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Thursday, March 29,2012

Beekeepers to EPA: We’re running out of time

Beekeepers have been concerned that pesticides are to blame for the bee die-offs devastating their industry for a while now. As we reported recently, their losses have spiraled out of control, putting not just the beekeepers but our entire agricultural system in peril.

The concern centers around a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed to be marketed and sold even after the agency’s own scientists’ put up red flags. And now some in the industry have decided it’s time to formally challenge EPA’s negligence. On March 21, 27 beekeepers and four environmental groups filed a petition [PDF] with the agency asking it to take clothianidin — the neonicotinoid causing the most trouble — off the market until a long-overdue, scientifically sound review is completed.


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What is being overlooked is the real world experience: canola growers have been using both GM seeds and chemical treated seeds for years now, and beekeepers have been getting lucrative honey crops from the canola flowers -- not dead hives!

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Canola is grown commercially mostly on the prairies in Canada. In 2008, 16.6 million acres (6.6 million ha) were planted and the acreage is expanding. There are 52,000 canola producers. Canada is the largest single producer of canola in the world.

Commercially grown canola is predominantly a prairie crop. It is so common that 80% of Canada’s honey crop is from canola. This amounts to 50 million lb per year of Grade No 1 white honey. 

Approximately 300,000 colonies harvest open pollinated canola. The expanding hybrid seed production industry, where farmers produce seed under contract to the seed companies, required 80,000 colonies in 2008 for pollination in southern Alberta.

Most canola seeds are now treated with systemic insecticides such as Gaucho® (imidacloprid), Poncho® (chlothianidin) or Helix® (thiamethoxan). Although there is an expressed concern by many beekeepers around the world about the use of systemics, the experience in Canada is that we have had 10 years of large scale use on canola with no observed ill effect.

Pollinating Hybrid Canola - the Southern Alberta Experience
Heather Clay, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Honey Council, Calgary, AB