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Bees are dying — that much is pretty darned clear. They have been dying off for years, and the dangers of that die-off are obvious.

Bees pollinate much of our fruits and vegetables and play a crucial role in plant biology for the vast array of plants that aren’t involved in food production.

More and more, the finger of blame is pointing to one specific group of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids. The chemicals, also known as “neonics,” are systemic pesticides. They don’t target a specific insect or get a specific application; they’re dosed on seeds or sprayed on plants, and then are passed through the plant in everything from sap to leaves to pollen. The chemicals have about 40 per cent of the pesticide market right now, and were a product that made $3 billion in 2011.

More and more, though, the chemicals are being implicated as killers.

“We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT,”  Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin of the National Centre for Research in France, one of the authors of a new study, said in Ottawa last week. “Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

“Seventy-five per cent of the crops that we eat are pollinated by insects of one type or another — mostly by bees,” Dave Goulson, another of the report’s authors, told the CBC. “If we didn’t have those bees — if we don’t look after them — then we won’t have most of the fruits that we like to eat, most of the vegetables that we like to eat. We’d be eating porridge, rice, bread — not much else. Life would be awful.”

Some jurisdictions are listening. The European Union is starting to phase out the chemicals this year.

Not here.

Pesticide manufacturers and their trade agency, Croplife Canada — and our own federal government — are falling back on a familiar refrain. The information isn’t conclusive enough. Study after study, the response is the same, and bees keep dying while profits roll in.

You can, like the tobacco companies did for years, just go on and on like a broken record, saying, “There’s not enough proof. There’s not enough proof. There’s not enough proof.”

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose dismisses all the concerns as “inconclusive,” but she says she’s watching.

“We are constantly absorbing new science and reassessing. If there is a danger to Canadians, then we will act further,” Ambrose said.

Funny: she doesn’t seem to recognize anything else that’s being absorbed.

But here’s a question the pesticide giants and the government should be thinking hard about: what do you say afterwards if it turns out you’re wrong?

Because it’s not only your own industry that will be at risk.

“Oops — we’re sorry — have some porridge”?

Organizations: National Centre for Research, CBC, European Union

Geographic location: France, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Bees not needed
    June 29, 2014 - 07:12

    The Telegram is porridge. The bees are not irreplaceable any longer. The rich will have food, and like Royality, become inbred and degenerate despite technology and the meek and poor will adapt to a limited diet and ultimately prevail in the long run. Drones will now do pollination. We don't need bees for the long term, just need to keep interest rates low and sustain growth.