Ontario First Province To Crack Down On Pesticides Linked To Mass Die-Off Of Bees

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Ontario has become the first province or state in North America to severely restrict a class of pesticides linked to collapses in bee populations.

The province said on Tuesday it plans to reduce the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on corn and soybeans by 80 per cent by 2017 and establish an action plan to protect pollinators. Ontario also wants to cut the mortality rate for honeybees over winter to 15 per cent by 2020. The rate in 2012-2013 for Ontario was 37.9 per cent while the national rate was 28.6 per cent, according to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists.

If the plan is approved, the new rules will be in place by July 1, 2015.

The use of neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, has become the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years amid widespread reports of colony collapses.

In late 2013, the European Union launched a two-year moratorium on the use of neonics in order to test their effects on insects. Over the summer, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed a task force to produce a strategy to stop the decline of pollinating insects and ordered an Environmental Protection Agency investigation.

However, up until Tuesday, no states or provinces had taken permanent action to restrict neonics.

The federal government has instituted a number of measures aimed at mitigating the effects of neonics, such as mandating the use of a lubricant which reduces the amount of dust generated when seeds are treated with the pesticides, but has not restricted their use

Oregon instituted a temporary ban on the a wide-range of insecticides in 2013 after tens of thousands of bees perished in the parking lot of shipping centre in the city of Wilsonville. Those restrictions have since been lifted in favour of more study and other measures to protect populations. The city of Eugene, Ore. maintains a local ban on neonics.

A Health Canada report has suggested that seeds treated with the insecticide contributed to the majority of the bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec in 2012, likely due to exposure of the pesticide-laced dust during planting. Ontario in particular has seen a high percentage of its bees perish over the winter in recent years.

Many fear the decline in bee colonies will have a severe impact on the pollination of many plants and the global food supply.

"Improving pollinator health is not a luxury but a necessity," Environment Minister Glen Murray said in a statement.

The Ontario beekeeper's association voiced support for the plan, but it seems Ontario's grain farmers are not on board.

"A reduction at this level puts our farmers at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the country and the rest of North America," said Barry Senft, the CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario, which represents corn, soybean and wheat farmers.

The organization said it has invested in ongoing multi-year research projects to mitigate the risk of pesticides to bee health.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that banning neonics will cost Ontario's corn and soybean farmers $630 million per year.

With files from The Canadian Press

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