Our food supply relies entirely on the work of bees. These busy creatures are wired to pollinate most of our food crops, a service that is essential to us and free of charge. We have a problem, however. No longer can we take this service for granted. Something insidious is killing bee colonies in Canada (and around the world) – and in a big way.
Colony collapse disorder is a global term used to describe the increasing phenomenon occurring in bee colonies where the majority of worker bees disappear leaving behind only a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. It’s clearly unsustainable and inevitably leads to collapse.
So, why are the worker bees abandoning their colonies? And, why are there so many reports of bees dying in Canada and around the world?
Neonicotinoids (or neonics) are a pesticide widely engineered into the seeds of industrial food crops such as corn and soy. Although there aren’t many regions in Canada warm enough to grow these two food crops, those areas that are suitable (like southern Ontario) are showing high levels of bee contamination and death. And, neonics aren’t limited to the seeds of these major players – they are applied in dust form to many common commercial crops across Canada.
So, what’s the link between the mass die-off of bees and the use of neonic pesticides in Canada?Research points to neonics harming the metabolic, immune, and reproductive abilities of bees, and negatively affecting their foraging and homing behaviours. But a direct link between neonics and the widespread collapse of bee colonies is inconclusive. It seems to be a cumulative mix of climatic changes, habitat destruction (urban sprawl), and the negative effects of exposure to pesticides such as the neonics.
A high profile environmental law advocacy group, Ecojustice, has an ongoing case aimed at banning neonics in Canada (as many other nations have already done). It is a precaution against the impassable threat of the bee colony collapse epidemic.
Health Canada Consumer Product Safety bulletin states that ongoing research into the effect of neonicotinoids on bees is required:
At this time, no conclusions can be drawn from this ongoing research as to whether or not long-term effects on pollinators could result from low-level exposure encountered in the environment through sources such as pollen and nectar.
New risk assessments on the neonicotinoid pesticides have been, and are being, conducted in many countries. Scientists have used similar data and come to different risk conclusions, likely resulting from considerations of the specific use patterns, exposures and bee health conditions in their geographical areas.