(Beyond Pesticides, November 19, 2014) A group of doctors and nurses is urging the Ontario government to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, blamed for the decline of bees and other insect pollinators. As Canadaâs first neonicotinoid campaign organized by doctors and nurses, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Registered Nursesâ Association of Ontario say that these pesticides are a âmajor threat to both nature and people.â
The doctors and nurses in Ontario, Canada, now urging the province to ban the pesticides adds to growing pressure on the Ontario government to take action on neonicotinoids (neonics), the insecticide class of chemicals linked to the deaths of bees across Canada and the U.S. Central to the initiative is an advertising buy which starts this week on the Toronto subway system. The ads show an anxious child beneath the caption, âDoctors and Nurses say neonic pesticides hurt our bees and us.â The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) also plan to meet with the Ontario Environment Minister, Glen Murray, later this yearÂ to urge the government to ban the chemicals. CAPE is the campaignâs main funder, with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature.
âPhysicians believe neonics are a major threat to both nature and people,â says CAPE Executive Director Gideon Forman. âThese nerve poisons are fatal to bees but there are also concerns they may adversely affect the human nervous system. We need to ban neonics to protect public health.â
The campaign is also sending a letter to all OntarioÂ Members of ParliamentÂ urging them to prohibit neonicsâ use and sale. Ontarioâs Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller, recommends that Ontario act on its own to ban the use of the agricultural pesticides, saying there is ample science to find that neonics are responsible for the collapse of bee colonies, and that Ontario faces a potential ecological and economic crisis because of the disappearance of bees, which pollinate hundreds of crops in the province.
The Canadian government is studying the effects of three of the pesticides on bee colonies in agricultural areas. In September 2013, Health Canadaâs Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) âresponsible for regulating pesticides in Canadaâ discovered neonicotinoid-contaminated dust had caused severe bee mortality in Ontario and Quebec, and released new measures intended to protect bees from exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. These included guidelines for soybean and corn growers who use neonicotinoids on treated seeds, requiring a dust-reducing lubricant to prevent the pesticide from spreading at seeding time. Additionally, ongoing monitoring is being used to determine whether these mitigation techniques will help reduce bee mortality in 2014. Based on the results, new measures could be introduced for next year, such as a permit system for the use of neonics. A final report is expected in 2015. Ontario has said it will wait for the results of the study before it makes a recommendation to restrict neonicotinoids, as has been done in the European Union. But many, including the doctors and nurses, recommend banning the chemicals outright, and urge the province to adopt an ecological approach to pest control that minimizes use of pesticides. Crop rotation, improved planting techniques and pest resistant crops that can help eliminate the need for pesticides in agriculture have been suggested.
âThis is a unique campaign because health professionals have teamed up with environmental groups to urge a ban on these toxic pesticides. And it makes perfect sense because as nurses we know that if you kill bees âand endanger our food supplyâ you undermine human health,â says Doris Grinspun, RN, MSN, PhD, and Chief Executive Officer of RNAO. Dr. Grinspun also notes that neonicotinoids go well beyond the corn and soybean fieldsÂ to disrupt other ecological systems. âThe issue with theÂ neonicÂ pesticides is that they are absorbed and incorporated into every part of the plant, from leaves and stems to seed, pollen and nectar. They are very persistent, they are highly water soluble, so they can contaminate ground and surface water and can persist in aquatic environments for a very long time,” Dr. GrinspunÂ said.
This summer, one county in southern Ontario was reported to be the first Canadian communityÂ to temporarily ban neonicotinoids, while officials in Prince Edward County passed a motion prohibiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on municipal lands. Canadian municipalities have an illustrious history of restricting pesticides to safeguard human and environmental health. For several years, Canadian communities have been restricting cosmetic uses of pesticides on their lawns despite pushback from industry giants. Similarly, neonicotinoid restrictions could gain traction across the provinces, especially if bee losses continue to mount.
Neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have already been given a two-year moratorium in the European Union. Despite calls for similar action from beekeepers and environmentalists, Canadian officials, and their counterparts in the U.S., have refused to follow suit. Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, and beekeepersÂ filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2013 calling for a ban on clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which are used extensively on corn, soybean and canola seeds, even though a recent report finds that this use pattern provides no additional benefit to agriculture. A recent EPA report also confirms that soybeanÂ seed treatments with neonicotinoid insecticides provide little or no overall benefits in controlling insects or improving yield or quality in soybean production
Mounting science has documented the neonicotinoid class of pesticidesÂ as a major factor in bee decline. Neonicotinoids have been shown, even at low levels, to impair foraging, navigational and learning behavior in bees, as well as suppress their immune system to point of making them susceptible to pathogens and disease. Read: No Longer a Big Mystery. These chemicals are also systemic, meaning they contaminate the entire plant, including pollen and nectar, leading to contamination of the entire colony, including juvenile bees, when pollen is taken back to the hive. More recent research is even finding that neonicotinoids persist for long periods of time in theÂ environment, contaminating soil and water, andÂ adversely affectingÂ other non-target organisms.
At a recent listening session hosted by EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), many beekeepers voiced their dissatisfaction at the slow pace ofÂ U.S. action on pollinator protection, and industry misrepresentation of the crisis facing bees. While industry stakeholders, like Syngenta and Bayer, try to deflect blame away from their products and focus on the prevalence of varroa mites, improved farming technologies, and best management practices, beekeepers insist that pesticide exposures, especially to neonicotinoids, are to blame for massive hive losses. Canadian beekeepers recently filed a class action lawsuit against Syngenta and Bayer CropScience charging that the companies were negligent in the design, sale, manufacture, and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides and this negligence caused the plaintiffs to suffer $450 million in damages.
The plight of bees and other pollinators is an important one for all to be concerned. One third of the foods we eat are dependent on pollination services, which contribute $20-30 billion to the agricultural economy. The reliance on toxic, systemic inputs that dominate our agricultural systems and how we manage pests, is being found to have more environmental costs than benefits. The time for actionÂ is now. The White HouseÂ issued a Presidential MemorandumÂ on pollinator health to the heads of federal agencies requiring action to âreverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.â The President is directing agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, and to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan within 180 days.Â The memorandum recognizes the severe losses in the populations of the nationâs pollinators, including honey bees, wild bees, monarch butterflies, and others and the impact to the agricultural economy. However, the White House recently announced that it would miss the deadline to provide a pollinator health strategy. Let EPA and the White House know that the time is not for action! Comments may be submitted by Monday, November 24 online at www.regulations.gov, EPA docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0806.
For more information on how to improve pollinator health and habitat, see the BEE Protective webpage, where you can find the Pollinator Friendly Seed and Nursery Directory. The directory lists sources of seeds and plant starts that are safe for bees and not poisoned with neonicotinoids or other pesticides. Join efforts to protect pollinators and educate your community about the importance of these creatures at BEE Protective.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, CBC News