Whodunit? The villain in this bee kill thriller remains at large

With the public eye increasingly fixed on agriculture, twitchy farm policy makers may be inclined to act first and ask questions later. And that has farmers worried.

For example, last spring in Ontario, more than 200 bee kill incidents were reported. No question about it, that’s a problem. Thousands of hives were affected.

What’s the cause? No one knows for sure. But Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is taking another look at neonicotionoid pesticides, as are other government bodies around the world.

That’s alarmed a unique coalition of Ontario farmers. The Ontario Beekeepers Association, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and Grain Farmers of Ontario say they recognize the important role honey bees play in pollinating crops. But they’re worried about a hasty decision on this matter, particularly if it’s based on the so-called precautionary principle, which assumes guilt until innocence can be proven. After all, neonicotionoid pesticides have already been through the onerous PMRA process once, or else they wouldn’t have been approved for use in Canada.

That said, the bee kill problem warrants another look at them. And that’s fine, says the farm group coalition. Keep investigating the cause of the bee kills. And keep pursuing research into new products and technology that have the potential to reduce pesticide exposure.

But meanwhile, farmers need crop protection options. Corn planting is right around the corner and it’s tough to make management decisions with a cloud hanging over certain products. Federal reviews must be thorough. The farm coalition suggests hearing from everyone on this matter — farmers, beekeepers, government agencies, the crop protection industry and equipment manufacturers.

The outcome of that airing must recognize two truths: wildlife needs protection, and farming needs to be profitable. People understand the former. But when it comes to the latter, they sometimes stop listening.


Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy


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