Davis Bryans says the big chemical companies have backed beekeepers and honey producers into a corner.
And they’re about to sting.
Bryans and his family-owned business Munro Honey in Alvinston is one of two Ontario beekeepers who have launched $400 million class-action lawsuit against Bayer and Syngenta – the developers and marketers of neoniticides – seeds coated in chemicals for pest control.
It’s estimated 99 percent of corn planted in southern Ontario uses the neoniticide technology.
Since it was introduced in 2006, Ontario beekeepers have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of bee deaths. At least one Sarnia beekeepers lost 90% of his hives last winter and believes the pesticides played a role.
Across Ontario, beekeepers lost 58% of their bees last winter, according to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists. Munro’s lost nearly 60 per cent of their bees this winter mostly, Bryans says, because they were weakened by neonics which attack the nervous systems of insects and they couldn’t make it through the tough winter.
In the lawsuit, Munro’s says it has lost $3 million since 2006 – nearly $2 million in lost beehives and another $1 million because production dropped by nearly 200,000 pounds.
The lawsuit asks for $400 million in damages from Bayer and Syngenta. Since the lawsuit was filed more than 60 beekeepers have joined the action and he’s had calls from around the world asking how they can help.
Bryans says have tried to convince federal government and Bayer itself to put stricter controls on the neonics but no action has been taken. The Ontario talked about a ban, however have yet to announce it.
“They’ve back us into a corner,” Bryans says. “They won’t negotiate with us…For a beekeeper to lose a beehive is like losing an acre of land; it’s like losing 1000 acres a year; how many farmers would do that?
“It has taken our livelihood away…you have to do something.”
Bryans says beekeepers had been considering the lawsuit for years but decided to move ahead after a federal study of dead bees in Ontario found up to 70 per cent of the bees they looked at contained the chemicals from the neonic.
Bryans says researchers at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus have found enough pesticide left from neonic fields on the top of the soil to kill bees. Bayer and Syngenta says the chemicals stay only 30 days in the soil.
Bryans says a controlled use of the technology likely would not have caused the dramatic problems found now in the industry. “If they had have used the product sparingly the way they should have, it might have been okay…that’s what’s decimated the area…The bees here can’t get away from it.”
Bryans says his family is able replenish their hives because they own land on an island in Lake Simcoe where no crops are grown and is neonic free.
Bryans says the beekeepers launched the suit to show the federal government and the seed companies they are serious about the damage which is being done.
And he says the ultimate goal is to have the use of neonics banned. Even if that were to happen today, Bryans says, it would take five to six years for southwestern Ontario’s soil to be clean.
The vice-president of CropLife Canada, a maker of the pesticides not named in the suit, said in a recent letter to The Journal that neonics are being unfairly been targeted.
“Before any pesticide can be sold in Canada, it must undergo a comprehensive scientific evaluation and risk assessment by Health Canada, which would not approve a product for use if it posed an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment,” Pierre Petelle said.