By Valerie Hunnius
The past year has seen a calamitous rise in over-winter rates of honey bee mortality, raising the spectre of species’ extinction and throwing into question the vital role played by honey bees in pollinating plants. The fatality rate last winter in Ontario reached 58%, according to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, three times the average of all other Canadian provinces. Many international studies have pointed to the increased use of neonicotinoids in agriculture as a major culprit and the European Union has banned their use in Europe.
There has been significant pressure on all governments to follow suit and issue an outright ban on the use of this pesticide. While a federal study is underway, there is as yet no indication that Health Canada is considering a ban.
In November, the Ontario Government announced a new strategy to severely limit the use of neonicotinoid-treated seed in Ontario. The goal is to reduce the acreage planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 80% by 2017. Ontario expects this will reduce the winter fatality rate of honey bees by 15% by 2020. The strategy includes a comprehensive action plan for pollinator health.
As with most government initiatives, the devil is in the details. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will consult with stakeholders and hope to reach agreement on a plan to implement it by July 1, in time for the 2015 planting season. This will not be easy. The Grain Farmers of Ontario have responded with outrage to the plan, claiming that an 80% reduction amounts to a total ban, and that the new regulation is unfounded, impractical and unrealistic.