Doctors, nurses urge Ontario to ban neonicotinoids

The pressure is growing on the Ontario government over neonicotinoids, the agricultural pesticide linked to the deaths of bee colonies, with doctors and nurses urging the province to ban the chemicals.

Ads on Toronto transit to raise public awareness ahead of meeting with Ontario environment minister

Neonicotinoids are neuro-active pesticides that cause bees to become disoriented and uncoordinated, as well as cause them to develop tremors and other neurological problems that often lead to their deaths. (Toby Talbot, File/AP)

The pressure is growing on the Ontario government over neonicotinoids, the agricultural pesticide linked to the deaths of bee colonies, with doctors and nurses urging the province to ban the chemicals.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Registered Nurses of Ontario have a meeting planned with Ontario environment minister Glen Murray later this year at which they plan to urge a ban, says Gideon Forman, executive director of CAPE.

“We will talk with about the science suggesting these chemicals are hurting bees. We are a science-based organization,” Forman told CBC News.

Ahead of that meeting CAPE and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario are placing advertisements on Toronto transit to raise awareness of the issue of neonics, which are used to treat corn, canola and other crops.
The Registered Nurses of Ontario and Canadian Physicians for the Environment want to create public awareness of the dangers of neonicotinoids with this subway art.

The ads show a young boy gazing at a dead bee with the message “Doctors and nurses say neonic pesticides hurt our bees and us.”

“We want to get out the message that health professionals are concerned about the issue,” Forman said. “It’s not just environmental organizations.”

Ontario’s environmental commission Gord Miller recommended last month that Ontario act on its own to ban the use of the agricultural pesticides, saying there is ample science to support the suggestion that neonics are responsible for the collapse of bee colonies.

Ontario has said it is waiting for the results of a federal study this year about the effects of three of the pesticides on bee colonies, but Miller has recommended acting even if the federal government doesn’t. The actual banning of neonicotinoids would be the responsibility of Health Canada, but Ontario can legislate the use of chemicals in agriculture.

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the RNO, is urging Ontario to act quickly, saying neonics are a matter of public health.

“It has a direct and indirect relation to health,”  Grinspun told CBC News.  

"What I know is it’s urgent to follow the precautionary principle especially with matters that threaten our environment – that affect our health and life."

She said neonicotinoids go well beyond the corn and soybean fields to disrupt other ecological systems.

“The issue with the neonic pesticides is that they are absorbed and incorporated into every part of the plant, from leaves and stems to seed, pollen and nectar. They are very persistent, they are highly water soluble, so they can contaminate ground and surface water and can persist in aquatic environments for a very long time," Grinspun said.

Forman said he believes there is both public support for the banning of neonics and a political climate sympathetic to environmental issues in Ontario.

CAPE and the RNO were active in campaigning to get lawn pesticides banned several years ago and found a receptive government in Ontario.

Key role of pollinators

The doctors’ group began to be interested in the issue of neonics just over a year ago, with news of widespread bee deaths in Ontario, Forman said.

“Really we’re very concerned because science from around the world is showing that these neonics are a great threat to pollinators, including bees and that means that they are threatening, implicitly our food supply,” Forman said.

There is new science showing the chemicals, which are neurotoxins, may be affecting bats, birds and worms, as well as bees.

He said if the doctors and nurses make an impact with their campaign in Ontario, they plan to take it to other provinces.

That campaign likely won’t involve advertising, because of the high cost of ads. Ontario Nature and the David Suzuki Foundaton contributed to money to the TTC ad campaign.

Grinspun said she expects industry will push back, but will eventually adapt to grow crops without neonics.

"The companies will say that the world is coming to an end," she said.

"I am convinced that an industry as knowledgable as this will have something in stock that is natural to do the same job as neonics."


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