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Beekeepers look at pesticide as cause of decimated colonies

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Feb 06, 2014 - 10:49 AM |
Lavigne beekeeper Tracy Séguin took this photo of her honeybees. Supplied photo.

Lavigne beekeeper Tracy Séguin took this photo of her honeybees. Supplied photo.

Bee pollination responsible for a third of global food supply

A class of pesticide called neonicotinoids may be at least partly to blame for honey bee colony collapse disorder, according to honey producers Tracy and Daniel Séguin.

Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a hive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear.

The Séguins, who also produce maple syrup at their Lavigne farm, said the neonicotinoids are a pesticide that affects insects' nervous systems.

Historically, Ontario honey producers would lose 10 to 15 per cent of their bees each year, but since the early 2000s — when this type of pesticide became common — losses have increased to 40 per cent.

The farmers, who gave a presentation on colony collapse disorder late last month as part of a library lecture series organized by Eat Local Sudbury, said the issue is illustrated by what happened in 2012 in Southern Ontario.

Daniel explains that seed corn is actually coated in neonicotinoids these days. Because the spring came early that year, the bees were actually already out collecting pollen when the fields were planted.

Some honey producers located close to corn producers lost 80 per cent of their honey bees that spring, he said.

“Right after corn planting, they started finding massive bee kills,” Daniel said. “The bees were bringing in the dust from the seed treatment on the corn.”

Tracy, a veterinarian by profession, said there are multiple theories about the cause of colony collapse disorder.

Other causes may include mites, viruses, fungi, bee malnutrition due to monoculture and lack of genetic variation.

“But neonicotinoids have been the newest one where there's a lot of proof,” she said. “Is it the cause for all of them? We don't know that for sure.”

As for the Séguins themselves, they say they don't think they've lost honey bees because of neonicotinoids. They do, however, communicate with neighbouring farmers to find out when they're spraying their crops with pesticides.

Back in 2002, they lost all of their bees to verroa mites because they hadn't been treating their hives to prevent the infection.

Although their honey bee loss increased from about 20 per cent to a third of the hive last year, Daniel said he thinks this was due to natural causes.

So why should people care about the fate of the honey bees? The Séguins say honey prices have already gone up by about 15 per cent recently.

Even more important is the fact honey bees are responsible for about one third of the food the average person eats because they pollinate crops.

Farmers who grow fruit and some types of nuts actually pay bee keepers to transport their hives to their farms for pollination, Tracy said.

If we lose honey bees, “you may now lose whole subsets of fruits and potentially nuts,” she said.

Eat Local Sudbury grocery manager Amanda LeClair said she invited the Séguins — which supply honey to the store — to speak about colony collapse disorder because it's something a lot of people are concerned about.

“This really affects our food system,” she said.
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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