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bee in flight

The first North American government has put strong limits on neonic pesticides to help save our buzzy buddies, the bees. Read on!

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Canada’s province of Ontario has become the first in North America to put stringent restrictions on the use of “neonics,” which are thought to be causing overwinter deaths of pollinator bees.

As the Globe and Mail reports:

“There is a long list of studies linking neonics to honey bee deaths. Chronic exposure through pollen and water has also been shown to limit bees’ abilities to forage and navigate, and makes them less able to withstand virus-bearing mites, long winters and habitat loss.”

What are neonics?

“Neonicotinoids” are a pesticide chemically related nicotine. The neonics in question are a coating applied to seeds to before planting, and they serve to prevent attacks of pests and worms while the crop establishes, then grows. It can also be applied to the soil and is water-soluble and partially is designed be ingested by the plants so it’s a defense for life.

Why are neonics a problem?

I’ll let Texas A&M’s “Insects in the City” blog explain:

“Initially, neonicotinoids were praised for their low-toxicity to many beneficial insects, including bees; however recently this claim has come into question. New research points to potential toxicity to bees and other beneficial insects through low level contamination of nectar and pollen with neonicotinoid insecticides used in agriculture. Although these low level exposures do not normally kill bees directly, they may impact some bees’ ability to foraging for nectar, learn and remember where flowers are located, and possibly impair their ability to find their way home to the nest or hive. Despite the controlled studies completed to date, the actual impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey bees in the field are difficult to measure. It is still not known whether these effects explain bee colony collapse disorder, or have had any effect in agriculture or, especially, in urban areas.”

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What is Ontario doing about it?

The province has placed the onus on farmers to prove they have inarguable need to use neonics-treated seed for their crop. They must swear an oath, provide proof of need, and must purchase only from a government-licensed vendor.

This won’t outright eliminate the use of neonics, but it’s expected to dramatically lower it, and that’s an important step. These products should be a last resort, not standard use by agriculture.

Fact is, neonics are a neurotoxic pesticide and there are far too many instances of neurotoxins remaining in soil, getting into water sources, and affecting everything from butterflies to birds.

What else can we do about it?

We should tell our elected representatives that it’s time to broadly limit the use of any chemicals in these classes. That’s one way to offset their damaging ways, but with as many people as we have on the planet, it’s important that we find ways to protect food sources from pests.

It’s not an easy problem, protecting our food supply, but clearly we can do it better if we’ve got entire groups up in arms about pesticides and other aggressive crop treatments.

Last year, when I learned about a young Amish farmer seeking to radically change how we farm, I wrote this column explaining his premise of “biological agriculture,” in which he seeks to find what nutritional imbalances plants have and instead tries to make them healthy, rather than killing its predators. What we do with pesticides is almost like knowing a person has a vitamin “D” deficiency but then blasting them with chemotherapy in hopes whatever doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. Farmers like him give me hope that we’ll find a better way.

Working with nature

As governments like Ontario begin removing the “easy” solution, which too many producers glom onto rather than trying to work with nature, we might finally see a change in how we pick battles with Mother Nature.

What if healing plants, not killing insects, could truly change the way we grow food? What if it helped the bee population surge, rather than struggle for survival?

That, indeed, would be something worth buzzing about.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.