Hopefully you have heard the devastating news by now, but beekeepers all over are reporting catastrophic losses to their hives. In the past 2 years alone, we’ve seen a 35% decline in bee populations in Ontario! In fact, just yesterday beekeeper Dave Schuit of Elmwood discovered a staggering loss of 1.3 MILLION bees on one of the farms where he keeps bees. Why is this happening? Scientists have learned that there is no one single cause, but that the pesticide group known as Neonicitinoids play a key role in bee death, either by poisoning them or weakening them to make them more susceptible to other problems. Neonicitinoids are the most widely used pesticide group in the world, and are used as a seed coating on seeds like corn, soybeans and other grains and oilseeds. It is a systemic pesticide so it can move from the seed throughout the plant, including into the pollen. They are not only causing problems for our honey bees but all kinds of native pollinators, and have been linked to butterfly declines as well. You probably know how about 1/3 of all the food you eat requires pollination by a pollinator, so without pollinators, our food system is in danger.
So why in the heck are we still using these pesticides? Why aren’t they banned? Many of them are banned in the EU. But in North America chemical companies have powerful lobbies and quite a strong arm within the government. They are not in favour of a ban. Even if farmers wanted to plant untreated seed, it is next to impossible to acquire- almost all the seed they plant comes treated. This pesticide group has only been introduced in the last 10 years, and has not even done much for farmers in terms of improving yields. So each and every one of us needs to speak up. Since everyone eats, everyone should be taking note and finding a way to get involved in this issue.
How can you help?
1) Read up! Check out the Facebook Page “Ban Neonics” and the newly minted “Friends of Pollinators” website. Head to the resource section to read a sampling of the articles that have been in the media lately on bee deaths.
2) Do something! On the same website, the Take Action page will link you to petitions you can sign. There is a Letters page to help you write a letter to your MPP to express your concern. Sign up to the mailing list so you can stay current. Learn about pollinator patches and consider starting one in your neighbourhood. If you are part of a community group or non-profit, contact us and learn about the newly forming coalition of organizations dedicated to taking a stand against neonicitinoids. Come up with your own ideas and implement them.
3) Bee Careful! Are you using sprays and powders in your own garden? Head here for a list of garden products that contain neonicitinoids. Tell your garden store they shouldn’t be stocking these anymore.
What I want to see more than anything is a generation of people who recognize that as eaters, each of us has to stand up and protect our food and the environment that produces it, and not expect the government to do it, or let the farmers fight alone. Just like all the issues I share with you, this is not just a fight for ‘activists’. This is a fight for eaters. What can you do to help?