POLITICS

Watchdog warns about use of neonicotinoid pesticides linked to bee deaths

10/07/2014 10:12 EDT | Updated 12/07/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides by Ontario farmers, which has been linked to the deaths of bees, could have a "massive impact" on our ecological system, the province's environment watchdog warned Tuesday.

"All the science is not done, but everything that I have before me ... suggests to me that this is the biggest threat to the structure and ecological integrity of the ecosystem that I have ever encountered in my life, bigger than DDT, " said Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller as he released his annual report.

Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane was banned in Canada in 1972 because of environmental and safety concerns, and even Environment Minister Glen Murray admitted the neonicotinoid class of pesticides is "much more toxic" than DDT.

"It is persistent in the environment and stays there for years. About 94 per cent of it doesn't go into the plants, it goes into the soil," said Murray.

"It is impacting not just colonizing bees, but wild bees, birds, soil health as well as frogs and other invertebrate aquatic life."

Miller called bees the "canary in the coal mine" on neonicotinoids, and said the impact of the pesticides is "clearly more wide scale" in the ecosystem.

"They're affecting the food supply to our insect-eating birds, but we just don't know the full magnitude of that, and one of the recommendations of this report is that the Ontario government do some effective monitoring of the soil, the water and the wild plants to see how big that impact is," he said. "I'm very concerned."

It's too late to stop farmers from planting seeds coated in neonicotinoids next spring, said Murray, but the government is looking at ways to mitigate the impact of the pesticides by 2016.

"We have to have a corn crop next year and we have to have soy crops next year," he said.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association said the province lost 58 per cent of its hives last winter, and complained the government did not act on many previous warnings about neonicotinoids and should immediately outlaw the pesticides.

"We need Ontarians to stand up and push the government to ban neonicotinoids, which are destroying the whole ecosystem," said David Schuit of Saugeen Country Honey near Hanover. "We can't sustain this. It's going to put us out of business."

An emotional Schuit warned "we're going to go hungry" if the government doesn't take steps now to protect the environment, and the food chain, from neonicotinoids.

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Premier Kathleen Wynne spent a lot of time talking about neonicotinoids, especially when she also served as agriculture minister, but the Liberal government has done nothing to address the problem.

"The Green Party called for a ban on 'neonics' last spring so we could preplan for next spring's planting season, but now they're saying it's too late again," said Schreiner.

"Our entire food system is threatened because of neonicotinoid seeds, which the premier wants to talk about but not take action on."

Miller's annual report also said the government must do more to resolve a health crisis at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, which is hit with millions of kilograms of air pollution from the nearby petro-chemical complex known as "chemical valley."

"These people live with shelter-in-place advisories, where something happens and they're supposed to grab their children, run into the house, lock up and stay there until they're told," he said. "That wouldn't be acceptable anywhere else in Ontario."

Miller said it was "truly shameful" that a promised review of the cumulative effects of air pollution on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation still wasn't done after five years, something Murray promised to look into immediately.

"I was not aware, quite frankly, of the details of this, and one of the first things on my desk this afternoon will be looking at what's happening and getting my head around it," Murray told reporters.

"I was quite concerned, and if that was my family that's not something I would find acceptable. We need to address it."

Miller also used his report to call for a ban on logging in Algonquin Park, the only one of the 339 provincial parks where timber harvesting is allowed, and said it could take up to a decade to make sure there are no job losses.

"It's important, I think, to state and make the commitment that we will move Algonquin Park to a true protected area status," he said.

Forestry Minister Bill Mauro issued a statement saying the province recently protected another 96,000 hectares of Algonquin from logging, and suggested he won't ban commercial tree harvesting in the park, which employees about 2,800 people.

"I am confident that the management plan amendment balances protection of Algonquin Provincial Park's ecological and economic values," said Mauro.

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