This week’s guest commentary comes from Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
There’s been a lot of buzz among agricultural and environmental advocates on the state of bees in Canada. That’s because a mysterious condition – called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – has led to the demise of bees in record numbers in recent years. The jury’s still out on exactly what is compromising these colonies, but one thing is certain: industry, government and researchers need to work together to find a science-based solution to solve the problem.
Canadian farmers are intimately invested in the health of our land, water, and ecosystems in a way that is unique to our way of life and livelihood. That’s why the subject of sudden bee death is so troubling. Many theories have been suggested as the cause of bee decline. Chief among them is the theory that a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids is to blame.
But the issue is complicated. Third-party research on how these pesticides affect bee health has been inconclusive to date, and damage done to bee colonies in close proximity to crops treated with the pesticide is variable. Some eastern Canadian beekeepers have had their hives hardest hit by CCD, while in Western Canada beekeepers have seen less of an impact – even though the pesticides are commonly used across Canada on crops such as corn, soybeans, canola, wheat and vegetables.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is working with key industry and government stakeholders on the newly formed Bee Health Working Group. The group’s mandate is to provide recommendations on how to mitigate the potential risk to honey bees from exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. While OFA welcomes the opportunity to review solutions to the pressing issue, we also caution against making hasty decisions that could have negatively impact agricultural production and distract from identifying the real source of bee decline.
Pesticides – when used appropriately – are an important tool for modern agriculture. All farmers in Ontario who buy and use pesticides must be professionally trained and certified in safe pesticide use, and are required to carefully follow label directions that provide instructions for each product’s safe and proper application.
In 2012 Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), responded to concerns about how pesticides impact bee health, and research continues throughout the 2013 growing season. Ontario farmers will await a science-based verdict, and we look to PMRA to use that evidence to mandate what tools farmers can safely access for use on their crops.
Ontario farmers have a solid reputation for being quick to adopt new technologies and production techniques. If science concludes that we must find alternative ways to produce safe, quality food in Canada, then we will adapt. But we must avoid impulsive policies that limit a farmer’s access to tools that are key to competitiveness – particularly if we lack the research to back it up. OFA continues to look for our federal and provincial government’s leadership to make informed decisions that impact our ability to operate prosperous and sustainable farms.