Did you hear that the honeybee crisis is over? This bold and surprising pronouncement appeared in Margaret Wente's July 22 Globe and Mail column, Good news: There is no honeybee crisis. Wente cites the latest survey statistics from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, which indicate fewer losses of Canadian honeybee colonies this past winter than the previous one. It is good news — although overwintering losses in Ontario were still double the level beekeepers suggest is sustainable.
Sign up for our newsletter
Wente stretches the limits of this good news with the claim that fewer honeybee losses last winter mean we no longer need to be concerned about the harmful effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on planetary ecosystems. She wrongly states, "most research shows little to no impact." An independent analysis of more than 1,200 scientific studies on neonics concluded that they threaten numerous species, including honeybees, bumblebees, birds, worms and butterflies. Exposure to low, non-lethal levels of neonics can cause long-term harm to honeybees, affecting feeding behaviour and reproduction and making bees more vulnerable to disease. For Wente to dismiss evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides harm ecosystems is like denying that smoking causes cancer because your grandfather smoked a pack a day and lived to be 98.
Wente also overstates the value of neonics to crop production. Italy banned neonic seed treatments on corn in 2008, and production didn't suffer. In Canada, these chemicals continue to be used extensively — virtually all corn planted in Ontario and 60 per cent of soybeans are treated with neonics — yet a leaked federal government analysis estimates neonic seed treatments contribute just 0.4 per cent of the total value of soy production in Canada and 3.6 per cent in the case of corn.
Honeybee health is affected by several, interrelated factors. Ending routine overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees, as Ontario's new regulations will do, will help diminish one known threat. That's good news for all of us who are concerned with the plight of pollinators. Let's remember that healthy pollinators play an essential role in food production!
Will there be an end to the honeybee crisis? One thing Wente got right in her column is that there's keen public interest in the plight of pollinators. We need to keep this issue buzzing. We can each do our part by planting bee and butterfly-friendly plants and calling on all levels of government to work toward a phase-out of neonics. Together we can bring bees back from the brink.