Organic farmers call for ban of chemical linked to decline in bee population

Courtesy Sam Marlow

Courtesy Sam Marlow

Farmers and advocacy groups across Ontario concerned with the alarming decrease in the bee population are calling for a neonicotinoid ban by spring 2014.

Nathan Carey, a farmer in Neustadt, Ontario, is one of them.

Carey and his wife, Tarrah, have been running Green Being Farm, an organic farm, for six years. They raise sheep, pigs, chickens and cattle on the farm. The pair run a community shared agriculture (CSA) program for those looking for locally and organically grown vegetables.

Their farm depends on pollinators such as bees and when Carey started noticing the lack of them around his farm, he started to worry.

“When I noticed a lack of pollinators around the farm, I started asking neighbours and people who stopped by if they had similar experience and the majority of people did,” Carey said during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

So he began to make a plan to save a creature so crucial to our ecosystem: ban the use of neonicotinoid in Ontario by next year.

Neonicotinoid is the chemical linked by scientists to the alarming decrease of the bee population.

Some farmers use the harmful chemical to prevent pests from eating their crop. They are applied to the soil and absorbed by the whole plant. The plant becomes toxic from the roots to the leaves, stems and pollen.

A review by The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife, found the following:

  • “Honey bees exposed to sublethal levels of neonicotinoid can experience problems with flying and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower learning of new tastes, which all impact foraging ability.
  • “Bumble bees exposed to sublethal levels of neonicotinoid exhibit reduced food consumption, reproduction, worker survival rates, and foraging activity.”

In the 40-page review, the organization recommends that legislators, regulators and municipal leaders across the country should consider banning the use of neonicotinoid for “cosmetic purposes on ornamental and landscape plants.”

To move forward with his goal of implementing a neonicotinoid ban by next spring, Carey meets with community members passionate about the issue, sends out messages to a mailing list of 80-100 people and works with organizations such as National Farmers Union, organization of Canadian farmers, Sierra Club, a national environment organization, and other advocacy groups.

“One of the things I’ve done in our local group is encouraged people to write to their MPs. I’m really encouraged that Kathleen Wynne took action on this. I don’t see that type of action coming from the federal government,” said Carey.

Premier Wynne, who is also Ontario’s Agriculture Minister, has asked the federal government to speed up its review of neonicotinoid seed treatments.

And it might not come fast enough.

Carey says the bee population has experienced a drop of 35 per cent in the past three years.

A petition started by the Ontario Beekeepers Association that is addressed to Wynne calls for the immediate ban of the use of neonicotinoid in Ontario. The petition has accumulated over 18,000 signatures to date.

“We are undermining the stability of our food system. The risk of losing those bees is pretty devastating. This issue isn’t just about farmers and beekeepers, it’s about everyone. We are all dependent on these natural systems,” said Carey.

To put it in context, Carey says to picture any business losing 35 per cent of their production.

“Beekeepers are losing livestock. It’s pretty devastating emotionally and economically,” Carey said.

He also hopes that organic farmers will provide insight for mainstream agriculture. Carey says that organic farmers have proven there is consistent crop with pollinator health.

“The issue with bees touches people. The way I haven’t seen an agriculture issue touch people,” said Carey.

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