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Ontario announces task force on bee health

Who will do the pollinating if bees are dying? Bees contribute billions of dollars to the agriculture industry, but are dying in huge numbers


Guelph, Ont. – Bees have not had an easy time recently. Nor have apiarists.

In Ontario, huge numbers of bees have been dying and many suspect it’s due to a pesticide, called neonicotinoid, used in the province for corn, soy and canola seeds.

In fact, around the world bees are dying due to several suspected causes, prompting scientists and agriculture experts to investigate.

The danger in losing our bees can be gleaned from recent headlines: “Food supply threatened by pesticides that kill bees: Honey and almonds are at risk.” “Loss of wild pollinators hurting food security.”

Put another way, the humble bee contributes $2.5 billion to Canada’s agriculture industry and $15 billion to the agriculture industry in the U.S. In fact, many experts say bees are responsible for every third bite on your plate.

It’s no wonder experts and industry are concerned.

Working group

In response to the losses in Ontario, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is bringing together a group of experts to provide advice on how to prevent bee mortalities.

The Bee Health Working Group will be comprised of beekeepers, farmers, agri-business representatives, scientists, and staff from both federal and provincial government agencies.

Drawing on a broad range of expertise, the working group will provide recommendations on how to mitigate the potential risk to honey bees from exposure to neonicotinoids.

The working group will meet for the first time in July and provide its recommendations by spring 2014.

Bees continue to struggle worldwide

In May, NationalGeographic.com reported that the European Union is banning for two years the use of neonicotinoids.

The article goes onto explain that the world’s bee colonies continue to struggle. The pollinator crisis has hit North America, Europe and now parts of Asia.

And it’s a complicated situation.

Pesticides themselves don’t necessarily kill the bees, the article explains, but exposure to them seems to weaken their immune systems, making them more vulnerable to other stressors or chemicals.

For example, bees exposed to sublethal doses of neonicotinoids – the type the EU is banning – become more easily infected by the gut parasite Nosema.

Another study, reports NationalGeographic.com, found that the “inert” ingredients (adjuvants) used regularly to boost the effectiveness of pesticides do as much or more harm than the active “toxic” ingredients present.

Other factors may also be contributing to the situation.

The world’s changing climate and bizarre local weather systems. Bees are threatened by chemical exposure in untested and unregulated combinations. There’s also the issue of the insects’ disappearing foraging habitat with increasing monoculture that requires trucking bees from place to place. And the bees also face fungal and viral intruders, plus the dreaded Varroa mite.