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Ontario Moves to Restrict Bee-Killing Pesticide Used in Farming

Come July 1, the Canadian province will enact new rules that curb the use of corn and soybean seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides, which it says are “highly toxic” to honeybees and other insects.
June 10, 2015, 1:55am
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

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Next month, Canada's most populous province will be the first jurisdiction in North America to restrict the use of a controversial pesticide that has been blamed for killing bees.

Following reports that more than half of Ontario's bee colonies died in 2013 — more than double the national average — the provincial government responded by proposing new regulations that will curb the use of corn and soybean seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides, which the province says are "highly toxic" to honeybees and other insects.

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Neonicotinoids, were introduced in the 1990s to replace older pesticides that have been found to be harmful to insects. The pesticide is typically applied to corn, soy and canola seeds to weaken the nervous system of any insect that comes near the plants.

A study released in May by the Canadian Senate's agriculture and forestry committee found that a number of "stressors," including neonicotinoids, may contribute to mass bee deaths. However, the report says further research is needed to determine just how dangerous the chemical is.

Currently, the majority of Ontario's corn and soybean seeds are treated with the pesticide.

By 2017, the province aims to reduce the number of acres planted with the neonicotinoid-treated seeds by 80 percent.

This reduction, which will take effect by the 2016 planting season, "will be the most important pollinator-protection policy on the continent - and a major contributor to food security," Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, told The Toronto Star.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association applauded the Ontario government "for having the courage to act in the fact of intensive lobbying and pressure from the AgChem (agricultural chemicals) industry seeking to protect their profits."

Related: Bees Might be Addicted to Nicotine-Like Insecticides That Are Killing Them

Last year, two large Ontario honey producers launched a $450-million proposed class action lawsuit against neonicotinoid producers to "recover damages suffered by beekeepers due to the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides" since 2006, according to CTV News.

Neonicotinoids were banned by the European Union in 2013, and rules regulating the pesticide are under review in the US. In May, The White House's Pollinator Health Task Force announced a national plan for pollinator health, which includes further research into neonicotinoid pesticides.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne