Ontario beekeepers are taking two chemical companies to court in their fight against pesticides.
In a response to steadily declining bee populations that have seen honeybee losses double in Canada over the past six years, two honey makers in southwestern Ontario have launched what they hope will become a class action lawsuit against Bayer CropScience and Syngenta AG, manufacturers of widely used agricultural pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics.
According to a media release from the Ontario Beekeepers Association, the lawsuit seeks $450 million in damages to compensate beekeepers for lost or contaminated bee colonies, lower honey yields and higher production costs as a result of the chemical companies’ alleged negligence in the design, sale and distribution of neonics over the past eight years.
The allegations have not been tried in court.
The European Union recently banned neonics for two years after a group of scientists found widespread evidence that the pesticides significantly contribute to the decline in bee populations, in part by leaving bees more susceptible to mites and other traditional causes of bee death.
Health Canada is taking a second look at its approval of the pesticides, and after a disastrous winter that saw a 58 per cent bee mortality rate in Ontario, the Wynne government has stated it will regulate the use of neonics.
David Bowen, president of the Haldimand-Norfolk Beekeepers Association, said he is confident the facts will support the beekeepers’ contention that neonics are harmful to pollinators.
“There is compelling evidence that neonics are dangerous across the environmental spectrum,” he said. “All we want are chemicals that are harmful to living things to be regulated so that there is no impact on any form of life.”
The lead plaintiffs, Sun Parlor Honey Ltd. and Munro Honey, allege they have each lost millions of dollars in bees and honey production since 2006, when neonictonoid pesticides – which are sprayed on crops or added directly to seeds to repel insects – first became widely used in the province.
While not formally part of the suit, the OBA backs the honey makers, who are being represented by Siskinds LLP.
“We support any effort that could help beekeepers recover losses caused by the overuse of (neonics),” said vice-president Tibor Szabo. “This action puts the blame where it belongs – on the pesticide manufacturers.”
The companies contend that neonics pose no threat to bees in the field if used as directed. While declining comment on the lawsuit, a Bayer spokesperson told The Globe and Mail that the company’s products represent “the latest innovations in crop protection” and contribute to a sustainable agriculture sector.
Bowen is encouraged by the attention being paid to the plight of bees, birds and other creatures that pollinate roughly one-third of the food humans eat every year.
“People take a lot more time to be aware of the dangers of technology than they do the wonders of it,” he said.
“When you have a multi-billion dollar corporation telling you something is safe when it is not, you have an uphill battle. Beekeepers are farmers, and we want farmers to work with us to make this world a safer and healthier place.”