Neonic makers targeted in planned beekeeper class action

(Photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

The major makers of neonicotinoid pesticides are the targets in a proposed class action suit on behalf of Canadian beekeepers and honey producers, alleging negligence and claiming over $450 million in damages.

Siskinds, a London, Ont. law firm specializing in class actions, filed a statement of claim Tuesday in Ontario Superior Court in Windsor on behalf of two representative plaintiffs, Sun Parlor Honey and Munro Honey.

The suit, spearheaded by Siskinds lawyer Dimitri Lascaris, names the Canadian branches of Bayer, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, and Bayer and Syngenta’s parent firms in Germany and Switzerland respectively, as defendants.

Bayer, the claim noted, is the maker of imidacloprid and clothiandin pesticides — both “neonics” which have been approved for use in Canada since 1995 and 2003 respectively. Both Bayer and Syngenta make a third neonic product, thiamethoxam, approved for use in Canada since 2004.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), which oversees farm pesticide registrations in Canada, is re-evaluating clothiandin and other neonics, with a focus on its “potential effects on pollinators,” the suit’s statement of claim said. The re-evaluation isn’t expected to be done before 2017 or 2018, the claim noted.

Lascaris’ claim alleges Bayer and Syngenta owed the plaintiffs “duties of care” to take steps to avoid harming beekeepers’ property; to test and “properly research” neonics’ impact on the bee population before getting the products registered; and to pull the products from sale “upon discovering (neonics) resulted in death to bees and are prone to persistence in the environment.”

“Ubiquitous and inescapable”

The statement of claim alleges the ag chem firms “negligently breached, and continue to breach, these duties” by encouraging the products’ “indiscriminate use… far beyond what was reasonable or necessary.”

The claim also alleges the products were marketed in a way that rendered them “ubiquitous and inescapable for bees,” and were not adequately studied and tested in a way that would “fully disclose the magnitude of their risks” to bee populations.

Bayer and Syngenta, the statement of claim alleges, have resources that “castly exceed” the damages caused, so the imposition of duty of care “would not expose (the chemical companies) to indeterminate liability.”

Further, the claim alleges, the ag chem companies “knew or ought to have known at all material times that (neonics) would cause damage to the property of the plaintiffs.”

The statement of claim also calls for the Ontario court to certify the suit as a class action.

If certified, the suit’s “class” would include all beekeepers who owned or still own honey-producing, pollinating or queen bee-rearing businesses in Canada anytime between Jan. 1, 2006 and the class action certification date.

A certified class action would seek “general and specific” damages of $400 million plus punitive damages of $50 million, the statement of claim said.

Sun Parlor, which operates in both Essex and Wellington counties in southern Ontario, bills itself as one of the largest honey producers and “hive product distributors” in the province.

In the claim, Sun Parlor alone alleges losses of about $1.39 million in lost hives and $718,200 in lost honey, averaging $5.25 per pound, from 2006 through 2013.

Munro Honey, which operates at Alvinston, Ont., about 70 km west of London, also bills itself as one of Ontario’s largest producers and distributors of honey and hive products, as well as the first commercial scale meadery in the province.

During the same period, the claim alleges, Munro saw losses of about $1.97 million in lost hives and $1.03 million in lost honey at the same average value per pound.

“Any effort”

Bayer CropScience’s Calgary office said Wednesday it’s aware of some Ontario beekeepers’ intent to file against pesticide makers in court, but the company hasn’t yet been served with a suit and thus can’t answer specific questions on the matter.

Bayer noted, however, that as the largest purchaser of pollination services in Canada, in support of its canola seed business, the company has “an abiding interest in bee health” — but its Canadian canola business also depends on neonicotinoid-treated seed.

“As a leader in agriculture, we understand the value of pollinators to agriculture and have an inherent interest in helping find solutions to the problem of honey bee health,” the company said.

Likewise, Syngenta’s Guelph office said Wednesday it hasn’t yet received the complaint in question and can’t comment on its specifics, but emphasized “we do take concerns about bee health very seriously.”

Evidence, including field studies conducted in Canada, “clearly shows that bees and other pollinators can coexist safely with modern agricultural technologies, including neonicotinoids,” Syngenta said.

Bee populations in Canada have “significantly increased” over the past 20 years, the company said, with the number of hives growing by nearly 30 per cent.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association, in a separate release, notified its members of the proposed action and said those interested in taking part should contact Siskinds directly.

“While the OBA is not directly involved in this action, we support any effort that could help beekeepers recover losses caused by the overuse of neonicotinoids,” Tibor Szabo, a Moffat, Ont. beekeeper and OBA first vice-president, said Wednesday.

“This action puts the blame where it belongs — on the pesticide manufacturers,” Szabo said.

Canadian Honey Council executive director Rod Scarlett said Wednesday the national association has no comment on what for now remains an Ontario-based statement of claim. — Network



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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.


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