Increasing frustration among beekeepers over widespread deaths of bees led to a class-action lawsuit against the makers of neonicotinoids, a pesticide used to treat grains such as corn and soybeans, says the lawyer leading the case.

The proposed class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court against manufacturers Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc., and their parent companies by Sun Parlor Honey Ltd. and Munro Honey, two of Ontario's largest honey producers.

It could be next year before any class action is certified, said Dimitri Lascaris, a partner at Siskinds, the law firm representing the beekeepers.

Under Ontario law, all beekeepers are included in the class action unless they seek to be excluded, Lascaris said in an interview with CBC’s The Exchange with Amanda Lang.

Dimitri Lascaris

Dimitri Lascaris, a lawyer and partner at Siskinds, is leading the class action for the honey producers. (CBC)

​Neonicotinoids have been under suspicion for some years in the collapse of bee colonies. But while Health Canada is studying the issue, it has been slow to act.

Now, evidence is mounting to show that the pesticides affect the nervous system of bees, causing them to have trouble navigating.

“There’s been an accumulation of scientific evidence culminating in the release of a study this summer, which was particularly important – the task force on systemic pesticides,” Lascaris said. 

“The lack of regulatory action in Canada was also a factor. Beekeeper frustration was such that this was deemed to be an essential step.”

The plaintiffs have asked for $400 million on behalf of beekeepers across Canada, he said.

Ban or abolish the pesticides, lawyer says

Lascaris said Bayer and Syngenta, as the parties making money from neonicitinoids, have a responsibility to anyone who might be affected by the bee deaths.

“They have to be concerned about all the constituencies they are affecting. The beekeepers have been devastated by this. You have to recall there is a bigger picture behind all of this and that is that 30 per cent of our food supply depends on pollinators,” he told CBC.

“Not only is this industry being devastated, the one represented in this litigation, but community of Canada’s food supply as a whole is at risk. The manufacturers of these products do have a responsibility to be cognizant of those interests as well and not just those of the persons who are using the product.”

It won’t be necessary to show neonicotinoids are solely responsible for the deaths, only that they contribute to them, he said.

A class action in the U.S. in 2002 failed to get certification, but Lascaris believes the scientific evidence is now far more compelling.

Unfortunately, class action legislation is slow to get through the courts, Lascaris said and it would be preferable if a regulator banned neonicotinoids. 

“What we really need to do ultimately is suspend the use of these products and quite possibly abolish them. Allowing them to be used unrestricted in the agricultural regions of the country is having devastating effects on our clients and I don’t know of any effort on the part of the pesticide industry to put a stop to that,” he said.