Reports of increased bee deaths in the spring of 2012 in areas of Ontario and Quebec were alarming, but, at the time, attributed at least in part to the unseasonably cool and wet spring. This past spring, however, had more average temperatures but also had a higher than average reported bee kills. What’s troublesome about all this is that reported bee hive deaths were much lower from 2011 and prior. What changed in 2012?
That’s the question Craig Hunter, of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, asked himself. Bees are absolutely essential to his industry, and the threat to their health poses a major risk to fruit and vegetable growers. While neonicotinoid products, applied as a seed treatment in many crops, are being implicated at least in part in the death of bees, Hunter says that those products have been used for a nearly a decade with few issues. Again, what changed?
What he’s found is that in January of 2012, a miticide product — strips of a simple sugar and formic acid laced paper that bees were meant to ingest— were approved for use in not just bee hives but were given the organic-standard go-ahead. “Formic acid was used prior to this to clear hives of varroa mites, but it was never left in the hives,” Hunter says. This new product also contains formic acid, but the bees ingest the product. Hunter’s theory is that this pesticide load, combined with exposure to neonicotinoids AFTER the fact is what may be causing bee death.
“Healthy bees (not under formic acid load already) can likely tolerate some neonicotinoid exposure,” Hunter says, as evidenced by its use for years without affecting be health. “But are these bees already weakened?” As you’ll hear in the interview above, Hunter says the Pest Management Regulatory Agency should conduct a thorough evaluation of all products used in conjunction with bees, not just neonicotinoids. “Bee keepers will have this on record. (PMRA) should be looking at healthy hives and those that reported kills and comparing products used.”
If you cannot hear the embedded interview, please click here.