Canola farmers oppose calls for a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides because there is no scientific evidence linking its use in planting their crop with harm to bee populations, says Cheryl Mayer, director of policy development with the Canadian Canola Growers Association.
“Any action taken should be based on science and there has not been evidence of a risk in canola,” she said. Mostly grown in Western Canada, canola seed and oil is a leading agri-food export.
Last month, Health Canada said bee deaths experienced in Ontario and Quebec during the last two springs were “unsustainable.” It proposed additional rules to curb bee deaths during the planting of corn and soybean crops. The department will collect reaction to its plan until December and make a final decision before next spring. The move was sparked by tests that showed up to 70 per cent of dead bees collected in Central Canada for laboratory examination had traces of neonic insecticide.
Ontario and Quebec beekeeper groups want the neonic insecticides banned as has been proposed in Europe. The insecticide is coated on the seed before the planting to protect it from pests in the soil. The machines used to plant corn and soybeans emit dust laced with enough of the insecticide to harm bees, the beekeepers say. A neonic insecticide is also used in fruit and vegetable production.
Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association also oppose any ban, saying seed companies and farm manufacturers are taking steps to reduce the release of dust during planting and the amount of insecticide in that dust.
“The canola industry has been following the issue closely,” Mayer said. “There has not been evidence of a similar risk with canola planting. That said, pollinator health is important to canola and canola growers are committed to using the technology in a sustainable and responsible manner. CCGA and the canola industry have been working closely with stakeholders such as the Canadian Honey Council in an effort to ensure pollinator health as well as the responsible use of pesticides.”
Bee health is a crucial issue for Canadian agriculture because Canada has seen rapid growth in pollination-dependent crops such as fruits and vegetables. About $2 billion of agricultural production relies on bees.
More than two-thirds of Canadian beehives are west of the Ontario-Manitoba border and haven’t been plagued with the level of bee deaths seen in Central Canada, says the Canadian Honey Council. It also opposes a ban on neonic insecticides.
The bee industry also faces major challenges from Verroa mites and a fungal disease that decimates bee colonies.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government is waiting to see what measures Health Canada introduces while it pursues “science-based solutions to ensure a healthy bee population.”