We need pollinators, such as bees, to pollinate one third of all the food we eat. That’s why there is so much concern over the increasing number of bee deaths around the world. Scientists have discovered that the recent collapses in honey bee colonies are a result of our use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, also known as neonics.
While there has been debate about the causes of bee deaths in the past, the science is now settled. The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides released a report in June where they assessed 800 peer reviewed reports and “found that there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.” They determined that some neonics are 5000-10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.
Neonics are used in agriculture and have also been linked to the death of other insect pollinators, and adverse effects on birds. They lead to widespread contamination of soil, water and vegetation, and unnecessarily risk the health of our ecosystems and our food production system.
Further studies have concluded that these chemicals are often applied where they have no benefit. A study by the United States Environmental Protection Agency found that neonicotinoid seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. Published data indicates that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonics versus not receiving any insect control treatment.
The chemical companies that manufacture neonics are limiting the choice of farmers by only making available seeds that have been treated with the insecticide. It’s becoming clear that action is needed to allow farmers to have more choice and to protect pollinators and our food security.
Last month, the province released a draft pollinator strategy that includes important new controls on neonics. If passed, Ontario would be the first jurisdiction in North America to reduce the use of the chemicals by 80 per cent over the next two growing seasons (by 2017). This will allow farmers and seed suppliers to obtain seed stock that has not been treated with these chemicals. As you can imagine, the pesticide industry is not happy because a small portion of their profits are at risk.
What can you do to help?
The provincial government needs our support in going up against these large chemical manufacturers. The best thing you can do is attend an upcoming public session to share your concerns about the use of neonics (you can find more info about the dates, times and locations of the sessions here).
If that is not possible, consider writing a letter to your MPP in support of the neonics regulations. Consider including the following points in your letter:
- Ontario should move forward with its plan to reduce the use of neonicotinoids by 80 per cent by 2017.
- Neonics pose a serious risk to pollinators while endangering our food production and ecosystems
- The science is settled – neonics offer no benefit to crops
Finally, read the government’s discussion paper on this issue to get more informed about this issue. Also, sign up for Environmental Defence’s Toxics Update e-newsletter, where we will keep you posted on major developments and further opportunities to support the banning of neonics in Ontario.