Save the bees? Environmental groups call on Health Canada to not approve new insecticide

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

A Health Canada review of a new insecticide has reignited the debate about what’s killing our bees.

At issue, is a product called flupyradifurone  currently at the public consultation stage with Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA)  which, if approved could be applied to vegetable, fruit and nut crops to interfere with the nerve functions of insects who come into contact with it. 

Some of Canada’s leading environmental groups, however, warn that it could harm Canada’s already dwindling bee population. 

"While dithering over neonicotinoids — bee-killing pesticides banned in Europe — Canadian regulators are poised to approve a closely-related poison called flupyradifurone. We call it the new "F"-word," Lisa Gue of the Suzuki Foundation wrote on the organization’s website

"Inexplicably, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has yet to take action to curtail the use of neonics, and now the agency is preparing to give the green light to a look-alike chemical, flupyradifurone."

The decline of the worldwide bee population has been widely reported on.

According to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, beekeepers in the United States and Europe “have been reporting annual hive losses of 30 percent or higher.”

And in Canada, according to a CTV News report, the Canadian Honey Council estimates that our bee population has dropped by 35 per cent in just the last three years.

That’s a problem because about 25 per cent of the world’s food crops depend on bees.

[ Related: Bees, birds may suffer long-term consequences from common pesticides ]

Environmental groups, like the Suzuki Foundation, and some beekeepers have argued that systemic pesticides have been a contributing factor in the widespread deaths. 

These groups consistently tout bans in other parts of the world and  closer to home  a 2013 PMRA statement that claimed “agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed” contributed to a decline in bee populations in some regions of Ontario and Quebec. 

"In the spring and summer of 2012, we received a significant number of pollinator mortality reports mainly from corn growing regions of Ontario and Quebec,” noted the statement.

"Approximately 70 per cent of the affected dead bee samples tested positive for residues of neonicotinoid insecticides used to treat corn seeds while neonicotinoids were only detected in unaffected bees in one sample at very low levels.

"We concluded that the majority of pollinator mortalities were a result of exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides, likely through exposure to contaminated dust generated during the planting of treated corn seed."

Instead of banning neonicotinoids outright, Health Canada is taking a measured approach: They’re rolling out new guidelines to mitigate dust during seed treatment and are expediting their study into the effects of three of the pesticides on bee colonies. 

[ Related: Teen activist Rachel Parent set to debate health minister on GMO labelling ]

Meanwhile, experts suggest that there are also other culprits to blame for the declining populations.

"The message that should be sent to the public is that honey bee decline is a consequence of the impact of a number of factors including insecticides, parasites, diseases, climatic effects, stresses from transportation and malnutrition, among others,” Ernesto Guzman, the Director of the Honey Bee Research Centre and a professor at Guelph University, told CBC/Radio Canada

"It is not the effect of a single factor and it is not possible to say what factor has the greatest weight on the overall mortality of bees.

And, for their part, Bayer CropScience  a manufacturer of flupyradifurone  say that when used correctly their new product is safe. 

"When used according to proposed label instructions, extensive semi-field and field studies using highly bee-attractive crops have demonstrated that flupyradifurone has a favourable honey bee safety profile and poses a low risk to both adult and immature honey bees," a spokesperson from their Calgary office told Yahoo Canada News.

"Additional testing on many beneficial insect species has also shown flupyradifurone has excellent compatibility within Integrated Pest Management programs.

"For more than 25 years,Bayer has been committed to environmental stewardship and the protection of beneficial insects and bees.”

Canadians have until the end of business day on Monday November 3rd to let the PMRA know what they think about flupyradifurone.  Health Canada officials have told Yahoo Canada News that a final decision about its approval could take weeks or even months. 

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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