The Ontario government has moved to limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides amid  growing evidence that the substances are responsible for drastic reductions in bee populations in the province. 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs laid out a three-point initiative Tuesday that it says will ensure "healthy ecosystems" and a "productive agricultural sector" while reversing the downward trend of pollinator numbers. 

The strategy includes

  • An 80 per cent reduction in acreage planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017.
  • Limiting the number of honey bees that die during winter by 15 per cent by 2020.
  • Developing a "comprehensive" action plan for pollinator health. 

The ministry will consult with stakeholders on a proposal to reduce neonicotinoid-treated seed, and if the proposal moves forward, new rules will be in place by July 1 — in time for the following years planting season. 

In October, Ontario's environmental watchdog urged the province to act before the completion of a federal study that could see recommendations to limit the use of the pesticides nationwide. 

The Ontario Provincial Winter Loss Survey, an annual effort to measure the survival rate of bees over winter, found that deaths reached a record-high 58 per cent last winter. According to the Ontario Beekeepers' Association, which welcomed the announcement, that rate of loss is over three times the average of all other Canadian provinces. 

Grain farmers decry move

Various studies have linked the pesticide group directly to bee fatality, but also a host of sub-lethal effects such as disorientation, which in turn can result in colony collapse. 

Tuesday's announcement was met with skepticism by the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which immediately issued a release claiming that the province's grain farmers are "under attack" and that an 80 per cent restriction amounts to a "total ban on the product," despite efforts and investments on their part to reduce bee deaths. 

"This new regulation is unfounded, impractical, and unrealistic and the government does not know how to implement it," said Henry Van Ankum in the statement. He added that the announcement is evidence that "popular vote trumps science and practicality."

Neonicotinoid pesticides were already banned by the European Union. An outright ban in Canada would have to be issued by Health Canada.