For breakfast this morning, I had the pleasure of attending a science briefing on neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) presented by Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin, vice-chair of the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. Hosted by the David Suzuki Foundation at Queens Park, the breakfast event was sponsored by MPPs Marie-France Lalonde and Peter Tabuns, and attended by several other MPPs, including Glen Murray, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Dr. Bonmatin highlighted study after study documenting the negative impacts of neonics on pollinators, other beneficial insects, fish, birds, soils, aquatic systems and vital ecosystem services. He also presented emerging research on the human health impacts of neonics.
Among other things, I learned this morning that neonic residues are found in much of the food we eat. In one study, they were found in 72 percent of fruit and 45 percent of vegetables – not great news for those of us who try to eat “healthy.” In one Japanese study, neonics were found in the urine of 90 percent of the people tested. Dr. Bonmatin summed up what he called our “chronic intake” of these pesticides with this quip: “You can’t have breakfast without eating neonics – unless you are eating organic.”
Late summer harvest in Ontario.
In response to a question by Minister Murray about how to bring this science into public discussions about neonics, Dr. Bonmatin recounted the events that have taken place in France over the past two decades.
France, he said, was the first country to begin using neonics. Within two years after the first treatment, French beekeepers began to notice problems. It took a few years, however, to demonstrate the connection between neonics and declining bee colonies. In response to research findings, France implemented a limited ban on one neonic and one crop (sunflowers) in 1999. Over the years, as new evidence of negative impacts emerged, France has gradually widened the scope of the ban to include more types of neonics and more crops.
France is now leading the call, within the European Union (EU), for an extension and expansion of the EU’s two-year moratorium on neonics, which is set to end in January 2016.
I left breakfast this morning a little more leery about the food I eat and a lot more determined to build awareness and support for Ontario’s proposed restrictions on neonics. Ontario Nature’s comments on the proposed restrictions can be viewed here. The sooner these are in place, the better. As Dr. Bonmatin put it: “If you want to save your bees and biodiversity, it is time to stop poisoning farmlands.”
Dr. Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007.