THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 25, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5:25 p.m. to continue its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seeds in Canada.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. I would ask senators to introduce themselves starting with the deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Mercer: Terry Mercer, Nova Scotia.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Rivard: Michel Rivard, Quebec.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
The Chair: The committee is continuing its study on the importance of pollinators in agriculture and measures to protect them.
Our order of reference is:
That the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. In particular, the committee shall be authorized to examine this topic within the context of the importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production, and honey production in Canada.
In addition, the study aims to recognize the current state of native pollinators, leafcutters and honeybees in Canada.
As well, we have honeybee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally.
We will also be looking at strategies to recommend to governments, producers and industry to ensure bee health.
Honourable senators, we have two witnesses. From the Ontario Beekeepers Association, we will hear from Mr. Dan Davidson, President.
On behalf of the Senate committee, I thank you for accepting our invitation.
Dan Davidson, President, Ontario Beekeepers Association: Thank you for the invite.
The Chair: We are also welcoming Jean-Pierre Chapleau, beekeeper and co-director of the health folder bees/pesticides, Fédération des apiculteurs du Québec.
Mr. Chapleau, thank you for accepting our invitation.
I would ask the witnesses to make their presentations, after which we will have questions from senators.
I have been informed by the clerk that Mr. Davidson will present first, followed by Mr. Chapleau.
Mr. Davidson, go ahead.
Mr. Davidson: Good evening. The Ontario Beekeepers Association thanks the chair and honourable senators for inviting us to present to the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
The OBA is an agricultural association incorporated under the Government of Ontario's Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act. Our mission is to ensure a thriving and sustainable beekeeping industry in Ontario. To that end, we support honeybee health and research, promote the value of Ontario honey and deliver practical training and information to Ontario's beekeepers.
While Ontario's honey production at $20.4 million represents only about 12 per cent of the value of Canadian honey, Ontario's beekeeping industry plays a significantly larger role in the pollination of Canada's fruits and vegetables. Fully 37 per cent of Canada's produce is grown in Ontario, more than any other province. Ontario's honeybee industry is not only responsible for much of the fresh food Canadians eat but also contributes nearly three quarters of a billion dollars to the Canadian economy through the pollination services we provide to Ontario fruit and vegetable growers and to the blueberry and cranberry growing regions of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The Ontario beekeeping industry is different in another way as well: the degree to which it has been affected by the indiscriminate agricultural use of neonicotinoid pesticides. In 2012, Ontario experienced significant losses of bees and colonies across southern Ontario. Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency's investigation indicated that corn seeds treated with neonicotinoids contributed to the majority of the bee mortalities.
They suggested that this was largely due to dust from the seeds, with unusual weather conditions being a contributing factor. But in the spring and summer of 2013, even with more typical weather patterns and adjustments to planting practices, bee losses were at least as high as the previous year. After PMRA's extensive investigation in both 2012 and 2013, they concluded that: "Current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable."
The Ontario Beekeepers Association agrees with PMRA. Since 2007, coinciding with the extended use of neonicotinoids on soy and corn, Ontario beekeepers have lost an average of 30 per cent of their colonies each winter, compared to an average of 18 per cent prior to 2007. However, this does not reflect the full impact. The fact is that colonies weak from exposure to toxic pesticides cannot recover from winter damage. Ongoing exposure even to sublethal doses causes colonies to decline throughout the spring, summer and fall. Bee losses now have to be assessed year round.
Despite these losses, Ontario's beekeepers have managed to maintain their inventory by raising queens and dividing surviving colonies. However, these hives are less populous and less productive for the season, and the additional costs associated with this practice erode the ability of beekeepers to make a living. This year, Ontario's honey crop declined by 32.6 per cent, twice the national average. We are hearing from beekeepers, some third- and fourth-generation, that their businesses may not last another year.
Neonicotinoids are now the most widely used group of insecticides in the world and their use has been steadily increasing. Although they were promoted as safer for beneficial insects than older insecticides, the evidence does not bear this out. Neonicotinoids are systemic and, therefore, pollinators can be exposed through multiple routes. While the dust generated from planting coated seeds can cause direct mortality of bees, less than 2 per cent of the active ingredients are released through the dust during planting. The remainder is found in pollen and nectar, and also in water and soil, and is known to accumulate over an extended period.
Even low concentrations can put bees at risk. Neonicotinoids are thousands of times more lethal to bees than are older insecticides like DDT. Research shows that bees experiencing sublethal effects encounter complications such as changes in foraging behaviour or delayed development. As well, it is important to stress that neonicotinoids are not separate from other problems facing honeybees, such as varroa, viruses and nutrition. Exposure to these pesticides makes other problems worse by compromising the bees' immune systems, reducing navigation skills and destroying habitat.
Why is there a disproportionate effect on Ontario? The answer to this question is largely due to the structure of Ontario's farmland and the indiscriminate use of these pesticides. Corn and soybeans at 2.7 million acres comprise more than 50 per cent of Ontario's field crops. These crops use at least four times more active neonicotinoid pesticide per acre than canola uses, the main crop in the west. The intensive planting of crops that are heavy users of neonicotinoids in Ontario makes it difficult for commercial beekeepers to avoid exposure to these pesticides.
While our counterparts in Alberta have not yet reported direct bee kills from neonicotinoids, we believe that Ontario's bees represent the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Research coming out of the University of Saskatchewan has discovered widespread residues in millions of acres across the Prairies.
As beekeepers in other provinces learn to recognize the effects of neonicotinoid poisoning and as these persistent chemicals accumulate in the soil and contaminate surface water, we can anticipate increasing reports of losses of bees across the country.
But the impact is not limited to honeybees. Neonicotinoids pose a risk to bumblebees, wild bees, birds and aquatic invertebrates. Because of the widespread use and environmental persistence, neonicotinoids are a threat to a wide range of beneficial wildlife in all provinces. As well, they negatively impact our beneficial arthropods that provide biological control of crop pests and soil invertebrates that are critical to soil health.
We believe that the continuing use of neonicotinoids at the expense of pollinators, beneficial insects and soil invertebrates will threaten the ecosystem upon which Canada's food production depends. Therefore, we ask the committee to recommend that regulators immediately suspend all conditional registrations on neonicotinoid products until we understand how to manage the risks posed.
With reference to the European Commission's decision last year to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides for two years, the EU's action was a response to the European Food Safety Authority's scientific report that identified high acute risks for bees based on over 150 scientific studies. We, too, believe this to be the only effective option to protect honeybees and other pollinators. It is our understanding that PMRA has the capacity to suspend immediately the use of pesticides when the strength of research supports such a decision. We believe that the balance of scientific evidence of the effect on pollinators and our ecosystem is compelling enough to warrant such action.
We have memory sticks for each of you with information on resources and research that will be helpful in your deliberation. As well, we have included a four-minute video produced by the Ontario Beekeepers Association that illustrates the impact of neonicotinoids on a third generation Ontario beekeeping family.
On behalf of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, I thank you for this opportunity to present to the committee and I welcome any questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Davidson.
Mr. Chapleau, the floor is yours.
Jean-Pierre Chapleau, beekeeper, co-director of the health folder bees/pesticides, Fédération des apiculteurs du Québec: Thank you for inviting us. We also appreciate the fact that your committee, honourable senators, is looking into the bee issue. I think this is very important and helps recognize the fact that there is a problem, that something is wrong, as you have all realized.
I represent the Fédération des apiculteurs du Québec — Quebec beekeepers’ association. There are about 50,000 beehives in Quebec. I have been a beekeeper my whole life. My career is nearing its end, and I have far fewer hives than I used to. During my most productive period, I had about 1,000 hives and specialized in queen bees, which were sold to my fellow beekeepers across Canada and even abroad. I had 2,200 small hives for queen bee breeding.
I have also been involved in beekeeping training, unionization — I was the director of the Fédération des apiculteurs and the co-director of the Canadian Honey Council — and, towards the end of my career, research. I have conducted research projects on alternative methods for controlling varroa mites — which you have heard much about — in conjunction with Université Laval.
I am glad to be reaching the final stages. You have heard about many aspects of the bee health issue, and it must be recognized from the outset that the causes of that problem are numerous.
The lack of plant diversity has appropriately been talked about as a cause of bee malnutrition.
Various health problems have been put forward, including varroa. That is all true. You have also heard people talk about pesticides and have asked many questions on that topic, on the relationship between bees and pesticides — more specifically the notorious neonicotinoids, which are so difficult to pronounce and are commonly known as "neonics". I will refer to them as such, with your permission.
The lack of biodiversity and the varroa issues are partially under the beekeeper’s control. Conversely, the pesticide issue — and this has been brought up by some of the witnesses who testified before me — is entirely beyond the beekeeper’s control. If I may, I would like to focus on that aspect by attempting to shed light on the elements of the problem that have not been explained so far by your previous witnesses.
The first thing you need to realize when it comes to this is how extensive the changes made in the 1990s were in the area of plant health methods — the way plants are being protected against insect pests. Two innovations appeared at the same time. We saw the arrival of a new family of molecules — the notorious "neonics" — which operate in a completely different way, as very low doses are required. At the same time, a new way to apply pesticides was created. Traditionally, pesticides were applied through external spraying. In the 1990s, we witnessed the emergence of systemic insecticides, which are added to the plant’s own fluid. This technological feat appeared to be full of promise. The technology actually does have many positive aspects. However, when these technological changes were implemented, the potential impacts at various levels were not taken into consideration.
Pesticides have been around for a long time, and beekeepers have been dealing with them for just as long. So why is it that we are suddenly faced with these problems? That is not only due to the new family of molecules. All pesticides are toxic, and all are made to kill insects. The bee is an insect. The explanation lies in the way the bee is exposed to those pesticides. Traditionally, the bee would or would not be sprayed, and, consequently, would or would not die. Nowadays, the bee is exposed in many ways. It can be exposed to airborne particles. It can also be exposed through plant nectar — either from cultivated plants themselves, or successional plants — because the molecules have long residual action in the soil, and successional cultures continue to absorb the pesticides pervading the soil. Those molecules happen to have long residual action in soil, and that action can last many years.
Bees are also exposed through water. Pesticides end up in water, as well. The molecules are hydrosoluble because they need to be in order to circulate in the plants. So they are released into water, including surface water. Bees are exposed when they drink, or when they take in drops from leaves — referred to as the guttation phenomenon.
The ways bees are exposed have increased. At the same time, their exposure is year-round, and it used to be on a one-time basis, when the farmers were likely to use an insecticide upon noting the presence of insect pests threatening their crop. So pesticides were being used to respond to a real problem. Systemic insecticide technology encourages farmers to use insecticides just in case, and that is part of the problem. Once the technology became available, farmers started using insecticides automatically, by introducing the culture into the soil.
So the bee issue has to do with the fact that there are more exposure pathways and that areas under insecticide treatment have been increased. Simply put, this a matter of overdose. There are no healthy pesticides, but bees are currently being overexposed.
What to make of that situation? This phenomenon clearly has an impact on bee health. That impact has been described fairly well by those who testified before me. However, the users of those products, among others, have expressed some concerns. It is fair to want to minimize issues when it suits us to use the product, and I understand that. The science is there, and a huge amount of scientific data is available, but I can understand that going to the library and searching through the whole body of scientific work can be intimidating. I have with me a meta-analysis with 160 references on the effects on pollinators alone. There are 160 bibliographic references at the end. Going through all this is a huge task.
However, at the end of the document I sent you, there are three meta-analyses I suggest you read. The first one concerns the effects on managed and wild pollinators. The second one is about the overall environmental effects. And the last one looks at the effects on beneficial insects, which are useful to agriculture — since not only pollinators are affected, but insects that eat pests, such as ladybugs, are also affected.
The science is there, and scientific data from Quebec is also available. I will tell you about that during the question period, if you are interested. Research conducted in Quebec has helped verify in the field the effects on bees.
Acute toxicity effects are well known, as they are the most visible ones. If we analyse a bunch of dead bees and find pesticides in their bodies, we have proof. However, things get more complicated when we talk about chronic, sublethal effects. Unfortunately, those are the most numerous ones. They cause the bees to underdevelop. Some bees get lost in fields and never return. Their cognitive faculties are affected, as are their olfactory memory and immune system. Their hypopharyngeal glands — I feel sorry for our interpreters — shrink and reduce the nursing capacities of nurse bees in our hives. That leads to shorter lifespans of our larvae and, later on, our adult bees. These problems are all extremely difficult to measure, but many research projects have confirmed those effects.
I was talking about difficulties for bees, but a very important point that should be taken into consideration — and my colleague brought this up - is that neonics are being talked about as a bee problem. I do not think that this is a bee issue. The bee is an indicator of a much broader problem. I think we have an environmental issue, whose scope is significantly wider.
The first thing that should be looked into is the matter of water. Since the molecules are hydrosoluble, they are very mobile in water, in the environment. Wherever we look — in agricultural areas, in water — we will find neonicotinoids. In Quebec, 16 rivers were tested, and the presence of neonics was established in all 16 of them. Wells in potato growing areas were tested, and they have been monitored for over 10 years. Each new sampling reveals higher and higher proportions of those particles. At this point, over 60 per cent of wells contain imidacloprid, one on the active molecules. And this is not only the case in Quebec. My colleague mentioned that marshes in Saskatchewan were tested, and those molecules were also found there. They were found wherever tests were done. Once again, this data is scientifically backed.
Something that came up a number of times when you put questions to the representatives of farmers’ associations you heard from is the agronomic justification for the use of neonics. Those people insisted on the importance of basing our practices and decisions on science. According to the transcript I read, your questions on the scientific basis for the use of neonicotinoids received no answers. However, relevant scientific data is available. I know of three studies I could send you. One of them comes from Quebec. It was carried out by the Centre de recherché sur les grains — grain research centre. Its goal was to determine the prevalence of insect pests in 14 fields divided into treated and untreated lots. The crops were monitored, and the conclusion, to be brief, was that there appeared to be no significant differences in yield in the studies. Another study was carried out in Minnesota, I think, by a Mr. Kropky, and it took place over three years instead of two. The conclusion was the same. The study involved soya. No increase in the yield was established. An attempt was made to treat aphids. There was no impact on the aphids because the insecticide dosage was minimal when the aphids arrived. However, there was a 25 per cent reduction in the populations of ladybugs, which eat aphids.
In my opinion, it must be impressed upon the users of neonics that practices have to be based on science. Currently, the available indicators do not prove that neonicotinoids are never needed, but they do prove that we are far from needing them all the time. The issue with the current situation is that the prevalence of use is not consistent with the needs.
The Fédération des apiculteurs du Québec has invested a great deal of effort with farmers over the past three years. I will tell you more about that later. The effort resulted in guidelines for screening soil-borne insects. We have talked to farmers, and a consultation committee has taken all kinds of initiatives to try to encourage farmers to return to what is called integrated pest management. Currently, we have to recognize that there are tremendous forces preventing us from reaching our objectives. Seed companies have very low sales of untreated grains, despite all the efforts being made. The Union des producteurs agricoles — a farmers’ union organization — which had fairly significant means at its disposal, was one of our partners. Quebec’s department of agriculture sent a letter to all farmers asking them to use pesticides rationally. That did not change the volume of sales. There are major issues with the industry structure, product marketing and, I would say, the kind of dependence that has developed among farmers in terms of pesticides.
Before I finish my presentation, I would like to talk about the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). The witnesses you heard before me talked a lot about that body. Witnesses often said that they appreciated the fact that the PMRA made science-based decisions. I will put forward an alternative view. In my opinion, there have been some major problems with the PMRA’s handling of the neonics issue. An agency like ours is expected to act as a filter and verify and measure the hazards inherent to insecticide use before granting them marketing authorization. The data used is normally based on science. Unfortunately, that did not work in the case of neonicotinoids, and there were some irregularities. I will tell you about the main ones.
The most used product is clothianidin, whose brand name is Poncho. Virtually all corn is treated with Poncho. That product has never been fully assessed. It was issued what is called a temporary registration. I mentioned this in the document I submitted to you that has probably been translated. The information I am giving you comes from the Poncho registration report. The product could not receive a continued registration because the data on a number of aspects was missing. The producer, Bayer, was asked for that data, which had to do with safety for pollinators, immunotoxicity and leeching. Despite this, the product has had a temporary registration for 10 years. To my understanding, a temporary registration can be used in an emergency situation and would be revoked if any issues arose. Despite the burden of proof, the registration has not been revoked.
It would be my pleasure to tell you more if you have any questions.
Senator Mercer: Thank you for being here. It was very informative, as always.
Mr. Davidson, you talked about shipping bees to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, and bees are being produced for the Ontario market itself. How many colonies do you export, or are you just exporting queens?
Mr. Davidson: There are colonies of bees that go to the East Coast. I think last year it was around 26,000 hives from Ontario. If I'm allowed to pass out these smart sticks — or all senators should have received a frequently-asked-questions sheet. The exact numbers should be on there. I think it was around 26,000.
Senator Mercer: We have heard before from many people that one of the issues is communication between beekeepers and farmers with regard to the location of hives and when farmers are going to spray. A recent Government of Australia study said that:
. . . insecticides are not a highly significant issue, even though they are clearly toxic to bees if used incorrectly. Incidents of beekeepers losing bee colonies as a result of insecticide use do occur, but this most often arises because there has been a break-down of communication between the farmer and the affected beekeeper.
How true is that Australian statement here in Canada? We have heard before that sometimes the farmer doesn't know where the hive is; sometimes the farmer isn't spraying at the right time. We have also had farmers here who told us that they're very careful and that if the wind is blowing in a certain direction, they will wait to spray because of the location of hives. They want you to have healthy hives as well as you do. So how true is that statement?
Mr. Davidson: That statement is completely true when you are talking about foliar applications of insecticides. But as Mr. Chapleau described very well, the neonic way of treating crops is not even in the same ballpark. It is being put down no matter what — whether it needs it or not. Foliar applications of sprays — they do use an IPM and there is communication there. Everything in my personal situation has gone really well with farmers when they have to use foliar sprays. But it is not even the same ballpark as neonics, which are going down no matter what.
Senator Mercer: Mr. Chapleau, you mentioned surface water, and I just want to clarify that's surface water on the plant, not on the surface of ground water. It's the surface water that bees would contact as they pollinate.
Mr. Chapleau: I was talking about the surface water on the ground.
Senator Mercer: Oh, on the ground?
Mr. Chapleau: Yes. The puddles contain neonicotinoids at variable levels. You must understand that the coating on the seed dissolves when it is on the ground. Between 1 per cent and 20 per cent is absorbed by the plant, so the rest spreads on the ground. Since it remains in the soil for a long time, it will be there for years and will flow with the water. When important rains arrive, it will come to the top and bring toxicities to the bees drinking that water.
Senator Mercer: Thank you very much. I had the totally wrong impression. That was very helpful.
We all know about the European Union suspension for two years of the use of neonicotinoids, and we're into year one. Should we just wait until we find out what happens after two years of not using neonicotinoids? They've been affected by significant bee losses as well. They might discover that it's not necessarily just the neonicotinoids but there could be other environmental factors, such as climate change, et cetera.
Mr. Davidson: We can look to Italy for that one. Italy banned neonicotinoids on corn in 2008. The beekeeping loss has leveled off. In other words, it didn't get any worse, like we're seeing here. The farmers actually didn't see a significant yield reduction in their corn production either, so it's kind of a win-win situation, I would think. As far as waiting for the two years to be up, I personally think there's enough research and science that we don't need to wait that long.
Senator Mercer: Mr. Chapleau?
Mr. Chapleau: In my opinion, there is an emergency situation. The situation in the West is not the same as it is in the East. Of course, I don't know well what is going on in the West. I don't know canola, what dosages are used or what the rotations are. I know that in Quebec, in many cases corn is treated with high doses, and the next year soy is also treated with neonicotinoids and then we go back to corn again. We are facing a problem that is building and, in my opinion, will get worse.
I repeat: This is not a bee problem; this is a much wider problem.
Senator Mercer: Thank you.
Senator Rivard: We have been discussing this topic for a few months. A few weeks ago, a witness from a province west of Quebec told us about a local insurance program for beehives. The witness said that, given the prohibitive cost of the insurance, very few people were buying it.
I cannot recall seeing in anyone’s presentation the average lifespan of a worker or queen bee. Do they have shorter lifespans than they used to, in light of all the problems?
Mr. Chapleau: You mentioned several things in your question. Are you talking about insurance against the loss of hives?
Senator Rivard: For the loss of a hive.
Mr. Chapleau: That is a different question than the one about the lifespans of worker and queen bees.
Senator Rivard: All the witnesses we heard from talked about the health issues, but no one’s presentation ever mentioned what the average lifespan of a worker or queen bee was. They are said to be different.
Mr. Chapleau: Yes, they are different.
Senator Rivard: This is a difficult time for bees right now. Did they used to live two or three times longer than they do now?
Mr. Chapleau: The normal lifespan of a worker bee is 45 days during the season. In winter, it lives much longer, five or six months, because its activity level, as a nurse bee or field bee, shortens its lifespan. Under normal conditions, a queen bee can easily live up to two or three years, sometimes even longer.
One of the chronic effects of neonicotinoids is shorter lifespans. I touched on it, but what we are seeing is shorter life expectancies for larvae and full-grown bees.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this evening.
Mr. Davidson, can you comment in general on bee management in Ontario? We've heard from other beekeepers across the country about the struggles with varroa mite. Maybe you can comment on some of the products you use in your hives.
Mr. Davidson: The varroa mites basically wiped out most of the bad beekeepers in Ontario in the mid-1990s when they came here. It is very difficult to keep bees with varroa mites without having almost perfect mite-killing tools. We use strips as the most effective solution. The strips contain a pesticide and are placed between the combs of the beehives. The pesticide will kill the mites but not the bees.
There are a number of different management techniques that a lot of beekeepers in Ontario use, such as reproducing bees, selling nucs and selling hives. I use strips only every year and a half. I try to use them as little as possible — kind of back to the IPM thing.
It's worth noting, and ties into your question and the question before, that we've always lost bees. Before we had other problems, we had only the winter to deal with in Ontario, and the average loss was between 5 per cent and 10 per cent. Then we got varroa mites in the mid-1990s. From then to 2007 our losses averaged 18 per cent. Then the use of systemic insecticides came along, and from 2007 until now, our losses are at least 30 per cent, depending on how this year pans out. It does seem to be getting worse. The easiest way for everyone to understand is that it's not just neonicotinoids killing bees; and no one is trying to say that. However, it's definitely making it harder and it's the one thing that beekeepers can't control, as Mr. Chapleau mentioned.
Mr. Chapleau: There is a connection to consider between neonics and varroa, and between neonics and winter losses more generally speaking.
A certain number of studies have brought to light the problems that neonics cause to bees’ immune systems. A study was just completed in Quebec, and I have the final report, which just came out. It shows a higher prevalence of viruses when bees are exposed to even small quantities of neonics. There is also a higher prevalence of varroa. That is relatively new information. As far as I know, none of the scientific literature so far has talked about that. It had only been mentioned as a possibility given bees’ ability to thermoregulate.
Bees keep their brood nest warm. In other words, they sit on their young. Because of the heat they apply to the brood nest, it takes 21 days for a bee to hatch. Neonics affect their ability to thermoregulate, so it often takes more than 21 days for them to hatch. And that encourages the growth of varroa populations, which grow in brood cells.
Neonics affect bees’ ability to thermoregulate, so it takes longer than 21 days for them to hatch. That encourages the growth of varroa populations, which grow in brood cells. And because brood cells take longer before hatching, female varroa are able to reproduce more in those cells. That is a plausible explanation and should be considered in relation to what previous witnesses have told you, Rob Currie, in particular. He said that an unexplained increase in winter losses had been noted in the past ten or so years. So this is something worth looking into. Even though beekeepers in the western provinces are not reporting any problems with neonics, to my knowledge, they have not checked the immune systems of their bees and the potential link between neonics exposure and their abnormal winter losses.
Senator Buth: Mr. Chapleau, you're quite focused on the neonics and some of the sublethal effects. I've gone back and looked at some of the watershed reports that show that neonics affect bees. One of the things that struck me is that they're exposing the bees in ways they don't get exposed to naturally. So a bee goes out into a field and might get exposed through water, nectar or pollen, and yet some of the studies have been applying the neonics directly to the bees at fairly high rates. I understand they're looking for sublethal effects.
But going back and looking at what Dr. Cutler said — someone who is actually doing some of the studies on bees — and when you look at the levels in canola, he commented that they were finding levels at around three parts per billion in canola, which is extremely small, and in nectar about one part per billion. Yet the no-effect level for bees is 20 parts per billion. What I'm getting at is that it's the dose that makes the poison. I would like you to comment on that.
Mr. Chapleau: That was true.
There is a 500-year old saying that goes "the dose makes the poison". Paracelse said it. Now we have proof that the dose does not make the poison, as in the case of certain pollutants such as hormone disrupting chemicals, among other things. If the wrong molecule is in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can cause a miscarriage, for example, because the molecule disturbs the processes. With a poisoning, the effects are gradual, unlike in the case of a burn.
Senator Buth: But even for sublethal effects, there is still a dose that is relevant.
Mr. Chapleau: Yes, there is still a link, but we are noticing that neonics have an effect at very low doses, and immunosuppression disruption occurs at very low doses. Neonics interrupt the connections between the neurons in the brain. We can lose a few neurons and still be able to talk and function, but we are a bit less intelligent and a bit less able to perform routine tasks. And the same goes for bees. That is the whole debate, and pesticide makers are really honing in on that. They are pushing for field studies. When a finding is proven in a lab setting, they reject it.
I do not understand where that requirement comes from, where the idea emerged that if something proven in the lab is not verified out in the field, it is not valid. It is much harder to conduct similar tests in the field because of all the factors interacting with one another and the complexity that the environment presents in terms of research protocols. Normally, established protocols involve plots that are too small and an insufficient number of hives. Not to mention, our bees forage in an area that spans 1,000 hectares, not 4 hectares, as per the protocol. That is the protocol Bayer is using to prove that neonics are not harmful to foraging.
They place 5 hives in front of 4 hectares of canola fields, and use bees that forage throughout hundreds of other hectares. To give you an idea of how scientific statistics work, when you have just 5 hives, you need a lot of major problems to find a significant difference between treatments.
Look at how drugs are developed, in a lab first. Researchers would never say that, even though drug X was found to cause health problems and side effects, they were going to try it in the real world. All testing would stop at that point.
We have to apply the same thinking to bees. Start with laboratory studies. And if they show a problem with doses that correspond to natural exposure levels, then, I think that is enough. We have a clear problem that could be affected by other factors, but we have a clear problem.
Senator Buth: I appreciate that, but I would just comment that in terms of regulations of pesticides in Canada and around the world, they do take a look at lab and field studies. I agree with you there: I think both are very important.
Mr. Davidson: When they were going through all the different studies they used in Europe, someone sorted through the science. They did find 4 per cent of the studies that said they were safe for bees. I believe those were done by the manufacturers of the insecticides.
The "three parts per billion" always gets me because, if you look in the regulatory document, the lethal dose for honeybees — the LD50, clothianidin — is 3.68 parts per billion orally. Those you quoted were for the dermal doses. The problem is that it's getting into the food, the nectar and pollen, of the bees, so it only takes 3.68 parts per billion. Bees weigh 100 nanograms, so I believe 36 parts per billion is the lethal dose orally, but they found close to that this year in corn pollen in Ontario. You have to keep in mind that it does not take much to kill bees with these compounds.
Senator Maltais: Mr. Chapleau, welcome. Thank you for making the trip to share your expertise with us. Rest assured, I am not a scientist, just someone concerned about the cause. In Canada, there are no such things as big or small causes, only causes. And this cause is honey, which is, after all, a $2.5-billion business in Canada. So it is a very important cause, especially since it often serves to supplement farmers’ incomes. Therefore, it is essential that the government consider the issue.
You said something in your presentation that struck me: pesticides are not needed all the time. Unfortunately, manufacturers and vendors have convinced farmers they need to use pesticides from May through August. As you so aptly pointed out, if small doses of pesticides were applied once a year, bees might be in better shape, but the manufacturers and vendors have convinced farmers they need pesticides the entire time. And as a result, the fields where bees do their foraging are being affected right across the country. We heard from witnesses from Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean who told us the situation was not quite as serious in their region — I am from the North Shore, in Quebec, where we have a lot of blueberry fields, more than in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, they say now — and that they do not have the problem yet. I am not sure whether it has to do with the climate or whether the bacteria has not been able to make it there. Basically up north, there is little else besides blueberries.
What is a bee’s foraging range in relation to its hive?
Mr. Chapleau: The bulk of a hive’s foraging, if surrounding resources are in good supply, happens within a kilometre or two.
If resources are a bit scarce, if conditions for nectar secretion are not great, if there are not quite enough flowers or if soil quality is poor, the bee may travel farther to find the flowers it needs. It can travel up to 8 or 9 kilometres, especially if it finds a highly rewarding crop such as raspberries, which are an abundant source of nectar rich in sugar. Bees will travel a number of kilometres to forage raspberries.
Senator Maltais: If this is harming bees and if, as Mr. Davidson said, we are talking about a significant percentage of deaths or bee losses, when will we see these effects in humans?
Mr. Chapleau: We are just beginning to see scientific findings in that regard. A Japanese study shows that mammals’ brains react to neonics. Research on mice has shown delayed brain development among mammals. What we know is more theory-based, and when I say that, I am referring to a presentation we were given by a pesticide specialist in Quebec, from the ministry of agriculture, Onil Samuel.
For some, neonics have demonstrated a carcinogenic potential as well as a potential for endocrine disruption. It is a matter of exposure. And since we have not measured the changes or effects associated with the wide-scale use and application of systemic insecticides, we have not done that assessment for humans.
An important thing to note is that the presence of insecticides in food used to be considered accidental. Going forward, the pesticide is in the food. Its presence is no longer an accident. It is always present in the food. So we work with what we call MRLs or maximum residue limits. How are they set? Using only the manufacturer’s data. So some questions need to be asked.
Today, neonics are applied to just about all fruits and vegetables, almonds, grains, practically everything. I think we need to do some digging in that respect if we want any reassurance.
Senator Maltais: At the very beginning of the committee’s study, we heard from three leading experts from the departments of health and agriculture. We had more doctors here than are found in some Quebec hospitals.
Mr. Chapleau: That is why you are so knowledgeable now.
Senator Maltais: I asked them who the biggest consumer of blueberries was, especially in Eastern Canada, which includes north, east and west Quebec and the Maritimes. I told them it was the black bear. A lot of people laughed at me.
Two weeks later, an eminent professor from Dalhousie University said that black bears were experiencing health problems and that they might even extend all the way to the polar bear. I am not sure how they can deal with that. My question was relevant, because the biggest consumer of blueberries in northern Quebec is the bear. If this is having an effect on animals, perhaps it will have an effect on humans one day. The alarm is eventually going to sound to protect human health. This is extremely important in terms of our future.
Mr. Chapleau: I have not seen the information you mentioned about bears. I might be surprised by the effects of neonics on bears.
Senator Maltais: It came from an eminent Dalhousie University professor.
The Chair: No answer, then.
Did you want to add anything, Mr. Davidson?
Mr. Davidson: Yes. I just need one minute.
With respect to how neonics affect humans, obviously we're a lot bigger than bees, but we start out smaller. I think there's something to be said about the development of embryos and whatnot.
Japan has done the most work on this. They just turned back a load of buckwheat from Manitoba because it tested too high for neonics. The particular field it came from apparently didn't have treatment on it for two years, so that tells you a little bit about how persistent these insecticides are.
Senator Ogilvie: Mr. Davidson, what percentage of the beekeepers in your organization also harvest the nectar from their hives as opposed to just using them for pollination?
Mr. Davidson: The percentage is very high. I think there's only one that doesn't extract any honey, so 1 out of 3,000.
Senator Ogilvie: In Ontario, you're not aware of any serious beekeeper production or number of hives that on an annual basis wouldn't have nectar removed from them?
Mr. Davidson: No, there's not a big proportion. I mean, bees are going to make honey no matter what. You can't stop them. If there's nectar, they're going to make honey out of it. What that beekeeper does is make bees out of the honey. He divides the hives; whenever they get full, he takes the bees and makes more hives.
Senator Ogilvie: In those cases, has there been any observation about the annual loss of bees for those producers who raise purely for bees as opposed to deliberately removing nectar for exterior production?
Mr. Davidson: As I mentioned earlier, it is a tool to rapidly produce bees by breaking colonies in half to expand them. That's a good tool for keeping the varroa mite at bay.
Those beekeepers still observe the effects of neonics on their bees. It's not something that you're going to avoid. Sure, it's going to help with the varroa, but it's not going to help with the systemic insecticides.
Senator Ogilvie: You're saying they're seeing the same losses in the same weather conditions that the other beekeepers are seeing?
Mr. Davidson: Yes. Their percentages of winter loss will be a little lower because their varroa mites are always kept low, but there's still the effect of the neonics there. Does that make sense?
Senator Ogilvie: I understand what you're saying. I'm willing to entertain that there might be additional factors.
What I'm trying to get at is that bees didn't start an industrial society where they decided to produce nectar for human consumption; it is for their own maintenance, survival, reproduction and defence of their colonies and so on. So my question is around the possibility that the deliberate removal of nectar from a thriving colony could reduce its viability.
Mr. Davidson: As beekeepers, we take all their honey and then before winter, we feed them back —
Senator Ogilvie: I understand that part, but they don't do that.
I don't think I'm going to get any further with this, so I've asked my question and you've responded. I was just explaining why I was asking the question, to see whether there's any impact on the viability of a colony through the deliberate human removal of nectar as opposed to simply leaving the colony alone and managing it on that basis.
You referred to losses in wild population in your comments. Have there been deliberate or systematic observations of the decline of wild pollinators in the same time period?
Mr. Davidson: In Ontario, we bring our bees to a lot of different farms. This past spring, a couple of local guys that grow highbush blueberries both told me to bring more beehives because they didn't see any native pollinators. I don't know if there is anyone out there counting, but that's all part of this. No one is paying attention to a lot of other things out there.
Beekeepers are paying attention to bees because they're trying to make a living off of them. It was brought up in one of our meetings that you used to fill up your vehicle with fuel and scrape the bugs off your windshield, but we don't do that anymore.
Senator Ogilvie: You answered the question. I just wondered whether there was any deliberate analysis, but it is observational information.
Mr. Davidson, my final question is has there been any significant changes in the way beekeepers manage their hives in the last 10 years?
Mr. Davidson: I wouldn't say any significant changes. Beekeeping hasn't changed a lot in over a hundred years, really, or more.
Senator Ogilvie: Mr. Chapleau, you were very knowledgeable with regard to the detailed studies, and you referred to a number of detailed studies. If I recall correctly, we were told by previous witnesses that prior to the neonics, there were insecticides being used and that they have been used for decades. We were also told some of those are highly toxic, in studies, in comparison to neonics. Do you have an explanation with regard to the studies that you are referring to as to why the neonics, supposedly a milder insecticide in general issues, have suddenly caused this problem?
I know you referred to how it affects the neurons in the insect, but do you have any observation yourself based on what you have been looking at in terms of the studies as to why the neonics are causing so much trouble relative to compounds that were supposedly much more toxic?
Mr. Chapleau: Overexposure. They're all over, and the exposure extends over the whole season, compared to a very short exposure with traditional pesticides in the past.
But I am not sure that neonics are less toxic. We have a database in Quebec on pesticides, and the database says that neonics are highly toxic to bees.
Senator Ogilvie: I used the wrong terminology. I should have said that, in fact, they may well be more toxic because they can be used in presumably smaller doses in certain cases.
The point you are making is that they're present during a much longer period of time.
Mr. Chapleau: More acres and a longer period of exposure.
Senator Ogilvie: That refers back to the way you said they used to be applied, and there would be a dosage and then they would be gone.
Mr. Chapleau: We always lived with insecticides before that.
Senator Ogilvie: You both have been informative. Thank you very much.
Senator Eaton: You two seem to be real experts. How long has it been since people started keeping statistics on how bees have been surviving? Why the loss in bees every year? How long has it been? Ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years?
I'm just trying to think is this a recent thing? Has this been done for the last century?
Mr. Chapleau: Speaking for Quebec, I would say that we have annual statistics on winter loss, only on winter losses.
Senator Eaton: For how many years?
Mr. Chapleau: I would say about 25 years.
Senator Eaton: Winter hasn't changed that much in this country. Wouldn't you have thought that the statistics would have been fairly — I mean a hundred years ago they must have had winter loss.
Mr. Chapleau: We have some figures for previous years, but there was no survey every year on the winter losses. We have some references that go back to the 1940s and that period, too.
Senator Eaton: Were there varroa mites in 1940?
Mr. Chapleau: No. The varroa arrived — when was that?
Mr. Davidson: Mid-1990s in Ontario.
Senator Eaton: What do you think brought on the varroa mite?
Mr. Davidson: The global village we live in. "Invasives" are getting everywhere.
Senator Eaton: You said to Senator Ogilvie there have been no significant changes in beekeeping in a hundred years. However, if one looks at agriculture and the intensity of cropping now, and the lack of biodiversity that you have both talked about, has that promoted a conversation amongst yourselves about how beekeeping should be changed or adapted to this mono-cropping and lack of biodiversity?
We have heard from farmers and beekeepers about what they're trying to do to have strips of wilder grass down each field. We have heard about looking at new things, and I haven't heard that from either of you; so I just find it interesting.
Mr. Davidson: That's something that beekeepers do and have done forever as well. When we go and pick a bee yard, there's a lot of thought that goes into where we put our bees. We try and stay away from corn, because we know corn is not good for bees. It produces no nectar; it is not good at all for us.
We have been doing that forever, trying to pick the best areas for bees, areas that have a larger diversity of plants, some shrubs, some forests. Maybe someone has horses and needs a hayfield. We have been doing that forever to try to pick out the best spots.
Senator Eaton: If you took neonics out of the equation, what percentage of bee loss do you think you would still have?
Mr. Davidson: Like you say, we have always had winter; winter hasn't changed that much. Over the winter, before we had mites and before we had systemic insecticides, we lost between 5 and 10 per cent of the bees in Ontario.
When we got mites, it increased it by quite a bit. We averaged 18 per cent with just the mites to deal with. And the winter, I guess. Combine the winter and the mites and now we're over 30 per cent.
So the neonics, if you just go by those rough numbers, increased over winter by —
Senator Eaton: By another 10 or 12 per cent?
Mr. Davidson: Yes. So it would probably go back to that 18 per cent.
Senator Eaton: That's consistent every year?
Mr. Davidson: No. It goes up and down. When we had winter and mites, it did as well. That's the average over all those years.
Everyone here really seems to be looking at what's different, what's changed, and you don't have to really look further than what these insecticides do. They're systemic. They're getting into the bees' food; that's the difference.
What would we do if we had to cuddle up and make it through a winter eating poisonous food?
Senator Eaton: We're very interested because we have talked to other jurisdictions where neonics are not a factor.
Mr. Davidson: There's some politics involved in that, I believe.
Senator Eaton: Politics is everywhere.
Mr. Davidson: Yes.
Senator Oh: It seems that there's no consensus in the scientific community about the possible link between neonics and bee mortality. The European Food Safety Authority and the U.S. authority believe there's a link between neonics and bee mortality, but the U.K. has a government agency that thinks they're not related.
Has any other country imposed regulatory controls on the use of insecticides for bees?
Mr. Chapleau: I'm not sure of the last sentence.
Senator Oh: Does any country impose a complete ban on this insecticide use?
Mr. Davidson: I don't think any country has completely banned neonics. The European Union banned them on corn, soybeans and canola, I believe. Back in 2008, Italy banned neonics on corn. I think France did so too at some time in between, but I don't know exactly.
Senator Oh: That means the world scientific community has conflicting views — there's no consensus on what is happening.
Mr. Davidson: I really don't know if it has a lot to do with the science. I think we get back to politics there.
Mr. Chapleau: If you look at the meta-analyses that have been done on the subject, you will see the consensus. A consensus is lacking when it comes to the regulatory authorities and the political realm. I will tell you that the only conflicting opinions in terms of the science flow from the research done by the manufacturers.
Senator Dagenais: I want to thank both our witnesses.
My first question is for Mr. Chapleau. I have listened to you carefully, and I gather that you take an integrated approach based on the philosophy of sustainable development.
In your view, what is the best way to tackle the illnesses plaguing bees and what should our outlook be? Much has been said about the past, but we also need to consider the future.
Mr. Chapleau: If we only discuss the diseases, leaving aside the potential links with other aggravating factors such as pesticide, the knowledge is there to do a good job of dealing with those diseases. What may be missing in some cases, however, is the technology transfer, so the support programs to help farmers.
Monitoring varroa is imperative. Detection is key and needs to be undertaken within very specific time frames, and thresholds have to be monitored. That would be a truly integrated approach, which everyone should adopt, and action should be taken once the thresholds are reached. The situation is unforgiving. If we do not do it, then we are taking a risk; sometimes, we are lucky and it is okay, and other times, the losses are huge. Some producers have failed to adopt an integrated approach that is sound. Someone mentioned that beekeeping had to adapt; beekeeping has not quite finished adapting to the reality of varroa. Our big players are having some trouble managing varroa, which needs to be monitored very carefully. There is no denying that varroa is a problem and that varroa alone is causing losses in regions in Quebec where pesticides are not used. We are also seeing abnormal losses.
Senator Dagenais: I have one last quick question for Mr. Davidson. If the federal government had to choose one research priority, what should it be?
Mr. Davidson: Do you mean a priority for bee health research?
Senator Dagenais: Yes, exactly. We talked about the whole issue of technical research; I imagine there is one priority that we should focus on. That is why we are here today, for that matter. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Mr. Davidson: Yes, but taking pesticides out of it, I really don't know. I think Mr. Chapleau hinted at that. We don't know the synergy between neonics and some of the other problems we have, so maybe that would be an area of focus.
I really like your question to Mr. Chapleau, looking forward, because I always try to do that too. Beekeepers are very good at figuring stuff out. The stuff that they can figure out they're very good at figuring out. They trade secrets and things like that to figure that stuff out.
There are gaps and things we don't know. In our observations, although we're pretty sure we don't know if neonics make varroa mites worse and we don't know if neonics make viruses worse — maybe just some concrete proof that they are doing that.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Chapleau, do you have anything to add?
Mr. Chapleau: There is a strong link between beekeeping and farming. The pesticide dimension shows us just how significant that link can be. Senator Eaton asked about how farming was adapting to the new farming realities. Major changes in farming are having effects such as the crop concentration and the decrease in crop diversity.
Senator Eaton: Demand too.
Mr. Chapleau: Yes. The question can be framed in terms of what beekeepers are doing to adapt, but also in terms of whether our farming practices are changing in a sustainable way. Biodiversity is what comes to mind. The importance of biodiversity is recognized, and yes, we are adapting; we are leaving those areas where our bees can no longer survive. But is it normal for beekeeping to flee from farming? That is my question to you.
Senator Buth: I want to go back to the fact that you might think we're backing off in terms of listening to you about the pesticide issue, but the study we're doing essentially is on bee health. We're hearing from witnesses from all different aspects, including some of the native pollinator studies that have been done out of the U.S.
I want to go back to the issue about the acute poisonings that you have seen in bees with the neonics. We have heard that the U.S. has not been having these kinds of problems. I'm wondering if you are aware of that as well. They plant millions and millions of acres of corn. Have you heard of issues in the U.S.?
Mr. Davidson: Yes, there definitely have been issues in the U.S. The beekeepers in the U.S. are a little afraid of reporting these incidents because they use off-label treatments in their hives. They're afraid they'll get in trouble for that, so they don't call.
Beekeepers in the States have the ability to go to Florida to overwinter their bees. When their bees are down in Florida not making honey or pollinating crops, some of the bigger beekeepers are replacing 100 per cent of their comb to get rid of the insecticide. Beekeepers in the U.S. know exactly what is going on. They have the ability to try and winter in a very southern climate.
Senator Buth: We asked this of some of the other beekeeper organizations: How are you funded? Do you have a levy? What types of things do you fund with the money you bring in?
Mr. Davidson: We get a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. We also charge a levy. We have a technology transfer program that the majority of the OMAF money goes to. They do practical research and try to transfer that to the beekeeping community.
Senator Buth: What would your levy be? Is that on a hive-per-hive basis?
Mr. Davidson: Yes, it's on a hive basis, with a maximum. If you have X number of hives, you don't pay any more after that.
Senator Buth: Do you know how much it is per hive?
Mr. Davidson: I should know, shouldn't I?
Senator Buth: You just pay the bill.
Mr. Davidson: Yes.
Senator Buth: And in Quebec, Mr. Chapleau?
Mr. Chapleau: In Quebec, we do not have a joint levy plan. Despite our efforts to put one in place, we have never been able to get to the voting stage. So we have voluntary membership fees paid by the producers to the Fédération des apiculteurs du Québec. And we receive $66,000 in government assistance a year. So, on the whole, the budget is limited.
Senator Buth: One more question. Mr. Davidson, how closely are you working with the Ontario Bee Health Working Group that's looking at this issue?
Mr. Davidson: I missed one meeting, but I have been involved with that process quite closely.
Senator Ogilvie: Mr. Davidson, you implied that we were looking at certain aspects of this very closely, and we are. You all have a vested interest. In your last comments about Americans, you showed why we should be skeptical — or questioning, at least — of all the answers we get from all of the parties involved; namely because this is a very serious issue.
You gave a curious response, I thought, to the question about the differences experienced in the West and in the East. You said there are political issues involved. Were you implying that the results we have been given are not accurate?
Mr. Davidson: There are a couple of differences, but the companies that manufacture these products have a lot of different interests, and there's a humongous —
Senator Ogilvie: But the results we were getting were from the producers, and they were telling us that their observations in terms of the success of their hives over the winter are different than yours with regard to the impact of neonics. That was the question asked, and the answer you gave was that there are political issues involved. Were you implying that the producers in the West gave us information that is not accurate with regard to the impacts on their hives?
Mr. Davidson: I sure hope they wouldn't do that, but I will say that a few of them do pollinate hybrid canola for the same companies that produce these products.
Another difference is that — and don't quote me on these numbers — corn takes up a higher percentage of these insecticides than canola, from what I understand. So you combine that with a lower dose, and then it could very well be. I don't keep bees in the Prairies, and we should be able to trust what they're telling you senators.
Senator Ogilvie: With regard to the issue, they did make it very clear that there is a considerable difference in terms of the dose used and the way in which it is applied, the shape of the seed, the nature of seeding and all of those factors.
We are asking all these questions, Mr. Davidson, because we will eventually write a report, and we want to be able to understand the significance of all the comments made to us.
The Chair: Before we leave, senators, we have received from Mr. Davidson information on his industry.
Mr. Davidson: Yes, it is just research and a few resources for you to have if you need while you are going through your study.
The Chair: Thank you. Since it is only in one official language, I would ask if I have a consensus to distribute it.
Hon. Senators: Yes.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Chapleau and Mr. Davidson, thank you for sharing your opinions, your vision and also your recommendations with us. The committee appreciates them.
(The committee adjourned.)