Alberta beekeepers oppose Ontario neonic lawsuit

Beekeepers here are speaking out against lawsuit, saying it’s better to work with chemical companies

Alberta beekeepers are taking a stand and speaking out against a lawsuit filed by their Ontario counterparts against the makers of the controversial neonic pesticide.

“We’re not being impacted by neonics. If we are, it’s very subtly,” said Grant Hicks, president of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission. “We’re not seeing any damage to our hives.”

While beekeepers recognize some farm chemicals can have a negative impact on honeybees, they say going to the courts isn’t the way to resolve concerns about neonicotinoids.

“The Ontario Beekeepers Association has taken a very active political stance on it, whereas Alberta and some other provinces have the feeling that it is better to work together to come to a resolution,” said Kevin Nixon, an Innisfail beekeeper and vice-chair of the Canadian Honey Council.

“For the past couple of years, it almost seemed like the Ontario beekeepers were speaking on behalf of the Canadian industry. It feels like in Ontario, they were almost pitting farmer against farmer and beekeepers against growers. We have a good relationship with our growers here in Alberta and we don’t want to take a negative position on it.”

In Ontario, two large honey producers have filed a $450-million lawsuit against Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, claiming use of neonics caused bee deaths and reproduction problems leading to reduced honey production and quality. While the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association is not part of the lawsuit, it issued a statement saying, “we support any effort that could help beekeepers.”

The chemical — widely used to treat corn, soybeans and canola seed — has been linked to large-scale bee kills in Ontario. The main issue is contaminated dust from neonic seed coating on corn planted using vacuum seeders. But canola growers use air seeders and that’s likely why Alberta, home to more than 45 per cent of the country’s hives, isn’t seeing the same issue, experts say.

“We’re using the same products on a lot more acres and we’re not seeing the same problems that they’re seeing in Ontario,” said Greg Sekulic, an agronomist with the Canola Council of Canada. “I think some of their attention is misfocused.”

Since the controversy erupted — following bee kills in Ontario in 2012 — chemical companies and equipment manufacturers have dealt with the dust issue, said Nixon. Moreover, less than one per cent of all the hives in Canada were affected by neonics, he said.

“In the big picture, when you look at the claims, it’s not as significant as it is made out to be,” said Nixon. “A loss is a loss. But on the flip side, if neonics are lost, what is the alternative that growers have to use?”

Hicks said he is reluctant to take on the chemical companies because he uses chemicals to control varroa mites.

“We knock those mites down with chemicals,” he said. “We have to work with the same companies that the Ontario beekeepers are suing, to keep our hives alive. To be perfectly clear, there are no good insecticides in a beekeeper’s world, except for the ones we want to use.”

And bee losses in Ontario shouldn’t be blamed solely on neonics — varroa mites, weather, and poor nutrition all contribute to bee kills, said Hicks.

“When products are used according to the label, we can coexist nicely,” he added.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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