Summary Comments on the Issue of Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments and Bee Mortality

1.         Despite an effective campaign by a partnership of the Ontario Bee Association and the Sierra Club of Canada, seeking a ban on neonic usage in Ontario, science and statistics do not support their position. 

2.         Statistics Canada data show that the number of honey bee colonies was up, not down, in both Ontario and Canada in 2012. Anecdotal reports say this trend continues in 2013. 

3.         While some beekeepers have experienced excessive losses in recent years, most other beekeepers have not, including many with hives immediately adjacent to treated corn fields. 

4.         Despite claims to the contrary, there has been no shortage of pollinator bees for horticultural crop producers across Ontario. By contrast, there are reports of beekeepers seeking crops for bees to forage/pollinate. Ontario continues to send many thousands of hives to Atlantic Canada each year for blueberry pollination. The quality of the shipped bees has been unusually good in 2012 and 2013. 

5.         In the Prairie Provinces where 80% of Canadian bee/honey production occurs and where neonic usage is also much higher than in Ontario (canola and corn seed treatment), there is no linkage between neonics and bee deaths. 

6.         The Canadian Honey Council, representing bee keepers all across Canada, actively opposes the request by the board of the Ontario Beekeepers Association for a ban on neonic usage. They consider that the harm to other farmers would be substantial, with no notable change in bee mortality. 

7.         Overwinter bee death percentages vary widely from year to year. Recent Ontario numbers are not that different from historical patterns. The percent is highly dependent on management. Low hive numbers in spring are easily adjusted for by hive splitting and other normal beekeeper practices. 

8.         Bees are always dying in large numbers. An average of about 2000 dies per hive each day,  given their short life span. Overwinter hive sizes are almost 90% lower than during mid season.

 9.         The real cause of increased bee mortality for some beekeepers in recent years is the arrival of varroa mites. These mites are huge, relative to the size of a bee. They suck blood (or its insect counterpart) out of bees and also inject deadly viruses into the bees. It’s akin to malaria spread by mosquitoes. 

10.       Varroa mites and viruses are deadly to bees but another problem is that the chemical controls can be just as deadly. These materials must be applied just right. Casual bee management practices, which worked well before varroa arrived, mean excessive bee mortality now. And quality bee/varroa management keeps changing as the mite develops resistance to formerly effective miticides. 

11.       A new miticide first registered for usage in Canada in early 2012 could be a major problem. It’s called Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) and is based on the toxic formic acid. It is produced and widely used in Ontario but not in Western Canada. It is especially toxic at higher temperatures – not recommended for use above 82F in Northern Ohio, and Ontario had many days with higher temperatures in May 2012 when some Ontario beekeepers reported high losses. 

12.       Ontario bees have also been affected by a recently arrived strain/species of a serious fungal disease, Nosema. The interactions between this disease, fungicide treatments, and the complications provided by varroa and viruses, and their chemical controls, are not well understood. 

13.       Other stresses can weaken bees, especially if bees are already weakened by varroa, viruses, diseases and mites. These include inadequate bee nutrition (quantity and quality) during periods when the nectar and pollen supply is inadequate, and transport over long distances.

 14.       Successful, careful beekeepers in Ontario say that skilled bee/varroa management coupled with quality hygiene (the same principles which apply for livestock and poultry producers) is what is needed to ensure hive survival and productivity. 

15.       Dust from corn seed treatments may be a factor, on windy days with certain brands of corn planters and when talc powder is added to the seed. Bees which are already very weak for reasons listed above may be vulnerable. Efforts are underway in the corn industry to alter the seed treatments and planter design (or the choice of equipment purchase). However, correcting this problem will not likely reduce the high mortality for some beekeepers if they don’t address more fundamental management problems. 

16.       A shift in the position of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, from one that “the problem is corn seed treatments in spring time,” to one that “neonics are everywhere in air, soil, and water and must be banned” actually weakens their case, for it further raises the question of why this is not the problem in Western Canada where neonic usage is so much greater. 

17.       If the Government of Ontario were to introduce a neonic ban as a key solution to the so-called bee mortality problem, it risks experiencing even greater ire in days ahead, i.e., when some vocal beekeepers find that the problem is just as bad as before and when corn farmers experience serious losses due to damage caused by insects now controlled by neonic seed treatments. There is also a high probability that many corn farmers would switch to the use of other insecticides much more harmful to themselves and the environment. Finally, the demand for a neonic ban could extend to horticultural farmers who are highly dependent on foliar spray applications of neonics for insect control.