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Neonic pesticides damaging the environment

Study links common pesticides to bee deaths

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, June 26, 2014, 4:33 PM - Bee colonies are at risk. For some time, scientists were blaming the decline on a variety of factors but now, a new study has provided evidence that two widely used pesticides are killing bees and damaging the environment.

An international task force comprised of 50 scientists is calling for the neonicotinoid and fipronil pesticides to be phased out. According to the panel, an analysis of 800 papers provides "conclusive" evidence that the pesticides are to blame for mass insect die-offs.

The chemicals are also said to be impacting earthworms and birds while posing a significant risk to the environment.

The findings will likely come as no surprise to Canadian beekeepers, many of whom have been calling for an outright ban on neonic pesticides for years.

Bill Ferguson is a commercial beekeeper near Hensall, Ont. who sat on the Ontario Beekeepers Association Board of Directors. He says that when large quantities of the corn pesticide neonicotinoid gets picked up by the wind it can literally make the air "poisonous to bees."

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"We've found the corn treatments can enter the bloodstream of the bee and cause paralysis. The result is something similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. The bees are unable to move and they can't make it back home," he told The Weather Network in 2012.

The international task force study has also revealed that a large portion of the allegedly 'bee-friendly' plants sold across Canada and the U.S. are contaminated with the harmful pesticides.

Neonicotinoid -- or neonic -- pesticides make up about 40 percent of the insecticide market. According to CTV, global sales of the product in 2011 were close to $3 billion.

"Hopefully we have learned a lesson [on] the broadcast use of heavy pesticides, that we will never see that again," endangered species biologist Dr. Gord Court told The Weather Network.

"That was [the case] with DDT and a lot of the other organic chlorine pesticides.  There was a lot of irresponsibility. We just painted the world with [pesticides] in the 50's, and it was something that we should never do again."

 Several European countries have already banned neonicotinoids and, while bee populations appear to be rebounding in those places, the next course of action for Canada remains unknown. 

Health Canada says it plans to monitor the 2014 growing season and will take further action if necessary.

"Right now, we're waiting to see what happens," Ferguson says, "because bees play a huge role in our ecosystem. At least a third of our food comes from bees and their pollen, and we can't afford to kill off our natural pollinators."

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