Around the world, news of mass bee die-offs is making headlines. In June, an estimated 50 000 bumble bees were found dead in Wilsonville, Oregon. Not much later, early in July, an estimated 37 000 000 bees were found dead in Elmwood, Ontario. These deaths have mainly been attributed to recent spraying of neonicotinoid pesticides on nearby trees and corn seeds, respectively.
According to the petition site Change.org, “Canada’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency has confirmed that last year’s widespread bee deaths in Ontario were caused by neonicotinoid pesticides.”
As the name would suggest, neonicotinoids are chemically related to nicotine, which is itself a known toxin. Neonicotinoids work by binding to and overstimulating cells in the insects’ central nervous systems. This leads to paralysis and death.
Unfortunately, it’s not just insects that are affected. In March, a review was published by the American Bird Conservancy that looked at 200 studies on insecticides and their impact on birds. They found that “neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend”.
Neonicotinoids may be used on crops that include grains such as corn, rice and cereal, legumes, vegetables including potatoes, fruits such as apples and pears, cotton, and even as flea treatments for your pets.
So with such widespread use and contamination, what can we do to avoid neonicotinoids, and what can we do to help our bees?
1) GO ORGANIC. Avoid foods potentially contaminated with neonicotinoids by choosing organic produce. If budget is a concern, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen lists. Another good rule of thumb: if it has skin you can eat, whether you peel it anyway or not, or you eat the leaves, buy it organic.
2) Bee kind. We recently noticed a few bumblebees flying into and out of an opening in the awning above our front door. We wondered what we could do to relocate them without hurting them. In the case of bumblebees, I was surprised to learn that it may be best just to leave them alone, as they will usually abandon their nest in the fall, and trying to remove them may actually do more harm than good. As long as they are not agitated, they have no reason to sting. You can even build a nest in your garden if you’d like to give the bees a home away from your home. If you’ve got honeybees or wasps, though, you may need to call in the help of a beekeeper to remove them safely.
3) Buy local. Go to your local Farmers’ Market and buy produce direct from smaller-scale farms. If the farmer doesn’t indicate “organic” on their produce, ask why. They may follow organic guidelines, but may not yet be able to afford the certification process to allow them to label their produce as organic. You can also become a member of a CSA delivery program to have fresh, local, in-season, and organic produce delivered to your door each week!
You can also look for locally-produced honey at the Markets. Ask the beekeepers questions about the bees and how they collect and treat the honey. Some keepers will also provide handouts with this information.
4) Boycott/Buycott. Be aware of the parent companies of common packaged foods and household products. In the case of neonicotinoids, many are produced by Bayer. You can also download an app to your smartphone that lets you enter a product and trace it back to its parent company to help you stick to your “buycott”.
5) Plant flowers. Fill your garden with flowers that will attract bees. They need to eat, too! Avoid using commercial garden products like fertilizers and herb/pest/fungicide sprays.
6) Bee vocal. Spread the word and help increase awareness of this issue. The European Union enacted a two-year ban in several countries, and Oregon has put a 180-day restriction on neonicotinoids. Petitions have arisen to enact similar bans closer to home. See the Petition link below to call for a ban here in Ontario!
Have any other ideas to help our bees? Leave them in the comments below!
Change.org & The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association – Save Ontario’s bees: ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides
Birds, Bees, and Aquatic Life Threatened by Gross Underestimate of Toxicity of World’s Most Widely Used Pesticide