Making pollination political

Last week, Reuters reported that Home Depot and other U.S. retailers announced that they would require suppliers to label a type of pesticide that scientists say is a contributing factor for honeybee declines worldwide.

A new scientific analysis shows that not only bees, but other pollinators and animal life, are suffering from the use of neonicotinoids, and scientists are calling on governments to intervene. The European Commission has already banned the pesticide for two years, while the U.S. has announced the creation of an inter-agency task force to protect pollinators. In Canada, a lack of federal action has forced local governments into taking the lead.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, made up of 29 scientists from around the world, analyzed over 800 peer-reviewed studies published in the last five years—including industry sponsored ones. They found that neonicotinoids were largely responsible for honeybee declines and posed risks to other pollinators and animals, such as birds, earthworms, butterflies and aquatic life.

Neonicotinoids are used on staple crops, such as corn and soybeans, as well as annual and perennial plants sold at garden centres and green houses.

As of August 2013, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency had received 79 reports from more than 322 different bee yards that honeybees were dying with symptoms typical of pesticide exposure, such as twitching and inability to fly. These reports coincided with the planting of corn and soybean crops treated with insecticides.

“More than 20,000 known species of bees serve as the lynchpin of a global pollination ecosystem that also includes hummingbirds, beetles, flies, moths and many others,” Jeremy Runnalls, Corporate Knights’ managing editor reported last January.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that 80 percent of flowering plants and 35 percent of the world’s crops are reliant on pollinators for production.

A joint study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 pointed to parasites and disease, poor nutrition and a lack of genetic diversity in bee colonies as potential contributors to honeybee deaths.

Instead of focusing on neonicotinoids, Monsanto, Bayer and other agrochemical companies have listed these other factors as potential reasons for the decline in honeybees..

Even so, Home Depot’s vice president of merchandising and sustainability, Ron Jarvis, announced last week that the company would require its suppliers to label plants dosed with neonicotinoids by the end of the year. The company will also conduct tests to see if it is possible to raise healthy plants without using the pesticide.

But, as Corporate Knights reported last December, labeling may not be enough as consumers are confused by the different symbols they are expected to recognize.

“We can now clearly see that [neonicotinoids]…pose a risk to ecosystem functioning and services which go far beyond concern around one species and which really much warrant government and regulatory attention,” said Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, chair of the task force, in an online statement.

Indeed, the WIA analysis makes it clear that political action is needed to protect honeybees and other pollinators and to bring the negative effects of neonicotinoids under control.

The European Commission restricted the use of three pesticides belonging to the neonicotinoids family starting in December 2013 for two years or until more information becomes available.

Syngenta, a company that makes the pesticide, withdrew its “emergency” application today to use the neonicotinoids on canola crops in the E.U. Almost 250,000 people protested through online petitions and letters, reported the Guardian. But, the company says it withdrew because the Commission did not approve the application with enough time to distribute the product to farmers for this year’s growing season.

A memo issued by the White House last Friday said that a new inter-agency task force has been charged with drafting a strategy to protect pollinators, such as honeybees, butterflies and bats. At President Obama’s request for federal agencies to take action to advance the health of honeybees and other pollinators, the U.S. Agriculture Department promised US $8 million in incentives to farmers and ranchers who are willing to build new habitats for honeybees.

But in Canada, local governments are taking the most aggressive action to protect their honeybees.

The Prince Edward County council in Southern Ontario passed a resolution last May that banned the use of neonicotinoids and asked the federal government to put a moratorium on the pesticide until further research could be conducted.

Sam Merulla, a city councillor in Hamilton, Ontario will ask city council this month to meet with McMaster University, the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Ontario Beekeepers Association to figure out how to deal with this problem. Banning the pesticide is on the table.

By comparison, the Canadian government has avoided placing a moratorium on neonicotinoids. Instead, it has released planting guidelines for corn and soybeans to minimize honeybee exposure to the pesticide. The recommendations include reducing dust from the coated seeds, using safer planting practices, cleaning equipment, and improving labeling for seeds treated with the pesticide.

The government will monitor the 2014 growing season and evaluate the outcomes of the recommendations. Health Minister Rona Ambrose called the research done by Health Canada on this matter “inconclusive,” as reported by the CBC.

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