Two large honey producers in Ontario recently hired a law firm to launch a class-action lawsuit against Syngenta and Bayer (the parent of Bayer CropScience) regarding the sale of the companies’ nenonicotinoid seed treatments for corn and soybean.
The beekeepers are seeking $450 million in damages and losses to bee hives and honey production dating back to 2006 on behalf of those beekeepers who join the suit.
I’ve already stated I’m not a big fan of bans, but this suit in particular has really not sat well with me since its announcement. My big issue? Something doesn’t add up — if beekeepers want to claim negligence or sue for damages based on neonics harming their bees, why aren’t they suing farmers? Or, to take it one step further, why not the PMRA?
After all, the suit claims damages and bee losses stemming from negligent use of neonics. Farmers — not crop protection companies — are those using the products. What’s more, farmers are using the products according to a registered label, a label approved by Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. If beekeepers want to point a finger and demand compensation, who really has been negligent? PMRA for approving it, or farmers who are using it?
The reality, of course, is that the class action lawsuit names neither for one reason, as far as I see it: the public sure isn’t going to support a lawsuit that pits salt-of-the-earth farmers against one another. Attacking farmers just isn’t going to play into anyone’s sympathies, but “Big Ag shall pay!” has a much better ring to it, don’t you think?
Now, let’s pretend for a moment, that these beekeepers did place the blame squarely on corn and soybean growers. What then? Perhaps farmers should then turn it around — beekeepers are caring for livestock, livestock that leaves their property to collect nectar, moving pollen around in the process. While some crops need pollinators to set seed, most field crops do not (though some do benefit from the added pollination). If I had cattle that needed grass, can I let them loose on a neighbour’s land? The manure is beneficial! Perhaps grain farmers should consider bees as livestock and ask that beekeepers put up better fences. Or maybe beekeepers, in the interest of bee safety should limit bee movement to within their own land boundaries.
I’m not seriously suggesting this, of course, but if you look to Western Canada (where farmers there also use neonicotinoids), beekeepers and farmers work in tandem. In fact, we know that bees foraging on canola bumps yield (yes, even though the crop has been treated with neonics) and we know that beekeepers depend on the yellow-flowering crop to reach the production levels they do. (Sorry, consumers, but there are very few clover fields anymore). But don’t take my word for it; hear from beekeepers themselves in a short video series on the topic available here.
We know that bees and neonics CAN and DO interact safely. So much so, in fact, that the Alberta Beekeepers Commission has publicly stated they won’t be joining or supporting the Ontario-based lawsuit. What’s more, in Ontario, farmers moved swiftly this last growing season to spend their money paying for Fluency Agent to minimize dusting off (and climbed on to the back of planters to mix it in by hand). Farmers are willing to add deflectors to planters (though not all models had available units for 2014) and place earlier-than-normal seed orders for non-neonic-treated seed — the evidence suggests not just an understanding of the value of protecting pollinators, but also a real willingness on the part of farmers to take real action in this protection.
From where I sit — and feel free to tell me I’m wrong — it looks to me like this class action lawsuit has very little to do with what’s best for bees, beekeepers, and agriculture and everything to do with media attention, money and an activist agenda.