Buzzing for Joy: Quebec restricts pesticides to save honeybees

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For years, I’ve taken bees for granted. I’ve always fully expected to see them in the summer, buzzing around the flowers in my garden. Or, making that somewhat concerning, rather large hive in their favourite peak of my roof. But I can’t bet on those things anymore. In fact, for over a decade, bees around the world have been dying in record numbers. Simply put, millions have disappeared. The recent Netflix series called “Rotten” investigates colony collapse disorder, and the results are alarming. Montana, for example, is known for its high-quality honey production. But its colonies have dropped from about 1000 to 489. Scientists think the bees are dying from a combination of stressors, but mostly, we are to blame. Climate change, pesticides and agribusiness models are killing the honeybees off.

It’s about more than just honey; bees are responsible for the pollination of many of the world’s crops and flowers. I find myself feeling very anxious when I hear of a species that is near-extinct; a species that is dying because of something we, as humans, have done. It’s terrible to think about how our actions have affected the way of life for many living things and their natural habitats. With alarm bells about honeybees ringing, now we go into panic mode. Beekeepers are trying to rebuild their dwindling hives by splitting them up and creating artificial ones to increase the population. And in Canada, some governments are finally stepping in with ways to help.

Just this week, the Quebec government announced tight restrictions on pesticides linked to honeybee deaths. The targeted pesticides are called neonicotinoids, also known as neonics. A CBC News report says the chemicals are used by farmers to keep pests like aphids and spider mites away from field crops and fruit orchards. I can only imagine the frustration of farmers who, in a very short growing season, struggle to produce healthy crops. When pests attack, the results for the growers are devastating. But the CBC report shows that bees are dying after flying through chemicals in our farm fields. And last year, The Associated Press reported these very pesticides were found in 75 percent of honey samples taken from around the world. With findings like that, control is needed — and not just in Quebec.  

CTV News says Ontario limited the use of neonics for corn and soybeans in 2014, and Vancouver and Montreal have actually banned them all together within city limits. Quebec’s restrictions will be phased in starting next month and will force farmers in the province to get permission to use the pesticides from a certified agronomist. Environmental groups are thrilled something is finally being done to help the honeybee population, but across Canada, activists are calling for an outright ban of the chemicals. On the flip side, some Quebec farmers told CTV the government has crossed the line with these new restrictions. The body representing the province’s grain producers told the news outlet that farmers rely on neonics to protect their crops, and now they’ll be scrambling to find alternatives.

The farmers are right; more research is needed to help them find alternative ways to protect their crops from the damage caused by pests. But they also need honeybees; we all do. With the population dying at a rapid rate, the world’s food supply is at risk. So really, these latest restrictions introduced by Quebec are just a small step in the right direction. It would be nice to see other communities around the world follow suit. Where do you stand?  

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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.