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If We're Banning Things to Save Bees, Why Not Ban Cell Phones?

05/06/2015 12:36 EDT | Updated 05/06/2016 05:59 EDT
Jason Hosking via Getty Images

It seems, based on Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray's actions, that the task of saving Ontario's honey bees is now an exercise in throwing out ideas without any concern for the impact it will have on saving the bees, or the broader consequences.

Here's one he has not considered: ban cellphone use.

It would be as shocking to voters in Toronto Centre, who elected the former Mayor of Winnipeg, as his plans for agriculture are to farmers in rural Ontario.

Glen Murray is on a mission to so heavily restrict the use of an agricultural product that is critical to sustaining a $9 billion dollar sector of our economy, he won't let the fact that existing federal government regulations to more responsibly manage it have already helped reduce in-season bee mortality by 70 per cent without devastating agriculture, as Murray's plan would. Murray appears hellbent on rushing through bad regulations that won't help solve the problem.

"We're already into eight years of significant high bee death accumulating last year with a 58 per cent loss of bee population," says Glen Murray, Ontario's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. "At this point we're seeing catastrophic loss."

Over winter bee mortalities have not been accumulating at all. A little 13-page report produced by the Province's Apiarist disagrees with Murray's assessment.

Here are three "inconvenient truths" from that same report that Glen Murray and his government are refusing to deal with, and instead are choosing to blame farmers.

1) Ontario ended the 2014 season with 15 per cent more bee colonies than it had before last winter. (97,500 colonies going into 2014 compared to 112,800 colonies going into 2015.)

2) Ontario's bee colonies produced on average 11 per cent more honey this year than last. (65.26 pounds per colony in 2013 compared to 72.62 pounds per colony in 2014.)

3) Since 2010, there has been nearly a 250 per cent increase in the number of bee colonies being sent to pollinate crops in Quebec and Atlantic Canada from Ontario. (12,600 in 2010 to 30,800 in 2014.)

Ontario's Apiarist asked commercial bee keepers what they believed was contributing to honey bee mortality and reported the following, by the frequency it was raised:

1) Starvation;

2) Weather;

3) Chronic pesticide exposure;

4) Unknown;

5) Weak colonies;

6) Acute pesticide exposure;

7) Other;

8) Nosema (fungal infection); and

9) Ineffective varroa control.

Prior to the 2014 planting season, which followed the winter with 58 per cent bee mortality, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) put in place interim risk mitigation controls on the use of neonicotinoids to address concerns about the role they could play and to limit exposure to bees.

After the 2014 planting season, Ontario's Apiarist noted:

"The PMRA reported a 70 per cent decrease in in-season bee mortality incidents during the planting season (May 2014). Although the risk mitigation measures contributed to this decrease in mortality incidents, there are other factors which contributed as well."

The Apiarist continued:

"Overall, it is difficult to make conclusions based on a single field season and it is important to track this issue over several years to understand the impact of weather, the routes of neonicotinoid exposure and the factors that influence bee health. Further monitoring and surveillance of honey bee health and pesticide residues in the environment are important to clarify and address the relationship between neonicotinoids and pollinator health."

Meanwhile Glen Murray is running around saying to media:

"[T]here is a preponderant amount of research...that suggest that [neonics are] certainly a significant factor in the cause of extraordinary levels of decline in bee populations and bee deaths...the body of research out there...is kind of extraordinary."

Perhaps Murray ought to look back to 2011 when a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found that honeybees reacted significantly to cell phones. Eighty-three experiments were involved in that report.

"Worker piping in a bee colony is not frequent, and when it occurs in a colony, that is not in a swarming process, no more than two bees are simultaneously active (Pratt et al. 1996). The induction of honeybee worker piping by the electromagnetic fields of mobile phones might have dramatic consequences in terms of colony losses due to unexpected swarming."

There are similar reports from India where a 2010 study at the Panjab University in Chandigarh where researchers powered up cellphones near gives for twice a day for 15 minutes.

"After three months, they found the bees stopped producing honey, egg production by the queen bee halved, and the size of the hive dramatically reduced."

Like Glen Murray, I am not a bee expert. Unlike Murray, I think we should listen to the province's bee experts when they call for more study to truly understand the relationship before spouting off and regulating bad ideas.

The reality is, in spite of Glen Murray's over the top rhetoric, Ontario's bee population is growing every year and we know from the PMRA and the Province's Apiarist that the measures the federal government have already helped reduce in season mortality last year. Following planting this year there will be even more data available that just won't matter because Murray will have already banned neonics and condemned Ontario's 28,000 affected grain farmers to the consequences of his actions.

If he gets his way.

John Laforet is Principal at Broadview Strategy Group and his firm works with Grain Farmers of Ontario. He is also a cellphone user.

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