hen 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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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?