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Are Canada's Pesticide Regulators on theTake?

Canadian Authorities Refuse to Protect Precious Pollinators From Known Toxins. Isn't it Time to Find out Why?

Nothing smacks of collusion between government officials and the agro-chemical industry, quite like the current crisis facing the world’s pollinators.

For years, scientific research teams both far and near, have been documenting dwindlingnumbers, even extinctions, of several populations of pollinators like honey bees and bumble bees.

Scores of reputable groups, including The Canadian Pollination Institute (CANPOLIN), the Xerces Society and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the ‘States, are all sounding the same alarm;

“The diversity and abundance of insect pollinators are in a global state of decline. This decline represents a serious threat to the integrity of natural ecosystems and the production of many crops.”

Xerces has been devoted to preserving habitat for invertebrates since 1971. It stresses, the importance of these wondrous creatures is not to be underestimated.

“Bees are undoubtedly the most abundant pollinators of flowering plants in our environment. The services that bees and other pollinators provide, account for over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume.”

So Who or What is to Blame?

Many culprits are suspected in the deaths of pollinators. They include mites, pathogens, habitat loss, diet, stress and climate change. But, for years, a common thread has woven its way through the scientific studies; several pesticides used by conventional farmers and beekeepers to control crop pests and mites which prey on the bees.

According to NAS, these products “Kill or weaken thousands of honey bee colonies in the US each year. Pesticides can potentially harm many bee species and even eliminate some pollinator populations in ecosystems.”

While it cannot be proven conclusively, NAS says pollen from genetically-modified crops may even be affecting the “behaviour, physiology and reproduction” of honey bees and even the quality of the finished product, honey!

None of this has prevented millions of acres of farmland from being sewn each year to GMOs. On the Canadian prairies alone, GMO canola is so dominant it has wiped out the market for organic farmers by contaminating their fields with its pollen.

(And, oh, by the way, GMO corn, sugar beets, soy, alfalfa and possibly even wheat, also, are either here already, or are ready to be rubber-stamped for approval by our “regulators.”)

Xerces calls certain insecticides “highly toxic to bees” and blames them for “most of the bee poisonings in the Pacific Northwest.” (Both US & Canada.)

In 2006, one product blacklisted by Xerces, chlorpyrfos (Lorsban) was used to combat an outbreak of bertha armyworms in canola crops in western Manitoba. It was sprayed in huge amounts from the air over a vast area near Roblin and Swan River. It even made some people sick. (True to form, nothing was done about that.) Needless to say, its impact on pollinators was neither considered beforehand, nor investigated afterward.

In 2008, another product singled out by Xerces, clothianidin, killed billions of honey bees in Europe. After that, several countries banned or suspended its use there. But not Canada.

Here, it is commonly used to treat canola seed. Scientists call it a “systemic” poison, which gets into all parts of a plant, including the pollen and nectar. (The bulk of honey produced here in Manitoba comes from bees that forage on canola.)

Then, a couple of years ago, our regulators added insult to injury. They licensed yet another, similar product, spirotetramat (Movento). Beekeepers fear it is even deadlier than its predecessors! (See Manitoba Co-Operator, Oct. 9-’08, “New Systemic Insecticide Worries Beekeepers.”)

In the US, a judge recently ordered spirotetramat removed from the market. But not in Canada.

Then, last summer, the Monsanto Corporation helped write another sad chapter in this sordid tale.

Monsanto and its co-inventor, Dow AgroScience, announced the arrival of a new GM crop in Canada and the US, “SmartStax” corn.

It contains a witches brew of additives including cleverly-manipulated genes and clothianidin, one of the most notorious bee-killers in the chemical-makers’ arsenal.

The government’s Food Inspection Agency authorized its release without even conducting an environmental risk assessment. Neither Health Canada nor its “Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency” bothered to look into any impact the new product might have on human health or safety.

In so doing, they violated the spirit of “Codex,” an international food safety treaty which Canada helped to negotiate.

Codex warns that “unintended effects” may arise from consumption of products made the way “Smartstax” is made, and ought to go through a full safety assessment. This, of course, was not done.

So What is Going on Here?

Might the giant chemical companies actually be greasing the palms of bureaucrats and even their political masters to get them to do their bidding?

I have no idea. And I’m not saying that they are. What I am saying is, what other explanation makes sense? Why is no one stepping up to explain this baffling, misplaced loyalty to the corporations rather than to we, the people who are supposed to reign supreme in a democracy?

After all, if there is something crooked going on, it wouldn’t be the first time.

A few years ago, the US government sued Monsanto $1.5 million for bribing Indonesian officials to license its GMO cotton in that country. (Ironically, cotton is also a crop requiring bee pollination.)

In the 1990s, Monsanto actually offered Health Canada a bribe of up to $2 million to approve its bovine growth hormone here. It was rejected, but only after the scandal was publicly exposed in the media. There were senate hearings and serious accusations from government scientists who actually had a conscience. They complained they were being pressured by their bosses to fast-track approval of the hormone, despite evidence that it was harmful to both cattle and humans.

My own province, Manitoba, concedes that “certain bee species are declining.” But, in an email from a provincial environment official, I was told that, “a lack of information on most species makes assessing their conservation status difficult if not impossible.”

Difficult if not impossible? With a defeatist attitude like that, what hope is there?

Some three weeks ago, I asked my own Member of Parliament, why chemicals harmful to pollinators keep getting approved. He still hasn’t answered!

He did, however, vote recently in the Canadian House of Commons with most of his government colleagues, against a private members bill. If it becomes law, all the bill would do is require the government, before rubber-stamping any more GMO crops, to make sure those crops are acceptable for sale in foreign markets. 

Does that sound like a devious objective to you?

Opposition members united to give the bill 3rd reading, although it still needs to be passed in the Senate. 

So just why did most government members object? Could it be just because the biotech industry is strongly opposed to the bill, too?

(Keep in mind GMOs lead to more pesticides use and, of course, more bucks for the corporations.)

If the industry truly believed the propaganda it spews out, that it works “with nature” and for “sustainable agriculture”, it would surely put an immediate halt to the production of these evil concoctions.

While all the pieces of the "pollinator-decline" puzzle have yet to be found, is enough not known about the role of pesticides to act, either by banning or replacing the worst offenders? Call me crazy, but would this not remove at least one point of pressure on our beleaguered pollinators?

Meanwhile, Canada’s PMRA clings stubbornly to its denial line. In a recent message to me, the agency insists Movento, specifically, underwent "rigorous scientific review" and was shown to pose "no unacceptable risk" to humans, the environment, or bees!

Few people would be so naïve as to think that pollinators are the only creatures in mortal danger on this planet. Smarter people than I claim we are now living through the worst era of mass extinction since the dinosaurs! But, if the prospective loss of pollinators, which help us produce the very food we need to survive, does not move us to action, what the Hell will?

Might now be the time for a judicial inquiry to shake some answers loose?

As long as our government officials believe all they have to do to explain this outrageous behaviour is to utter empty “don’t worry, be happy” platitudes, I believe that it is!

Please visit: Paths Less Travelled 

Contributed by: Larry Powell
City: Manitoba
Country: Canada
Date: May 24, 2010