Two large beekeepers in Ontario have launched a class action lawsuit against Bayer, the manufactuer of NeoNics: the chemicals most beekeepers think are killing their bees. I’ve been asked by many people what I think about this. So…
Symptomatic of NeoNic poisoning is a generally healthy stock of young bees and queen, but nearly absent older forager bees. As the older bees contribute significantly to the health of the hive; without them, the hive gradually dwindles away to nothing. Sometimes with only a queen and a few bees to feed her.
I think this happens because the bees and the young queen are fed by the other bees. Once the workers start feeding themselves, they too are poisoned by the residual chemicals. The queen eats only royal jelly, so the attendant workers sort of “clean” her food, protecting her from poisoning. We’ve seen this in 100+ hives on my farm this summer, and combined losses in the last two years is nearly 800 hives.
Beekeepers have traditionally tolerated isolated cases of pesticide poisoning in their hives because they understand that they depend on healthy relationship with cooperating farmers in the areas their bees forage. Beekeepers would much rather take the occasional loss in hives then engage in a lawsuit that would invariably involve neighbouring farmers. I have worked hard to find locations and farmers who appreciate my bees and will help me keep the bees healthy. A reputation for suing anyone would quickly make me and my bees unwelcome in the community.
The NeoNics threaten this traditional relationship for several reasons: Firstly, the farmers are told these seed treatments are safe for bees, so the usual communication with the beekeeper is not initiated; Secondly, the losses are not manageable, many beekeepers are being pushed to the edge of viability by repeated massive hive losses. Finally, Crop Life Canada, the chemical producer lobby agency has chosen a divide and conquer approach to this issue.
For instance, Pierre Petelle, their point man on this issue, has described critics of these chemicals as “extremists” and “sensationalists” who threaten mainstream agriculture by taking “tools away from farmers”. It is this attempt to separate beekeepers from the rest of the agriculture community which is the most dangerous me. My honey production depends on successful farmers planting flowering crops which grow vigorously to maturity. I need their goodwill, and their crops, to succeed. This goodwill has been attacked in the interests of defending NeoNics.
It is clear to me that Bayer and other chemical companies see bee poisonings as a PR problem best handled by spokes-people, not as a science problem to be discussed rationally by beekeepers and scientists. Understood in this way, a lawsuit is likely the only way to get their attention.