The number of domesticated bees in Canada and U.S. has been decreasing at an alarming rate. Untouched food stores and unborn larvae found in the abandoned hives indicate that bees are either forgetting the entrance to the hive or disappearing completely off the face of the earth.
According to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA), Manitoba lost almost half (46 percent) of its honeybee colonies in 2013, followed by Ontario with 40 percent and New Brunswick with 37 percent – losses double or almost triple compared to the previous year. Either due to the pesticides, the Varroa mite, fungus, malnutrition, weather, beekeeping practices, pathogens, or immunodeficiencies, Canada is at risk of losing $2 billion worth of crops, which rely on bees for pollination.
If until now there was an ongoing debate surrounding the causes of this epidemic, a new report published last month by Friends of the Earth Canada confirms what some scientists have been trying to prove for years: that pesticides are directly linked to bees’ eradication. The report revealed that a group of widely used pesticides are responsible for killing not only bees, but also birds, earthworms, and other pollinating insects and organisms essential for the ecosystem, significantly harming the environment.
Researchers’ conclusions showed that numerous home-garden plants marketed as “bee-friendly” by 18 major retailers in Canada and the U.S. are, in fact, pretreated with neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that has been proven lethal to bees and many other living organisms. Plant samples were collected from Canadian garden centers in London, Vancouver, and Montreal. Almost half of Calibrachoa, gerbera daisy, and zonal geranium samples were found to have been treated with neonic pesticides, despite them being marketed as safe for bees and birds.
In light of a growing body of evidence that suggests neonics are to blame for the decline in bee populations during the last two decades, scientists are asking for a ban on two commonly used pesticides, neonicotinoids and fipronil. However, until the use of these toxic substances will be phased out globally, they are asking regulatory bodies to implement stricter precautionary measures and tighter regulations for their use.
Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin, one of the leading authors of the study, said during an Ottawa conference that, “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.”
Neonics are a widely used class of neuro-active insecticides with a chemical structure similar to nicotine that cause significantly more damage than initially intended. Rather than remaining on the surface of the treated plants’ leaves like other insecticides, plants absorb them into their flowers, leaves, pollen, and nectar. When ingested by pollinators, neonics affect their central nervous system, causing paralysis and even death.
Just because you don’t slather honey on your morning toast that doesn’t mean the mysterious disappearance of honey bees won’t affect you directly, too. Bees, especially honeybees, and other pollinators such as butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, and even birds help pollinate numerous species of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. In fact, there are 170,000 plant species that receive pollination services from more than 200,000 pollinator species. Aside from producing honey and other hive products, bees are essential for the pollination of natural ecosystems and crops, being integral to the production of nearly one third of everything we eat.
If it’s not stopped, the continued decline in bee populations would rise food prices around the world and eventually lead to the disappearance of apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, onions, oranges, pumpkins, etc. - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even if a crop is not directly pollinated by bees, it still benefits from being in an environment in which honeybees are present, mainly because of the increased biodiversity in the region that stimulates the crop. Their extinction can even threaten the meat and dairy industries if alfalfa – an important forage crop in many countries around the world – becomes unavailable for feed.
Without bees, we would be left with little more than a water diet. Therefore, everyone should get involved to try and stop the worldwide epidemic – whether switching to organic food from local markets or consider hosting a hive and providing a home for bees in exchange for their cross-pollination of local flora.
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.