Category Archives: Organic & Local

David Suzuki-Time to save bees and ban neonic pesticides

David Suzuki: Time to save bees and ban neonic pesticides

David Suzuki-Time to save bees and ban neonic pesticides
Neonic pesticides “pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators,” a new study warns.

Bees may be small, but they play a big role in human health and survival. Some experts say one of every three bites of food we eat depends on them. The insects pollinate everything from apples and zucchini to blueberries and almonds. If bees and other pollinators are at risk, entire terrestrial ecosystems are at risk, and so are we.

New report slams neonic pesticides

Well, pollinators are at risk. And we know one of the main causes of their alarming death rates. A new report concludes that neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, “pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators.”

Scientists work to solve mystery of dying beesThey also harm butterflies, earthworms and birds, and because they’re now found in soils, sediment, groundwater and waterways, they alter “biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and the ecosystem services provided by a wide range of affected species and environments.”

The report, produced by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, is the work of 50 independent scientists from around the world who spent four years analyzing more than 800 peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Says lead author Jean-Marc Bonmatin of the National Centre for Research in France:

[quote]Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.[/quote]

Other research shows they may not even increase agricultural yields.

Neonics kill wide range of species, can harm humans

Three of the most common household neonics, according to The Soil Association.
3 common household neonics, according to The Soil Association.

Neonics are a family of chemicals with names like thiacloprid and imidacloprid. They disrupt the central nervous systems of insects and are undeniably great at killing pests like aphids and grubs. Unlike traditional pesticides, neonics are “systemic pesticides” that are most often applied to seeds and roots so the chemical becomes incorporated into the plants’ leaves, pollen, nectar, fruit and flowers.

According to the Task Force, “Neonics impact all species that chew a plant, sip its sap, drink its nectar, eat its pollen or fruit” and can remain toxic for weeks or months — even years. The impacts cascade through ecosystems, weakening their stability.

As nerve poisons, they can kill targeted and non-targeted species and can cause “impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behaviour and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behaviour in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.” There’s also evidence they can harm human health, especially in infants.

Neonic pesticide ban faces powerful industry opposition

Neonics make up about 40 per cent of the world insecticide market, with global sales of US$2.63 billion in 2011 — and growing. That may explain why, despite increasing evidence that they’re harmful, there’s been such strong resistance to phasing them out or banning them.


After experts concluded in 2013 that neonics pose an unacceptable risk to bees, the European Union imposed a temporary ban on the use of three neonics in applications that are particularly hazardous to bees — despite fierce opposition from the agrochemical industry and several governments. At the same time, Canada re-approved clothianidin, one of the chemicals banned in Europe.

In the face of conclusive findings from hundreds of studies, industry reaction has been astounding. Said Julian Little, spokesperson for neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer:

[quote]There is very little credible evidence that these things are causing untoward damage because we would have seen them over 20 years of use.[/quote]

Canadian agricultural pest control trade association CropLife Canada also rejected the science, blaming bee deaths on varroa mites, another serious threat to honeybees. And even though Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency confirmed neonics used on corn seed contributed to bee die-offs in Ontario and Quebec, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has so far rejected a ban, saying her department’s research is “inconclusive.”

Time for governments to step up

What will it take to get governments and industry to put people — and pollinators — before profits? Around the world, concerned individuals and organizations are calling on decision-makers to get serious about this threat. At writing, more than 27,000 have signed a David Suzuki Foundation action alert asking federal and provincial governments to ban the use and sale of neonics.

It’s the government’s duty to protect us from potentially harmful chemicals. With neonics, the science is clear: they’re unsafe. Researchers say “there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.” They’re calling them “the new DDT”. It’s time to ban these harmful pesticides.

Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Canada mulls crackdown on pesticide suspected of killing bees

Canada mulls crackdown on pesticide suspected of killing bees


Canada mulls crackdown on pesticide suspected of killing bees

OTTAWA – The federal Health Department is proposing tighter rules for the use of a pesticide that is suspected of killing honey bees.

It is asking for public comment on the issue over the next 90 days.

The department wants to hear from stakeholders and other interested parties people about its plans for stricter controls on the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed.

It wants the new rules in place by the time planting starts next year.

The department is calling for safer planting practices, efforts to reduce dust from seeders, new pesticide label warnings and updated information on the need to treat soy and corn seed with insecticide.

The department say studies in 2012 and 2013 found bee deaths were higher in heavy corn-production areas where neonicotinoids are used.

It suspects the deaths are linked to contaminated dust kicked up during planting. In its consultation document, the department said:

[quote]We have concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable. For the 2014 planting season, we intend to implement additional protective measures for corn and soybean production.[/quote]

Beekeepers have been pushing for a complete ban on these pesticides.

Europe already has ban

Last spring, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association welcomed a European Union ban on three suspect insecticides.

“The EU vote clearly shows there is scientific and public support around the globe for policies which protect honey bees and other pollinators and recognize their essential role in food production and healthy ecosystems,” association president Dan Davidson said at the time.

The beekeepers say neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that are absorbed into plant tissues and can leach into ground water.

The association says these chemicals are toxic to bees, as well as earthworms, birds and fish.

It says the health of the food production system is at stake.

“Ontario’s fruit and vegetable farmers depend on adequate pollination by honey bees, bumble bees and wild bees,” Davidson said.

Read David Suzuki’s recent story on the mystery of dying bees.

Deconstructing Dinner creator Jon Steinman

Deconstructing Dinner: BC Food Broadcaster Launches Fundraising Campaign for New Series


For five years, Jon Steinman broadcast and podcast his radio program Deconstructing Dinner from the Nelson studio of Kootenay Co-op Radio to audiences around North America. The show, which delved into the serious questions surrounding food security, agriculture, health and environment, wound down in late 2010. Now Steinman is teaming up with James Beard Award-winning television producer Declan O’Driscoll to wit a follow-up “6-part documentary series deconstructing the origins of our food and celebrating efforts which are inspiring new food cultures.”

In order to help fund the series, Steinman is using a popular “crowd-funding” tool,, to raise $60,000 by July 20. With, which has helped fund hundreds of documentary, television and interactive projects over the past several years, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition – so Steinman needs support to raise the full $60,000 in order to make the show a reality.

According to Steinman, “Each episode will feature one food and go behind the scenes of the food system to identify some of the key issues to consider when purchasing that food.”

The audio predecessor to Deconstructing Dinner probed a wide-range of topics – such as aquaculture, local food production, organic farming – blending entertaining broadcasting with incisive investigative journalism.

Steinman’s partner in the latest incarnation of Deconstructing Dinner is Declan O’Driscoll, who produced the award-winning television special Milk War, about the legal battles faced by raw-milk farmer Michael Schmidt. Says Steinman, “I’m thrilled to partner with Declan and see the radio show evolve into something new. Our hope is that this series will become a critical resource which groups can utilize to inspire the growing interest in the US and Canada to cultivate more resilient and vibrant local food systems.”

The production team is offering some inventive prizes to donors – from pre-release digital downloads of the program to horticultural advice from the show’s experts and a private catered screening from Steinman himself.

Check out the demo for the show below – and the page for the the project, where you can help make it a reality.



Photo: Anne Sherrod

The Bee’s Needs


When the final tally is done on humanity’s many post-Industrial Revolution screw ups, it is likely that the top of the list will be: They let the bees die.

Consider this: According to a 2010 UN Environmental Programme report, some 100 crop species provide 90% of food worldwide. Nearly three quarters of these crops depend for their existence on pollination by bees.

This process, which has succeeded for millennia, is now under serious threat.

Every winter since 2006 when the term colony collapse disorder (CCD) was coined, commercial bee keepers in Canada have been losing an average of 30% of their bees. (Last winter, south and central Vancouver Island bee keepers lost 80% of their colonies.)  To stay in business they are now importing bees from New Zealand.

There is as yet no definitive scientific explanation for why the bees are dying – or simply disappearing – but there is a great body of evidence to suggest the culprit is a family of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are now widely used in agriculture worldwide.

It’s been known since these chemicals came onto the market in 1995 that they were  extremely toxic to bees. Tragically, as with so many of the highly toxic chemicals regulators have allowed to be chucked into our environment since the 1950s, it was only after the fact that independent scientific research began indicating quite how bad the problem is.

Long story short: It now seems likely that exposing bees to this family of insecticides compromises their immune systems and is roughly the equivalent of deliberately giving them AIDS.

How did Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and other regulatory agencies around the world allow this to happen?

Simple: The primary information considered by the PMRA is provided by the manufacturers who make millions of dollars from their patented chemical compounds. As if this process wasn’t suspect enough, even when the studies provided are deemed insufficient, PMRA may provide temporary or conditional registrations.

Research by Anne Sherrod of the Valhalla Wilderness Society reveals that increasing commercial use of products based on imidacloprid (a particularly worrying neonicotinoid) has been based, since 2001, on registrations deemed “temporary pending further studies”.

According to the PMRA, imidacloprid has been actively under re-evaluation since 2009. However, Access to Information Act requests to the agency have produced no evidence to support this claim. Meanwhile, imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid products continue to be widely used on vegetables, fruit, nuts and grain.

The PMRA points out that these lethal products must come with labels warning farmers not to apply the insecticide when plants are in flower or bees are nearby. This vacuous mitigation ignores the fact that these systemic insecticides are absorbed into every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar. Despite their well-documented threat to bees, the PMRA justifies approving these products because of their “value” to human food production.

In the U.S. more than a million people have signed a petition demanding a neonicotinoid insecticide ban. Similar action is being demanded in New Zealand.

Canada needs to catch up. Yes, we can all email our MPs, demanding immediate action to protect bees. We can also voice our concerns about the threats to bees posed by the PMRA to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

And while we’re waiting for the politicians, we can each do our bit by thinking about bees when we are planting our gardens. Even apartment window boxes can help. (Helpful hint for those of us who need to be bee-friendly and deer-proof when we plant: Catmint, coneflower, foxglove, sunflower, lavender, sage, thyme and yarrow all fit the bill.)

These little yellow and black creatures are perhaps nature’s greatest gift to humanity and yet we’re allowing corporate greed and what amounts to regulatory malfeasance to threaten them with extinction. Seriously, are we out of our minds?

Miranda Holmes is an associate editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine. For more information on this topic, go to