companies and big agri-business.”
“These dangerous chemicals must be removed from the market now and remain so until proven safe,” Bennett said in a statement. “The federal government’s response to this global crisis is grossly insufficient.”
But the CropLife Canada, the association that represents pesticide and plant science technologies in Canada says manufacturers are no more interested in seeing bees poisoned and have been working on “best management practices” to prevent further problems. It also says there is no credible scientific research to show the pesticides are having sub-lethal effects on bees in hives.
“We’re confident that PMRA and the EPA, who are working closely together on the science, will continue on a science-based trajectory and will provide the science that is needed. “ said Pierre Petelle, the vice-president of chemistry for CropLife Canada.
However, a new report by the USDA and the EPA on the underlying causes of “colony collapse disorder”, a phenomenon of large numbers of bees disappearing from hives, said there is some evidence of low-level pesticide residues are harming bees.
But it also said more field research needs to be done to validate those concerns.
“Acute and sublethal effects of pesticides on honey bees have been increasingly documented, and are a primary concern,” the report said. “Further (field) research is required to establish the risks associated with pesticide exposure to U.S. honey bee declines in general.”
Paul van Westendorp, B.C.’s provincial apiculturist in charge of bee health, said there have been no neonicotinoid poisonings reported in B.C. but growers have to be mindful of how they apply the pesticide around bees. He said blueberry farms — which depend heavily on honey bees for pollination — are now seeking the right to use neonicotinoid pesticides.
The EU’s decision to ban the three neonicotinoids was based on a wide review by the European Food Safety Authority in January that concluded they may pose a high risk to bees. It also concluded that industry-sponsored science used by regulatory agencies to approve their use may be flawed.
But the manufacturers, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, and CropLife have all dismissed those claims.
“It is a case where we feel politics has trumped science,” Petelle said. “The decision in Europe is removing tools from European growers with no foreseeable benefit to bees. There are many regions in the world and the world that already had zero (neonicotinoid) use and we’re still having significant bee health issues.”
The new USDA/EPA report on colony collapse disorder’ said the phenomenon is likely caused by a combination of factors already well-known to beekeepers. They include the parasitic varroa mite, multiple viruses carried by the mite, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.
Among the report’s findings:
- The parasitic mite Varroa destructor remains the single most detrimental pest of honey bees, and is closely associated with overwintering colony declines.
- Multiple virus species have been associated with CCD.
- Varroa is known to cause amplified levels of viruses.
- The bacterial disease European foulbrood is being detected more often in the U.S. and may be linked to colony loss.
- Nutrition has a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity.
- Research indicates that gut microbes associated with honey bees play key roles in enhancement of nutrition, detoxification of chemicals, and protection against diseases.
- Acute and sublethal effects of pesticides on honey bees have been increasingly documented, and are a primary concern. Further tier 2 (semi-field conditions) and tier 3 (field conditions) research is required to establish the risks associated with pesticide exposure to U.S. honey bee declines in general.
- The most pressing pesticide research questions lie in determining the actual fieldrelevant pesticide exposure bees receive and the effects of pervasive exposure to multiple pesticides on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.
- Long-term cryopreservation of honey bee semen has been successfully developed and provides the means for long-term preservation of “top-tier” domestic honey bee germplasm for breeding. Genetic variation improves bee thermoregulation, disease resistance and worker productivity.
- Genomic insights from sequencing the honey bee genome are now widely used to understand and address major questions of breeding, parasite interactions, novel controls (e.g., RNAi), and management to make bees less stressed and more productive.
In an interview with The Associated Press, May Berenbaum, a top bee researcher from the University of Illinois, said the class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids hasn’t been proven to be the sole culprit in the bee loss.
The AP report said Berenbaum, the chairwoman of a major National Academy of Sciences study on the loss of pollinators, was “extremely dubious” that banning the chemical would have any effect on bee health.
Dave Gaulson of the University of Stirling in Scotland, who conducted a study last year that implicated the chemical, said he can’t disagree with the overall conclusions of the U.S. government report. However, he said it could have emphasized pesticides more.
At a news conference with federal officials, Berenbaum said there’s no single solution to the bee problem: “We’re not really well equipped or even used to fighting on multiple fronts.”