By Kelsey Johnson
A county in Eastern Ontario has become the first Canadian municipality to temporarily ban a controversial insecticide believed to be killing bees.
On Tuesday, May 27, 2014, officials in Prince Edward County passed a motion prohibiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on municipal lands, effective immediately.
Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides used to coat corn, soybean and canola seeds. The pesticides have been widely used since 2004 and were developed to replace older aerial sprays.
The rural county, nestled in the heart of Ontario’s agricultural heartland, wants the federal and provincial government to “declare a moratorium surrounding the use of neonicotinoid crop treatments, as soon as possible, pending further study.”
The motion also requires letters be sent to several federal and provincial ministers – including the prime minister, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, and Health Minister Rona Ambrose – outlining the county’s position.
The European Union has already imposed a two-year moratorium on the controversial insecticides. Despite calls for similar action from beekeepers and environmentalists, Canadian officials have refused to follow suit.
Research has linked the highly toxic neonicotinoids to mass bee deaths. They are also found to linger in water and do not break down easily in the soil.
In September, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) – responsible for regulating pesticides in Canada – discovered neonicotinoid contaminated dust had caused severe bee mortality in Ontario and Quebec. A final report is expected in 2015.
South of the border, new research from Harvard University’s School of Public Health confirms what beekeepers have been claiming for years: the insecticides are killing millions of bees.
Researchers found the slightest exposure to neonicotinoids would cause a colony to collapse and die. The pesticides, the study said, also impede a bee’s ability to survive the winter.
Farmers, though, insist the insecticides are crucial to agriculture production.
Neonicotinoids, they argue, help boost crop yields and are essential to modern agriculture.
Even if farmers wanted to purchase neonicotinoid-free seeds, though, they’re not readily available. An estimated 92 to 95 per cent of planted corn acres in Canada and the United States are coated in neonicotinoids.
That lack of options did not go unaddressed by county officials. “We urge seed companies to make adequate supplies [of non-treated seed] available,” the motion reads.
Farmers, meanwhile, are encouraged to “order seed not treated with insecticide for the 2015 growing season.”
Prince Edward County is one of the highest producing agriculture regions in Ontario. A hub for dairy, poultry and hog production, the region is famous for its major cheese festival and local wines.
Scientists estimate one-third of all plants and plant products eaten by humans depend on bee pollination.