Letter: The battle against herbicides is a question of human survival

The line must be drawn against indiscriminate pollinator mortality

To the Expositor:

Many thanks to Paul Darlaston and allies for their continued rallying cry to ban the use of glyphosates by utility companies on our roadsides. After reading his letter to the editor in the Expositor (‘Islanders need to keep up the good work of noting dangers of glyphosates,’ July 8, Page 5), I wanted to add another insight into this harmful compound. Recently, a newsletter issued from the Ontario Bee Association described a very sad situation. “On June 5, 2020 two Quebec beekeepers experienced a mass killing of their bees associated with the application of herbicides. Over 600 hives were being prepared for travel to blueberry pollination sites when more than 50 percent of the colonies were destroyed. At the time of the kill, herbicides were being sprayed on a nearby field in windy conditions. The beekeepers affected were present at the time of the incident, were able to speak to the farmer and obtain the labels for the chemicals being sprayed—a mix of Vios G3 (Bayer) and Roundup (glyphosate) and Engenia (BASF) with the active ingredient Dicamba.” 

“It literally rained bees and bumble bees,” the Quebec beekeeper said. 

In 2012, systemic neonicotinoid pesticides applied as corn and soy seed treatments were found to be responsible for acute and chronic bee mortality (however, this fact has been known since 1998 and 1999 as first protested by beekeepers in France). Slow as it has been, both Quebec and Ontario have taken steps to avoid the overuse of this pesticide. Until now, herbicides have not been implicated in bee kills in Ontario or Quebec. Yet again, beekeepers are urging the Pest Management Regulation Agency (a Canadian government agency) and the provinces to immediately review the use of herbicide and herbicide mixes. While each of the herbicide chemicals may have been registered by PMRA individually, the mixture of these chemicals has not been confirmed to be safe for bees. In fact, the sale of Dicamba, the active ingredient in Engenia has been partially banned in the US and the synergistic toxic effects on insect pollinators when mixing these chemicals is unknown. To avoid more mass bee kills, Quebec and Ontario beekeepers ask farmers to follow and observe the cautions on the labels to avoid drift and not spray in hot and windy conditions. Farmers are asked to spray in the early morning and late evening to avoid spraying during the day when bees are active. By the same token, it is also important to educate and ask neighbours who may use Roundup on their lawns to consider otherwise. A green lawn is not very “green.” Dandelions are a good thing, along with white Dutch clover and other groundcovers. 

Beekeepers in both Quebec and Ontario produce honey and provide bees to pollinate our fresh fruit and vegetables. Honey production has been limited by the increase in cash crops of corn and soy and the use of herbicides that has reduced the amount of quality forage. Beekeepers cannot sustain heavy losses of colonies. The use of Roundup is yet another threat on the viability of our pollinators. To quote Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

Janice Mitchell