Treated corn seed linked to bee kills, Health Canada urges farmers to use best practices

Government issues list of 25 best practices to lower the risk of contamination 
instead of following Europe’s lead and banning neonicotinoid insecticides

Another round of “bee incidents” last year has prompted Health Canada to issue an updated list of mitigation measures to corn farmers who may have inadvertently killed the pollinators.

A severe death rate during planting season in 2012 has been linked to a dry spell and widespread use of nitro-guanidine neonicotinoid insecticides on corn seed.

“Health Canada evaluated the incidents and concluded that the bees were believed to have been exposed to these pesticides through dust containing pesticide residues, generated during planting of treated corn seed,” the department said in a statement.

Health Canada says its list of more than 25 best practices should “reduce the risk to pollinators, particularly honeybees, from exposure to dust from treated seed.”

Among the recommendations are improved “communication and co-operation among growers, seeders and beekeepers” on when seeding will take place and where hives are located, and not seeding during “very dry and/or windy conditions” because the insecticidal dust on the seed can travel widely.

Co-operation and further research is the right approach, said John Cowan, vice-president of Grain Farmers of Ontario. Farmers, beekeepers, government agencies, the crop protection industry, and equipment manufacturers “need to work together to protect pollinators and ensure profitable growth for farmers,” he said.

Health Canada’s response to bee kills is quite different than Europe’s. Last week, the European Union announced it will ban three of the world’s most widely used pesticides, including neonicotinoids, for two years because they’ve been linked to bee deaths.

The ban, which will take effect in December, was criticized by Syngenta, a maker of the pesticide. It said the decision ignores the role that habitat loss and diseases carried by parasites such as the Varroa mite have played in the so-called colony collapse disorder.

“The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees,” the company said in a statement.

Cowan said the situation in Ontario isn’t comparable to Europe because of “different production techniques, the equipment we use and the size of the fields we plant.”

Other measures being recommended by Health Canada include controlling flowering weeds that attract bees, trying to minimize dust when handling and loading seed in planters, keeping field equipment clean, proper disposal of seed bags, using deflector shields to reduce dust emissions, and not loading or cleaning equipment near bee colonies, flowering crops or weeds, and hedges. Farmers are also being urged to report suspected pollinator poisonings.

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