Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 6 - Evidence - Meeting of March 6, 2014

OTTAWA, Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:04 a.m. to continue its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.


I welcome senators and witnesses to the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry this morning.

My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. At this time I would like to ask senators to introduce themselves starting with the deputy chair, please.

Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.

Senator Merchant: Good morning. I'm Pana Merchant from Regina.


Senator Robichaud: Senator Fernand Robichaud from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick. Good morning.

Senator Maltais: Good morning; Ghislain Maltais from Quebec.


Senator Oh: Good morning. I'm Senator Victor Oh, Ontario.

Senator Eaton: Nicole Eaton, Ontario.


Senator Dagenais: Good morning; Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.


Senator Buth: Good morning. I'm JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.

Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you, senators. This morning the committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. Our order of reference is from the Senate of Canada.


That the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.


In particular, the committee shall be authorized to examine this topic within the context of the importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production, and honey production in Canada, the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honeybees in Canada. The order of reference goes on to address the factors affecting honeybee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada, and globally. And to the witnesses, make recommendation strategies for governments, producers, stakeholders, and industry to ensure bee health.

To the witnesses, thank you for being here this morning and sharing with us as we look at our order of reference, your comments, your vision, and even your recommendations to the stakeholders.

This morning, honourable senators, we have Mr. Paul Thiel, Vice-President, Innovation and Public Affairs, Bayer CropScience. In addition to Mr. Thiel, we have Murray Belyk, Manager of Environmental Affairs for Bayer CropScience.

We also have Mr. Entz, President of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and also accompanying Mr. Entz is Mr. Stephen Denys, past president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association.

We also have Dr. Maria Trainer, Director of Regulatory Affairs for CropLife Canada. As well, we have Mr. Howard Mains as a witness. Mr. Mains is the Canadian Public Policy Adviser, Association of Equipment Manufacturers. To accompany Mr. Mains this morning, we have Mark Hackett, who is the territory sales manager for Case IH. That said, thank you for accepting our invitation and for being here this morning.

I have been informed by the clerk that the first presenter will be Mr. Entz to be followed by Mr. Mains, Dr. Trainer and then concluding with Mr. Thiel.

Peter Entz, President, Canadian Seed Trade Association: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, honourable senators, and fellow witnesses.

On behalf of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, I wish to thank this committee for the invitation to meet with you to discuss the importance of pollinator health.

As the chair noted, my name is Peter Entz. I am the current president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and I am also an assistant vice-president of seed and traits for Richardson International in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Joining me is Mr. Stephen Denys, who is the past president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association. Stephen is the vice-president of sales and marketing for Pride Seeds, working out of Chatham, Ontario. He's also a grower in southwestern Ontario.

CSTA represents 130 seed company members who are involved in all aspects of the seed industry from research, development, plant breeding, production, processing, marketing and trade of seed in Canada. Our membership ranges from small family-owned grower-retailers to the world's multinational companies. We have a very broad membership across all of Canada, and also marketers of small packet herbs and vegetable seeds to large grain-handling companies.

Our members represent all production systems, be it organic, conventional, and systems using modern biotechnology, and they work with more than 50 different crop kinds in Canada.

Our members are competitors in the marketplace, but they come together as the Canadian Seed Trade Association to support our mission, which is to foster seed industry innovation and trade.

I want to make it clear at the beginning of my presentation that the safe and responsible use of seed treatments is one of our association's highest priorities.

Our members recognize that the seed industry has a role in ensuring that seed-applied crop protection products or seed treatments, as we commonly refer to them, are used in a safe and responsible manner, to minimize the potential risk to the environment, including our pollinators.

Bees and native pollinators are critical for the production of many crops and for the overall success of the Canadian agriculture sector. Bees are very much linked with both seed production in Canada and the production of our commercial crops.

In recognition of this role and responsibility, CSTA facilitated the creation of the Seed-Applied Insecticide and Pollinator Health Value Chain Coalition last summer to begin an open and honest dialogue concerning the recent events around pollinator mortality and to agree on and implement actions, which was really the key of this group, to bring people together and create some activity.

The coalition brings together grower groups, developers, applicators, marketers and users of seed treatments and treated seed who are committed to maintaining the highest possible standards for the development, application and use of all crop production inputs, including neonicotinoid seed treatments.

The value chain coalition identified five key areas where working together we can make a difference and we can demonstrate our commitment to being good stewards of the land and mitigating risk to pollinators.

The steps that we identified and on which we are focused are as follows: promotion of best management practices for planting treated seed; identifying on seed labels when corn and soybean seed has been treated with neonicotinoids; introduction of improved technology that will reduce the dust generated during the planting operation in the springtime, involving life-cycle stewardship of the handling, collection and safe disposal of empty seed bags — our seeds are often sold in seed bags — and giving farmers choice from a range of product options including seed that is not treated with a seed treatment.

Since last summer, we have been following through on these commitments to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to protect pollinators during the upcoming 2014 planting season and beyond.

I will provide some examples. CSTA members have strongly endorsed the Pest Management Regulatory Agency's best management practices. Our members have been training their staff on the best management practices and educating retailer and grower customers about the importance of adhering to the risk mitigation steps.

Mitigating the possibility that pollinators will come into contact with the active ingredient in the dust generated during planting has been identified by PMRA as an essential step towards protecting pollinators. The agency has stated that if seed flow lubricants are going to be used with seed treated with neonicotinoids, a new fluency agent that reduces the active ingredient in dust at planting must be used.

Seed companies do not normally carry or sell seed flow lubricants. However, CSTA member companies will be selling and distributing the product to their growers and retail customers as a stewardship initiative in 2014. That has been a significant priority as we're getting ready for spring, in the time of year where farmers pick up their seed and actually plant it.

Our members work with PMRA to develop new labelling for corn and soybeans that have been treated with neonicotinoids. Although the additional labelling was not scheduled to be implemented until 2015, our members stepped up and will be adding the new PMRA labelling to treated corn and soybean seed for the 2014 season.

The additional labelling will appear on all pallet IDs, will be placed in the sleeve/pocket of all bulk containers and polywoven bags, and appear on invoices where and when possible. For 2015, the labelling will also be added to all seed tags, just providing some visible proof of the treatment on that particular sale.

CSTA is working with CleanFARMS, a not-for-profit industry stewardship organization to ensure the safe disposal of empty seed bags. CSTA is a member of the steering committee that is overseeing a seed bag collection pilot that is entering into its second year of operation this planting season in Ontario and Quebec.

Our members are also making good on their commitments to give their farm customers the choice of a number of different seed options including untreated seed, or seed that is not treated with an insecticide and/or a seed treatment.

They have expanded the number of varieties and maturity zones for which these options are available.

CSTA is committed to keep working with farmers, the industry, policy-makers and regulators to develop and implement actions that will continue to give farmers the tools that they need while protecting our pollinators.

We look forward to participating in the discussion at the new bee health task team led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The task team will focus on all of the factors that impact pollinator health, such as varroa mites, genetics, nutrition, overwintering, and insecticides.

I will turn the rest of the presentation over to Stephen Denys.

Stephen Denys, Past President, Canadian Seed Trade Association: Good morning. The question becomes, why are we using seed treatments as an industry and as producers? Seed treatments, including those containing insecticides like the neonicotinoid family, are the least environmentally intrusive method of controlling insects that are an annual concern for many crop types, including corn and soybeans. The safe and targeted use of the neonicotinoid seed treatments reduces the amount of chemical used on large areas of farmland by reducing or eliminating the need for foliar sprays. The seed treatment uses about 1 per cent of the active ingredient required per acre compared to a foliar spray application.

Seed-borne insecticides are also an important tool for Canadian growers and the industry. They reduce the threat to the seedling that could impact plant stand and yield, and because they replace foliar sprays they help to conserve resources such as water, soil nutrients, energy and labour, while substantially reducing the presence of the insecticides in the environment.

Without access to the neonicotinoid seed treatments, production would drop and costs would rise sharply for farmers and, as a result, for consumers. The economic costs would be heavy and, ironically, the environmental cost would also be very high by not having access to these products.

In conclusion, the seed sector understands that pollinators and crop protection products are complementary. They are both integral components of a sustainable agricultural system that produces food for our population.

We are committed to continuing to work with our regulators and the whole value chain to ensure the safe and responsible use of all seed-borne crop protection products, including the neonicotinoid seed treatments.

We strongly urge this committee to remain steadfast in the support of science as the foundation for regulatory and trade decisions. Sound scientific principles are measurable and reproducible. Regulatory assessments and approval processes that are based on science ensure that all products are assessed consistently, giving confidence to consumers and to the developers of the innovation.

It is important that regulatory agencies are clearly instructed to remain focused on science as the base for decision-making.

Thank you, on behalf of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and we look forward to questions following all the presentations.

The Chair: Thank you very much. Mr. Mains, please.

T. Howard Mains, Canadian Public Policy Advisor, Association of Equipment Manufacturers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Honourable senators and staff, we very much appreciate the opportunity for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers to be here at the table.

I'd also note that a number of us have been around quite a number of tables over the past year and a half, and I may say that the members of the value chain that are represented here today have done quite a bit, over the past year and a half, to make progress on this matter.

As an introduction, allow me first to say a few words about the member companies of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. AEM is a trade association representing manufacturers of agriculture, forestry, construction and mining equipment. The members include larger equipment manufacturers, such as Case IH and John Deere, as well as very successful Canadian manufacturers, like MacDon of Winnipeg. There are some 800 members of the association in Canada and the United States.

All the manufacturers of corn planters that are sold in Canada are members of AEM's technical committee. Joining me today is Mark Hackett, who is the Quebec territory sales manager for Case IH, and we have provided the committee with a handout that helps to describe how pneumatic corn and soybean planters work. We would be pleased to address any questions you might have.

This morning, if I may, I will touch briefly on three subjects, the basics of corn planters, what AEM member companies have been doing to reduce the risk to pollinators, and how AEM and its members have been working with the PMRA, the provincial governments and our value chain partners.

To set some context, today there are farmers in eastern Ontario that are able to grow corn with yields of 180 to 200 bushels to the acre. For example, I noticed in one of the farm papers a couple of weeks ago, that Mr. Schouten of North Gower, which is 40 kilometres south of here, had won a yield competition, where he was able to get 228 bushels of corn to the acre.

In other parts of Ontario, where Mr. Denys is from, there's a gentleman down there who won the competition with 327 bushels to the acre. I think it's important to put this into context. Many years ago, I used to plant and harvest corn. Back then, out in Lanark County, we thought 100 bushels to the acre was a pretty good yield, so it has come a long way over those years.

To achieve these yields, there are a multitude of factors at play, from the genetics that the seed companies are able to develop to the crop protection products that are used to protect the crop. All of this technology is dependent upon one thing, and that's getting the seed planted correctly.

In an article recently published in Ontario Farmer, an agronomist from Michigan was interviewed about the importance of planting the seed correctly. She described the critical factor of achieving what the industry calls ``picket fence stand of photocopy plants.'' Put another way, the ideal is to achieve a plant every six inches, depending, of course, on the plant population, and to have every plant the same size. I have provided, in the handout, a couple of photographs of what that's supposed to look like 10 days after planting and at harvest. In the article, the agronomist stated, a number of times, the importance of planter operation, including uniformity as the goal. When we think about how to get these plants spaced right, it all comes back to the planter.

Let me turn to what AEM member companies are doing to address pesticide exposure risk to pollinators. Over the past two years, engineers and researchers have been working with the International Standards Organization on the development of a new ISO standard. This new standard addresses not the design of the planter but rather methods of minimizing the effects of seed coating when mixed in the exhaust fan airflow. It is based on work that was originally undertaken at the Julius Kühn-Institut, in Germany. The new ISO standard is expected to be in place by mid-2015, and manufacturers have started the design and development of new planters that meet the criteria established in the standard.

AEM is a member of the Corn Dust Research Consortium. As its name implies, the research consortium includes the full range of stakeholders, including equipment manufacturers, beekeepers and researchers, including those in Ontario at the University of Guelph.

In its first report released on January 30, a couple of weeks ago, one of the conclusions was that the total dust and pesticide load in the dust were significantly reduced with the use of the new Bayer fluency agent.

You have heard from other witnesses that the pollinator issue is complex and that there is no simple answer. As a member of the Ontario Bee Health Working Group — and Dr. Trainer, Mr. Denys and I are on that working group — AEM has been a part of the dialogue that is under way with all members of the value chain, including beekeepers, grain farmers, seed companies, and crop science companies. AEM attended all of the meetings in Guelph, where the group considered quite a broad range of recommendations, and a report is expected shortly. Most recently, AEM worked with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food on the development of a bulletin for growers concerning planting practices. That bulletin was published this past Tuesday.

Also under way is a Syngenta research project on deflectors, involving 20 Ontario grain farmers, using, along with other designs, a system that an AEM member company designed for the European market. I would also note that, on March 25, we will be part of the bee health task team that is being coordinated by Agriculture Canada.

All in all, there are a number of activities that are under way in Canada and in the United States to consider ways to reduce risk to pollinators. We look forward to our continued engagement with the PMRA, provincial governments, growers and other members of the value chain, including my colleagues at the table today. Thank you so much for inviting us. We look forward to your questions.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Mains. Dr. Trainer, please.

Dr. Maria Trainer, Director of Regulatory Affairs, CropLife Canada: Thank you. Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you, first of all, for the opportunity to meet here today on this important topic of pollinator health. My name is Maria Trainer, and I'm managing director of regulatory affairs at CropLife Canada.

We represent the manufacturers, developers and distributors of pest control products and plant biotechnology. CropLife Canada's member companies are committed to protecting human health and the environment. Pesticides and plant biotechnology are important tools for Canadian farmers, but consumers also benefit from lower food costs, better environmental quality and a more prosperous economy.

Agriculture has never been more environmentally sustainable, in large part due to the innovative products our industry helps to develop. For example, we help farmers grow more food on less land, greatly increasing their efficiency.

Our industry's products also help to improve soil conservation, reduce water use and create fewer greenhouse gases. We are proud of these contributions. Aside from our moral obligation to protect the environment, of which pollinators are an integral and vital part, our industry also has a vested interest in protecting bees. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating one third of the food crops in Canada, and many of the crops our members products are designed to protect simply would not exist without pollination. The success of modern agriculture depends on bees, and we are fully committed to protecting and improving pollinator health. The topic of pollinator health is a complex one. Experts agree that there are a host of stresses to bees, such as the varroa mite, diseases, inadequate diet, and weather conditions.

While I know that there will inevitably be questions about the role of neonicotinoids and losses experienced by a small number of beekeepers in Quebec and Ontario, I would like to start by talking about seed treatments in general — what they are, why they are used, and how they represent a significant environmental improvement over the alternative.

Insecticide-treated seed has improved the precision of insecticide application by applying a very small amount of the product directly to the area where it will provide the greatest protection — on the seed and in the ground. This approach to pesticide application means the product is placed where beneficial insects, like bees and other non-target organisms, are unlikely to come into contact with it. Seed treatments have coexisted very well with pollinators in most parts of the country for quite some time now. For example, canola, arguably one of Canada's biggest agricultural success stories, is planted on more than 21 million acres in Western Canada. Virtually all of this crop is treated with a neonicotinoid, and it is a crop that is very attractive to bees as a food source. Bee health in that region of Canada remains strong. Many beekeepers tell us that seed treatment products are a significant improvement over past practices when it comes to bee health. Seed treatments have reduced potential exposure to pollinators and also provide valuable protection to the seed and seedling at a very vulnerable stage of growth. This provides farmers with stronger, more resilient crops and greater yields. Restrictions on these products would force growers to rely on other forms of pest control products, including folia sprays, which could increase the risk of exposure for non-target organisms such as bees.

Pesticides are essential tools that enable our growers to feed the growing world population in an environmentally responsible fashion. Without pesticides, the world would lose at least 40 per cent of its food supply. For certain crops, losses could be up to 80 per cent. The impact on the world's food supply would be catastrophic. In Canada, we have been shielded from the significant bee declines reported elsewhere in the world. In fact, according to StatsCan data, our honeybee numbers are increasing. This committee heard from a number of witnesses on the topic of pollinator health, which is a very complex issue. There are a number of factors currently affecting bees in Canada and around the world, such as parasites and disease; and other stress factors such as habitat loss, genetic weakness and environmental exposures. Given our industry's dependence on bees, all of these factors concern us, but we are very concerned that the narrow focus some groups have placed on neonics will mean that other causes threatening pollinator health will be overlooked.

The reality is that neonicotinoid-treated seeds have been planted in Canada for over a decade without similar incidents. Beehive numbers have been increasing over the last 20 years and are at the highest level they have ever been. Unfortunately, during spring planting in 2012 and 2013, beekeepers in certain parts of Quebec and Ontario observed bee mortality incidents. Federal and provincial authorities responded to these reports and Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA, determined that dust released during the planting of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soy seeds contributed to these losses.

Although only a small number of beekeepers — less than 1 per cent nationwide — were affected by these incidents, our industry took immediate action to address the concerns as part of our commitment to ensuring a vibrant and productive agricultural sector. Some of the steps that demonstrate our commitment to pollinator health include developing a comprehensive set of best management practices designed to help farmers reduce the amount of dust generated during the planting of insecticide-treated seed and communicating this information to growers; improved labelling of treated seed; development of a dust-reducing lubricant that must be used when planting treated seed for 2014; increased availability of untreated seed; establishing better communications and positive relations between beekeepers, growers and our industry to help protect pollinators and find collaborative solutions to ongoing pollinator health issues; and supporting research initiatives such as a five-year national bee disease study and engaging in partnerships to protect and further examine pollinator health.

One thing that is often overlooked is that pesticides are one of the most heavily regulated substances on the market. Health Canada's allegation that PMRA is one of the most respected regulatory bodies in the world is routinely used as an example by other nations seeking to strengthen and modernize their regulatory frameworks.

PMRA thoroughly assesses all pest control products before they are approved for sale or use in Canada. Part of this assessment includes a rigorous evaluation of the potential impacts on wildlife and other non-target organisms. While neonicotinoids are toxic to insects, they have low toxicity for most wildlife. In addition, the targeted nature of seed treatment technologies minimizes exposure to beneficial insects like pollinators. At present, neonicotinoids are undergoing a re-evaluation. This is a routine part of the PMRA process designed to ensure that all the latest science is considered when looking at previously approved pesticides.

We support Canada's rigorous regulatory system, including the regular re-evaluation of approved products. It ensures that regulatory decisions are continually evaluated against the best available science. This ensures that Canadians can have confidence in the industry and innovations that our industry developed.

Pesticides and pollinators both play critical roles in agriculture. Both are essential for successful and sustainable food production to feed an ever growing world population. Canada's plant science industry is committed to working with beekeepers, growers and all interested parties to take a holistic view of the challenges facing bee populations to help improve and maintain pollinator health in Canada both today and for generations to come.

The Chair: The last witness will be Mr. Thiel.

Paul Thiel, Vice-President, Innovation and Public Affairs, Bayer CropScience: Honourable senators, thank you for inviting me here today to share with you Bayer CropScience's view on the critical issue of bee health in Canadian agriculture.

Bayer CropScience is one of the world's leading innovative crop science companies in the area of seeds, crop protection and non-agricultural pest control. Headquartered in Calgary, Bayer CropScience employs over 350 people across Canada, as well as 150 summer students each year. Other locations include a formulation plant in Regina, a canola research and breeding centre in Saskatoon and a canola seed production centre in Lethbridge, along with regional offices across this country.

Bayer CropScience is participant of Bayer, a multi-national corporation which recently celebrated 150 years of business and is one of the most recognized brands in the world. More than 60,000 grower customers in Canada look to our technologies for many of their crop production needs, including crop protection products, seeds and plant biotechnologies.

The committee has heard much discussion on neonicotinoid insecticides and I would like to take the opportunity to add to that discussion. Neonicotinoid insecticides represent an important advancement in agricultural technology that has helped Canadian farmers increase productivity and improve cost competitiveness. These products provide clear performance and environmental advantages over the older insecticides they replaced and, by effectively controlling pests, they provide incremental yield improvement.

Although exposure to dust from treated corn seed can pose an acute risk to bees, such infrequent occurrences during spring planting are limited in scope and effect and can be further minimized through improvements in seed coatings, lubricants, plant remodifications and effective stewardship measures.

While the loss of bees associated with agriculture is a concern, infrequent and accidental exposures are neither indicative nor representative of the general health of honeybee colonies. It is important to note that the vast majority of beekeepers in Canada, 99 per cent of the nation's approximately 7,600 registered beekeepers, have not reported any adverse effects associated with the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments.

Managed colony numbers in Ontario and Quebec have increased since 2003. I must acknowledge the efforts and investment by beekeepers to increase their colony numbers while facing increasing challenges associated with hive management, including varroa mite, Nosema, forage, habitat loss and other factors.

It is important to note also this increase in colony numbers took place during the same decade that these modern seed treatments came into use. Such overwhelming empirical evidence is supported by the extensive research showing that these products do not represent a long-term threat to colony health.

It is equally important to consider the unintended consequences of limiting the use of new technologies, especially when alternative products may be unavailable, less effective or pose greater potential risks to human safety or the environment.

Bayer CropScience agrees with the PMRA and other researchers that bee health is a complex issue involving many factors, including parasites, disease and weather, nutrition, agriculture and hive management practices. Of particular concern is the devastating impact of the varroa mite, which is considered by most experts to represent the most important threat to overall colony health.

Bayer CropScience endorses meaningful measures that can further minimize unwanted exposures of honeybee colonies and fully supports the mitigation actions required by the PMRA. Bayer has developed and will introduce a new fluency agent for the 2014 planting season. We continue to develop and evaluate other technologies for minimizing dust during planting operations. We are also collaborating with the Saskatchewan agricultural ministry and the application developer, a company named Fieldwatch, to develop a smartphone application which will be introduced to beekeepers and applicators this growing season. This will improve communication and understanding of bee yard and hive locations. Our neonicotinoid product labels and seed tags contain the new warnings and management practices for the applicator and we broadly communicate the best management practices endorsed by the industry and the PMRA to our grower customers. We appreciate the task of our regulators to ensure these products are evaluated in the interests of the public and the environment and ask only that such examinations are based on scientific, evidence-based information.

Bayer has been actively involved in finding solutions to improve honeybee health for more than 25 years. This year alone, we are investing more than $13 million toward research, infrastructure and personnel as part of our ongoing commitment to the protection of honeybees and other pollinators in North America.

Our Bee Care Program includes our North American Bee Care Centre, which will officially open next month at the North American headquarters at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The Protect the Western Bumblebee Initiative is part of the Bring Back the Wild Program, our partnership with Earth Rangers, to educate youth on the importance of bees and to help protect their habitat.

There was previous testimony at this committee from Dr. Cory Sheffield of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. He is our technical partner on this project. Our Bee Ambassador Program is a field staff training program dedicated to cultivating dialogue and awareness around bee health.

As a leader in agriculture, we understand the value of pollinators to agriculture and have an inherent interest in helping find solutions. We believe the products we develop, market and steward represent the latest innovations in crop protection that have helped make Canadian agriculture productive and sustainable.

I look forward to answering your questions.

Senator Mercer: Thank you. I'm not sure where to start with the panel of witnesses this morning, but I will start with Dr. Trainer.

Dr. Trainer, does the treatment of seeds when planting remove the necessity of spraying?

Dr. Trainer: It depends on the crop in question, and I'm not an agronomy expert. For some crops, it reduces the need to spray completely, but for others, it significantly reduces the need to spray and certainly delays that requirement.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Denys, you mentioned protection of soil and water. I think the obvious question is: How are you protecting soil and water when you're putting insecticides in the soil? Obviously, when it rains, the insecticide will sometime be moved into groundwater. Perhaps you can enlighten us. How are we protecting soil and water when we're using insecticides on our seeds?

Mr. Denys: One of the things that seed treatments has allowed us to do is adopt reduced tillage practices or move towards no till, so that greatly reduces the disturbance of the soil and allows organic matter to build up. That is because the treatment protects the seed from the insects.

If we don't have the seed treatment, since you have an environment where you have a lot of crop residue on the top, it tends to be colder and wetter, so it's a more conducive environment for insects. If we didn't have the seed treatment, we would likely have to use more tillage and work the soil much more than we do today, and the result of that would be increased wind, soil and water erosion.

Senator Mercer: Thank you. Mr. Mains, are all planters now outfitted with dust deflectors, and are they an effective means of reducing the risks?

Mr. Mains: Some of the member companies of AEM offer deflectors for their equipment and other members don't. It's not unlike the whole issue where one simply can't bolt on a deflector and move the air because of the way the seed is held on to the metering plate.

In the presentation I circulated, there is a photograph of the metering plate. The way the metering plate singulates the seed, it has to be held on by a vacuum. The big concern for the engineers is that if you start ad hoc putting on a deflector, it will affect the air vacuum and affect the singulation and the ability of the seed to be held up against that metering plate. In some cases, it's an easier after-market kit to put on, but in other cases it is not. The individual companies are each looking at their equipment to see what can be done.

Senator Mercer: Should we be moving to a point where all planters have some type of deflector on them? I know the technology may not be there with certain products, but shouldn't that be the direction we want to go?

Mr. Mains: What the manufacturers have been doing is working on the ISO standard. It is not looking at a deflector, per se, but rather the intent is to consider the amount of dust that is distributed within a certain distance. That's the approach they are looking at, to control the distribution and the amount of dust that is emitted by the machines.

Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this morning.

I have a series of questions that other witnesses have brought up or made statements on, and I'd like to present them to you and see if you might be able to answer them. One of the questions that has come up is why is every seed treated?

Mr. Denys: In fact, if you look at crops like corn and soybean, not every seed is treated. In corn, for example, over 90 per cent is treated with a seed treatment insecticide. That is to demonstrate the benefits that this family of products has brought forward. In addition, it's very hard for a producer — and I can look at my own farm — to determine where we will have a problem and where we will not. There is no predictive model in place currently where we can say, ``Here we need the treatment and here we don't.''

We know there are some areas that are likely more susceptible and need the products and some that are less likely, but the reality is that the demonstrated benefit of this, especially over the first few years that they came on the market, led corn to having a high percentage of the seed treated based on the farmer preference, not because of the industry dictating this is the way it has to be.

For soybeans, just over 60 per cent of the seed is treated with an insecticide; it is not 100 per cent. Roughly 75 per cent of the seed would also have a fungicide on it, but just over 60 per cent has a seed insecticide. Again, it is because of grower preference on the benefits to it.

I will use my own farm as an example because it's my point of reference in most cases. Before we had the seed treatment family on the market, I was running into two insect problems. The first one was bean leaf beetle on soybeans. It would attack the soybean plant as it was emerging from the ground. It was getting to the stage where we had to use a seed insecticide to ensure we had a plant so we had a crop. That was a first, and this was a problem more so in southwestern Ontario.

For most soybean producers across Ontario and Quebec, the other main insect we were running into was soybean aphids. They infest later in the growing season. Prior to the introduction of this chemistry, we were seeing a lot of foliar spraying occurring in certain areas because of the flight patterns of the aphids coming into the country and it becoming an issue. When we started using these seed treatments, in fact, it gave us enough protection into the season that it allowed ladybug populations to build up, and those populations actually took care of the aphids, so we didn't have to worry about foliar sprays. That's why we have seen the adoption in the area.

This past fall, we actively promoted the availability of fungicide-only treated seed, not with insecticide on it, and we had pockets in the Ottawa Valley as well as Lambton County north of Chatham where growers who did not use the seed treatment in the spring actually had to spray once or twice with a foliar spray because of aphids. In areas we thought we would see less seed treatment used, we've actually seen the uptake there because they wanted to move away from foliar sprays.

Senator Buth: With respect to canola, why is every seed treated? What types of insects are problems? Mr. Denys mentioned the insect problems in soybeans.

Mr. Thiel: In canola, the crop is attacked by two different flea beetle species. Virtually from the time it comes out of the ground, flea beetles are indigenous, they overwinter quite well and their preferred food source is the canola seedling. In fact, many years ago a development project that I led — one I'm not particularly proud of — was a fungicide-only seed treatment for canola. It lasted two years in the marketplace and we pulled it. The simple problem is when the canola is coming out of the ground, growers are often still completing seeding in other parts of the farm. It is challenging when you're still trying to get your seed in the ground and by the time they go back to look three or four days later, they often would have lost 100 metres or more of the field edge to flea beetles before they recognized the problem, and then they still had to get out and apply foliar spray. It doesn't fit well with the principles of integrated pest management.

Senator Buth: Some growers have mentioned that there is very limited recent data on the effectiveness of the seed treatments and the data that was generated is over 10 years old. Can you talk about whether or not there is research on the effectiveness of the treatments and its impact on insect control and yield? Is anybody doing work now?

Mr. Thiel: The majority of the data is developed as we fulfill the registration of requirements when we have to demonstrate the benefit of the use of the seed treatments. Once it becomes a commercial product, one might say there is a different type of data that's collected. It's the market use data, the feedback from growers, information such as that provided earlier by Stephen on how it works on their farm. With respect to ongoing work with this class of chemistry, we continue to develop new uses, new rates, and label additions into new crops. For instance, we now use it as a wireworm control product in cereals and we continue to do investigative work in these areas. In all cases, this work encompasses the standard studies we must do to assess environmental impact.

Senator Buth: One more question if I can, chair. We've had a comment that these products are very toxic. You commented that they are very toxic to insects, and Dr. Trainer made the comment that they are safer for other species. We have had the comment that these products last for 10 years in the soils, and then we're getting movement into ground water and into surface water et cetera. Do any of you have comments on soil residual?

Dr. Trainer: I think the studies that were referred to in those comments were some of the studies that were reported in the regulatory documents. It's important to note that those studies are conducted under absolutely worst case situations in order to come up with the worst case model for the environmental fate of the product. They are conducted on bare sterile soil without the organic matter and the natural processes that would ordinarily contribute to the breakdown of the products.

There are several studies in recent years that have looked at the environmental resistance in the soil, most notably one that was conducted last year in Ontario. It's important to note that the data indicate that there is not a long persistence in the soil under realistic field use conditions.

Senator Buth: What do you mean by ``not long''? Is it gone at the end of the year?

Dr. Trainer: The half-life that was reported most recently from researchers in Ontario was less than six months.

Senator Buth: Less than six months.

Senator Robichaud: You said ``realistic'' in the situation. What is that to you? You said that some of those experiments were on bad soil or bad conditions, so what do you mean by that?

Dr. Trainer: The worst case scenario studies.

Senator Robichaud: Yes, and you said when it's under realistic conditions —

Dr. Trainer: The conditions such as Stephen was describing where the soil has high organic matter, it isn't tilled, working farm conditions.

Senator Buth: The last question is this whole issue surrounding sublethal effects. We know that when you use an insecticide to kill an insect, you kill an insect. That's what you get. But there have been quite a few comments about sublethal effects and that the products will affect the behaviour of the bees, the foraging ability of the bees and they're picking it up from the pollen and nectar later in the season, irrespective of the issue in Ontario where you have the problems with the corn dust. Does anybody have information or a comment on that?

Mr. Thiel: Thank you for that question. There has been a lot of work conducted worldwide and we do collect all of this work and evaluate it. We seek new learnings to continue our own efforts.

Many of the reports we've seen, we can't replicate what they've determined. Through a tiered series of testing, we look at the effect of our products on non-target organisms, such as bees, starting with acute and then looking at chronic effects. When we get to sublethal effects, we rely on what's happening in the field and we've conducted many field studies, including the largest most comprehensive field study of its type ever conducted at the University of Guelph in the summer of 2012. We did not see any of these reported effects.

In 2013 we conducted four sentinel hive studies with beekeepers in southern Ontario where we monitored hives on a daily basis throughout the season, transmitting all the data we collected remotely. Again, we don't see any of these effects with good hive management practices. We were able to place hives next to corn fields and we saw none of these impacts.

Senator Merchant: Thank you. I think I will go with one claim that was also made here this week. I will direct it to you Mr. Thiel, and it's nice to see you again. I think this committee saw you before when we were going through Saskatchewan.

One of our witnesses this week said that with companies such as Bayer — she mentioned other companies as well — those products got to the market without even testing them to see if they were going to cause bee deaths, and that's a big concern to us. This was a woman who represented the urban beekeepers of Ontario. Was that factual or can you elaborate a little to clarify?

Mr. Thiel: I would disagree strongly with such a statement. In fact, we conducted extensive studies on bees. I'm not sure of the number of studies we submitted at the time of application for registration for this specific product, but I know that right now the PMRA is re-evaluating 42 separate bee studies, which date back to the 1990s, that are part of their routine re-evaluation of products. Right now all of the three principal neonicotinoid insecticides used in the marketplace are under a special re-evaluation.

I mentioned that our company has been in business for 150 years and it's a well-recognized brand. We do not shortchange the science. We spend 10 per cent of our revenue on R&D, and we maintain the highest standards of science within our own organization. We do all of the required studies, and pollinator studies are a requirement for registration.

Senator Merchant: Anybody else? No? The second thing I was going to remark on is that I know that, coming from Saskatchewan, we have great canola yields, and they have doubled, I think someone said, within the last 10 years.

I noticed in the paper a couple of days ago that Saskatchewan Crop Insurance is now offering insurance to beekeepers. They're starting a three-year pilot project, I think. I believe that it said in the paper that Manitoba and Alberta already have this.

Why is this suddenly an insurance offer? Is it because they're noticing higher mortality of bees? Of course we have other factors like the winter. Does anybody know why? No?

Dr. Trainer: I certainly can't comment on why.

Senator Merchant: Nobody has commented on higher mortalities or more concern for the beekeepers.

Dr. Trainer: Certainly, there have not been —

Senator Merchant: I think that's all.

Senator Eaton: In one of your presentations — Mr. Denys or Mr. Entz — you were talking about the value-chain coalition, how you have everybody together and are trying to educate them on best practices. Can you give us some of those best practices you are trying to help people take on?

Mr. Denys: All of the parties at this table, obviously, and other groups, depending on the province — the Grain Farmers of Ontario is an example — started working together on best management practices to try to reduce the risk exposure to bees. Tied to that has been, at every grower meeting this winter, especially in Ontario and Quebec, reviewing the best management practices, and I know I've done a number of presentations in that regard. That includes areas such as using the fluency agent that was brought forward from Bayer as a seed lubricant because it reduces the risk, working with local beekeepers in terms of communication so that we know where the hives are located and can take precautions where there —

Senator Eaton: Such as?

Mr. Denys: If you are using an air planter, working with local beekeepers and watching the wind direction — something as simple as that. So they're planting when there's no wind or the wind direction is not towards the hives, or the beekeeper can take precautions in terms of covering their hives or something like that when planting is occurring.

Regularly maintaining and cleaning the planter so that you don't get a buildup of dust inside the planter. That's a key area. So those are some of the areas of focus. With corn in particular, a high percentage is still sold in a bag, so being careful when you are dumping the bag into the planter. If you can do it out of the wind, do it out of the wind. Not to shake it too much so that you dislodge all of the dust that's in the bag. There are a number of areas that we're focusing on.

Senator Eaton: Several of our witnesses have been talking to us about bee nutrition and how high intensity monoculture doesn't help pollinators. Are you talking about hedge rows or laying aside a bit of ground?

Mr. Denys: There is discussion in that regard in terms of trying to maintain the habitats that are out there that are more attractive to bees or even starting to put land aside. Those are really at the beginning stages in terms of discussions in that regard.

What was interesting from the work that was done from Ridgetown College this past year, through the University of Guelph, was that a good part of the foraging is actually not in cropping areas. It is in the fence rows, the bushes and things like that.

Senator Eaton: It's indigenous plants.

Mr. Denys: Yes.

Senator Eaton: When you have your value-chain coalition, are beekeepers part of that? Do you invite the local beekeepers when you have meetings?

Dr. Trainer: I can speak to that a little, if that's helpful. Not specifically the value chain that Mr. Denys is referring to. CropLife Canada has co-hosted with the Canadian Honey Council two multi-stakeholder round table fora that bring together that entire value chain and the national beekeeping organization to talk about bee health collaboratively. Items that we've discussed include pesticides but also diseases and access to safe forage and more plentiful forage. So we have had those extended value chain discussions.

Senator Eaton: Thank you. Mr. Mains, you were talking about a new planter, I think. Is it next year that you are bringing out a new planter?

Mr. Mains: The ISO standard comes into effect about mid-2015. There will be some new planters available as early as September of next year, so they will be in the field in the spring of 2016.

Senator Eaton: Will farmers be able to convert their old planters to some of the new systems, or do they have to change everything? Do they have to buy a new machine?

Mr. Mains: That goes back to the question regarding what we either call a deflector or a diffuser, and I do know that some of the companies are trying to figure out how to address that issue. To put this into context, we tallied the number of models that exist in Ontario and we came up with 49 that are in the Ontario inventory.

To help you understand the complexity of this, we had a meeting about six weeks ago with the PMRA. And included in the meeting was the owner of one of the larger John Deere dealerships in southwestern Ontario. He was delivering 39 planters this year to his customers, and not one of those planters was the same. They were all unique. So the challenge that we have is that every farmer has unique needs, and the planters are literally built at the factory to meet the farmer's individual needs.

Senator Eaton: Of course, we know that those machines are very expensive. So they're not about to renew them or change them very quickly, are they?

Mr. Mains: Right. We understand that. So one of the first things that we're working with the industry on is the introduction of the new Bayer fluency agent. Depending on the studies that we're seeing, we've seen a reduction of the amount of active ingredient that's deposited by upwards of two-thirds. We will know a lot more at the end of this year, at the end of this planting season, on how it actually works out.

We understand that more may need to be done, but, as I said, it is not an easy answer. Like any technology, whether it is seed treatments or the genetics that go into the seeds, it is not as easy as bolting on a couple of pieces of pipe. I know that, in the discussions that I have been party to, for the engineers of these companies, it is a daunting question. If there were an easy solution, that would have been in the field by now, but it is not.

Senator Eaton: Of course you have to educate people, don't you, Mr. Thiel, about the new fluency? How do you get people to change the way they have been doing things for a long time?

Mr. Mains: If I might add a comment, last night I was with a farmer from down near Sarnia. He commented that he had taken delivery of his corn seed this week and that the new fluency agent was delivered. He said that the instructions were pretty clear, as we have spoken about, that you are supposed to use, I think, one eighth of a cup per unit. For all of us who have come off the farm, there's that old adage that, if a little bit is good, a little bit more is better. That was one of the problems with the previous seed lubricants; people were perhaps using a little bit too much.

In this new type of seed lubricant, there are very strict instructions that you are only supposed to use so much, and all of us around this table are hopeful that the results will be positive this coming season.

Senator Eaton: Thank you.

The Chair: Mr. Thiel, you wanted to comment?

Mr. Thiel: I wanted to applaud the other stakeholders, the seed industry, in particular, for working with us and coming up with what I think is a very effective distribution method so that, when the grower picks up their seed, the appropriate amount of product is with the seed.

Mr. Entz: I would like to make an additional comment to Senator Eaton's question. We are committed to best management practices because it includes a number of practices. We're not just looking at one activity to solve the issue, but part of the education to the users of these products is to help them better understand the multitude of issues that we're facing and, more importantly, what they can do as farmers to manage the use of the seed treatment.

The Chair: Mr. Denys, did you want to add something also?

Mr. Denys: It was a good comment from Senator Eaton that when growers get into practices they have done for a long time, sometimes it's hard to switch habits.

As I mentioned, I have spoken at a lot of meetings this winter and with growers. The awareness last fall about the use of the fluency agent, in particular, was such that if I would have asked for a show of hands in October, I would have had two hands out of 100 go up. When I asked for a show of hands in the last few weeks, basically everybody in the room was aware.

In terms of our education of growers in these meetings, we're making it very blunt. It is either you use the fluency agent and adopt the best management practices or you are going to lose the technology. Growers understand and appreciate that. I expect an incredibly high amount of adoption this year because growers do get it.

Senator Robichaud: Almost everyone talked about best practices and how you communicate those best practices by labels, and so on. How do you monitor those best practices? You can have the best program but if nobody heeds it, then it is of no use, is it?

Dr. Trainer: For example, this year the adoption of the alternative fluency powder is not optional, it is mandatory. If you are planting treated seed and you are using a lubricant, you have to use this alternative fluency powder.

Senator Robichaud: Yes, but in other practices.

Mr. Denys: As a farmer, we're also environmentalists. We hear about environmental groups. At the end of the day, most farmers want to leave the land and the environment in better shape than how they inherited it.

To be honest, up until the last couple of years there was not an awareness of an issue. It ties together with a change in planting technology over the last few years. If we go back 10 years ago, most of the corn or soybeans for that matter were planted with a mechanical planter: there was no dust or air exposure or air flow in the planter. The technology has been adopted over the last 10 years. Once most producers are made aware of the issue, they feel an inherent responsibility to protect the environment. That's why there are practices being brought into place.

To add to Howard's previous comments, there are dealers looking at building deflector kits for after-market models. They're getting calls from growers because growers understand the problem and whenever the technology becomes available, they do want to buy and adopt it because they understand their responsibility.

Senator Robichaud: You all said that old practices are sometimes hard to get rid of. That is why I put the question to you.

Mr. Mains: I was at dinner last night with a group of beef farmers. I think it is fair to say — and this is my experience out in farm country — that the awareness of the environmental responsibility that farmers understand they are to meet today is far different than it used to be. They realize that they have to be responsible stewards, that they have to follow the label directions and that they have to adopt the best management practices, or else our society will not be accepting of what their practices are. That awareness has increased significantly over the past 25 years. It is quite commendable for our farmers who are out there tilling the land that they are doing what they're doing.

Senator Robichaud: I'm not questioning the farmers as to how they take care of the environment, but they have to operate sometimes in very difficult situations — too much rain, or it's too dry, or the markets are not there. Those are all factors that will have an influence on if they adopt or if they try to take shortcuts — not to say that they're not doing their darn best.

The Chair: Dr. Trainer wanted to comment and then we will go to Senator Buth for a supplementary question and then right back to you, senator.

Dr. Trainer: One of the key factors in the best management practice is understanding or awareness of hive locations. Our experience over the past two or three years has shown us that the most important thing in building that awareness is communication. That is, communication among all parties. We have best management practices because the dust issue will require a suite of different factors to address. There's no silver bullet. There are a number of things that we need stakeholders to put in place.

One of those is better communication between the affected parties. We have lots of examples of where beekeeping and agriculture co-exist very well and where problems are addressed collaboratively. We are hopeful that that will be an option here in Ontario and in Quebec, where we can have beekeepers communicating with growers and working collaboratively to address this issue.

Senator Buth: To follow up on Senator Robichaud's question, there are a variety of different groups working together on these issues: the Ontario government, your coalition, et cetera. Is anybody monitoring farmer practices out there and following up in terms of a survey or something like that? Are you aware of any group that might be doing that?

Dr. Trainer: Certainly PMRA is monitoring it. When they have had incident report evaluations; they have a questionnaire. That is something we have discussed as well.

Senator Buth: Thank you.

Senator Robichaud: For a farmer to modify his equipment in one case and in another to buy a new planter, it is quite an investment, isn't it?

Mr. Mains: Well, there are two things. One is, yes, new equipment is expensive so they want to ensure that it operates correctly. Concerning the modifications, we were in Quebec last fall to speak with a firm there that is working with individual farmers. They thought that the modifications were — it is hard to say a typical planter because each planter is almost unique — not that expensive. They were talking in the range of $1,500 to $2,000.

Senator Robichaud: That is a minor modification.

Mr. Mains: Right, but one thing we would underscore is that it is critically important that if there are modifications to be made, they understand the dynamics that occur with the air flow within the machine because, if the vacuum is affected, then seeds drop off and seeds don't get planted and yield drops.

Senator Robichaud: Mr. Thiel, you mentioned better bee care and you have an initiative there to protect the western bumblebee in the program Bring Back the Wild. Does that mean that the wild is having a very serious problem and we have to do a lot of things to bring it back?

Mr. Thiel: No, that was not the intent of the message. We partnered with youth television, YTV, and this Earth Rangers program that they had. It was really sitting down and discussing with them how do we talk to the youth about the importance of pollinators. They had a relationship with the museum in Regina and suggested we talk with Dr. Sheffield. We came up with this idea of the western bumblebee as simply an initiative. That is, the western bumblebee, call it the surrogate for all pollinators. We simply used that as the working example to try to get youth interested in pollinators and to educate them about their importance.

I'm happy to say that the Earth Rangers came back to us and said that, measured by unique hits on their website; it has been their most popular initiative to date.

Senator Robichaud: That was my ``before-the-last'' question.

The Chair: We will call it the second-to-last.

Senator Robichaud: But this one is definitely my last.

Did you do any research on the wild bees?

Mr. Thiel: We have started to do some work on bumblebees, yes, out of our Bee Care Center in North Carolina.


Senator Rivard: Mr. Thiel, I listened to your presentation and I thank you for it. Yesterday, I also read an article in the International Business Times describing your approach with Syngenta AG, a Swiss multinational chemical product company, challenging the European Union's decision to ban the use of neonicotinoids for a period of two years.

In the report, one of your colleagues said that the relationship between the effects of the product and bee health were just a theory. However, in January 2013, the European Food Safety Authority published a report stating that this product was high-risk. Many Canadian studies demonstrated the same risks and we even saw on live television the effects that these insecticides can have on bees. In a recent experiment led by a Montreal university, it was shown that the product affects the bees' nervous system, among other things, leaving the bees more vulnerable to parasites, and even leading them to become disoriented and incapable of finding their hive.

While I congratulate you for your research investments, it would seem that you are still facing a lot of criticism; would it not be better to impose a moratorium on this product to determine, through more in-depth and independent research, whether neonicotinoids are dangerous for bees or not?


Mr. Thiel: I would like to address the EFSA report and decision by the European Union to impose a two-year moratorium on the use of neonics in certain crops. I can't speak for Syngenta, but Bayer's position was that EFSA took an overly cautious application of the precautionary principle. In fact, when we develop these products, we tend to do what we call ``tiered risk assessments.'' A tier-one risk assessment will be a lab study, under controlled conditions, to try to learn about the product's behaviour. It could be a column of sand, and that's where we will see long half-lives. That number is often cited, but it has no relevance in the field. We may artificially dose a bee to find out the concentration of product that will kill an adult worker bee. We then move through various tiers of risk assessment before we finally wind up at field-scale realistic studies, which are often what we base registrations on in the end.

EFSA stayed at virtually a tier-one risk assessment scenario. It is extraordinarily overly cautious. It overstates the risk by orders of magnitude. They chose to take that decision. It resulted in the consequential moratorium on the use of the product for two years. In two years, we will see what kind of new research they have to base their decision upon.

In Canada, the PMRA is conducting a special re-evaluation along with the EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Registration. They do take into account all of these studies that you referred to, but they also take into account higher tiered risk assessments.


Senator Dagenais: I would like to thank our five witnesses for being here this morning. My first question is for Mr. Thiel and follows on the question of Senator Rivard. In your presentation, you mentioned that agricultural technology can help improve productivity and even improve the cost of agricultural products. Do you not believe that at some point all of that could harm the health of bees?


Mr. Thiel: The use of these products as seed treatments have clearly demonstrated agronomic advantages for the grower, such as a control of pests that previously were not controlled to the same level or the timeliness with which you can achieve the control of that pest. It has allowed growers to seed earlier in the season, when the soil is perhaps a little cooler and a little moister, and allowed them to lengthen their growing season, achieving higher yields.

My firm conviction is that these products, when used according to label directions, do not pose an unreasonable risk to pollinators. The evidence we have from more than a decade of use on what is right now standing at probably 25 million acres a year demonstrates that 99 per cent of the growers and the beekeepers themselves don't have any problem with these products being used in agriculture and their bees being in proximity to them.


Senator Dagenais: My second question is for Ms. Trainer. I agree with you that the best way to prevent the shrinking of bee colonies is to conduct scientific research. Do you not believe that the scientific world is reacting to, rather than preventing, these developments in the world of bees? Would it not be better to conduct research to prevent problems that might occur and might become harmful to bee colonies?


Dr. Trainer: I certainly understand the point you're making. It is unfortunate, given the complexity of the bee health situation, that so much attention has been focused on a single potential factor. The issues we have experienced in Ontario and Quebec have been acute dust-related issues, and we have put a lot of measures in place to fix that. We're committed to fixing that issue.

It is unfortunate that so much attention is being focused on other factors related to neonicotinoids around which the evidence simply does not bear out as being important to bee health. That is happening to the exclusion of a fulsome debate on the other factors we know have a huge impact on bee health, like disease, safe forage and climate. I hope that answers your question.


Senator Maltais: I would like to ask the doctor a question. With all of these wonderful products and excellent machinery, what are our bees dying from? According to what we have just heard, our bees should be in good health, is that not so? Why are they dying? Are they that weak?


Dr. Trainer: First of all, it is important to remember that Canada's bee numbers have actually increased significantly. They're now at the highest number that we have since StatsCan started keeping records in 1924.

We do know that there are a variety of factors that affect bee health, with acute exposure to neonicotinoids being one of them, but most experts agree that the biggest factors affecting bee health are the varroa mites, the diseases transmitted by that disease and the effects they have on bee health in general. But it is important to put it into context: Canada's honeybee numbers have never been higher than they are right now.


Senator Maltais: How can you explain the difference between the mortality rate for urban hives, which is 15 per cent, according to beekeepers, and that of hives in open areas, which is between 30 and 50 per cent? How can that be explained? Are urban bees in better health? Are the flowers there better? What is going on? Why is it that these bees are not dying when others are?


Dr. Trainer: Can you clarify which study you're referring to that talks about mortality rates in urban bees?


Senator Maltais: I am not referring to a study; yesterday, witnesses told us, and the other senators will agree —


The Chair: We were told by previous witnesses that in the urban area, the mortality rate would be as high as 15 per cent and in rural areas it goes up to 30 per cent to 50 per cent. They were talking about winter mortality.

Dr. Trainer: I think overwintering numbers for bees have fluctuated over decades. In Canada, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists has been keeping records since 2007. There are records from state apiarists going back to the late 1800s and early 1900s that report overwintering numbers as low as 5 per cent and as high as 70 to 90 per cent in northern states and Canada. Overwintering numbers have fluctuated since records have been kept on bees. The biggest factors that affect that are the climate and diseases that affect bees and weaken the hives.

I can't speak to anecdotal reports of differences between beekeepers in urban and rural areas. It is important to note that most of the beekeepers keeping bees in urban areas are probably hobby beekeepers who are not doing this full time and their management practices likely differ significantly from the large commercial operations in the more rural areas. It's difficult to make comparisons like that.

Senator Merchant: I'm not familiar with Ontario, but we were told that in the Durham, Ontario, area the bee mortality rates were as high as 70 per cent. This was told to the committee by the same person that you're referring to. I don't think anybody has harsher winters than we have in Saskatchewan, so I don't think it's just a winter problem. I know there are many problems. Is that a true number — the mortality rate is up to 70 per cent?

Mr. Denys: I don't know. That could well be. There are a lot of factors at play. Some of these questions have to be directed to the individual beekeepers in terms of their practices. We talk about best management practices from a crop production perspective, but there are also best management practices from a hive management perspective. There are many differences between beekeepers in terms of how they manage their hives and when they're harvesting honey. There are many factors at play, for example: Are those bees being shipped to other parts of the continent to be used in crops elsewhere? There are many factors that affect bee health and the durability of those hives over time. Is that number factual? If it was presented, it could be factual, but I can't comment on it.

Senator Merchant: I cannot believe that because beekeepers want to maintain their bees. Beekeepers in Eastern and Western Canada must want to keep their hives healthy. You said that farmers are very environmentally conscious about their practices. I'm sure that beekeepers are also like that. There seems to be a big difference.

Mr. Denys: That's where it's important to talk to beekeeper and hive management experts on the differences in practices. As Senator Robichaud pointed out, farmers have a lot of factors on their plate, including markets and the type of spring they're having. It's the same for beekeepers in terms of their hive management practices and whether they're following all the practices. Do they cut corners in some cases? These are all questions that relate to hive management.


Senator Maltais: I asked a very simple question: what are the bees dying from? I still have not had an answer to that. I will rephrase the question: what will bees die of in the future? Since we do not know anything about the past or the present, what will happen in the future? Doctor, please give me a prognosis: could ultraviolet rays be responsible?


Dr. Trainer: I will get my crystal ball out. We know that this has been an exceptionally hard winter. We know that there will be reports of high overwintering losses. We're already seeing the finger being pointed to neonicotinoids by certain groups. We think that's unfortunate. We know that has been an exceptionally hard winter and a hard one on bees.

Bees generally live four to six weeks in the summer. Over winter, we are asking that same bee that would live four to six weeks in the summer to survive upwards of six months. When spring comes, you have a limited window for the bees that have survived over winter to get out, start foraging and bring back enough food to strengthen the hive, get the new bees hatching, and get the hive back up to full strength. When you have a winter like this one, it takes a toll on bees. If spring comes late or drags out or is wet or is in any way sub-optimal, it will have a very negative impact on the hives. Hives can come through winter and look good when spring comes and then suddenly collapse if spring is dragged out and the bees that have lived for six months cannot get enough food into the hive in time to get the queen laying and the new bees hatched. I expect to see high overwintering losses reported this spring, and I hope they are kept in context.


Senator Maltais: Which means that bees could become extinct in the future. We are currently in a period of global warming, and it has been -40ºC for six months. I am looking forward to seeing things cool down but then, there will be no more bees. So your crystal ball tells you that in the distant future we will not have any more bees.


The Chair: For clarification, comments were made by previous witnesses from Alberta beekeepers and commercial beekeepers. Your comments on the last questions bring clarification.

Senator Oh: You are the first panel we've heard with information that bees are doing well with neonicotinoids. Who keeps all the statistics, as this contradicts information we heard from other panels. You said that over 99 per cent of nations are registered. Who is keeping the right information?

Dr. Trainer: These are Statistics Canada numbers. Statistics Canada tracks the number of hives in Canada and the number of beekeepers in Canada; and has done so since the 1920s. It's all public information. We would be happy to provide the link to those databases if you would like. I believe they are provided in our comments.

The Chair: It will be provided, Senator Oh, through the clerk.

Senator Oh: Mr. Entz, the Canadian government has programs for Asia and Africa to help in agriculture. Are you getting involved with the seeds for planting? Are we teaching Third World countries about agriculture production?

Mr. Entz: The Canadian Seed Trade Association doesn't get involved in overseas development or specific activities like that. However, some of our member companies are very active, specifically in Africa, to try to help those areas become more self-sustaining in their food production. The ability for those nations to produce food is potentially high, but they have tremendous challenges in terms of getting the appropriate seed variety and fertility, et cetera. The Canadian Seed Trade Association does not have a mandate to do that specifically.

Senator Oh: Thank you.

The Chair: I would like to bring to the attention of senators that we will need 10 minutes at the end of the session to address and look at our budget item.

Senator Mercer: I will stick to your one question rule, but I wanted to point out that on Senator Maltais' question around urban bee mortality, we had a meeting on Tuesday with representatives of urban bee groups from Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary. This is where the information came from. These people were involved in beekeeping in urban settings.

That aside, several times people talked about the handling of the bags of seeds and someone said not to shake the bag. Okay. I get that because you don't want it blowing in the air. What about the farmer or farmhand handling that? What protection do they need to take, whether handling seeds or loading up the machines? It seems to me if it's a concern to bees in the air, it should be a concern to me standing on the back of a seeder.

Mr. Thiel: When we register these products, we have to account for what we call ``operator exposure.'' Based on the studies that we do, the PMRA will give us the recommended statements on personal protective equipment. It will depend a lot on the nature of the compound being used, its inherent profile and the expected quantity that the grower or their farmhand will be handling. It varies from product to product, but typically we would recommend that you wear nitrile gloves, a hat and we may recommend goggles or a dust mask. It depends on the product in question.

Senator Mercer: I would go for all of those if I were doing the job.

Mr. Denys: This is an important point: This family of products, from human health and safety when we talk about the applicator, is light years above what we used to use. There was a reason we moved to this family of products as producers. It was not only the effectiveness and the low rate we had to use, but because of the health and safety not only to us as applicators but also to birds, our pets, et cetera. There is a reason we moved to this family of products.

Senator Buth: We talked to the beekeepers who have been here about the types of products they use in the hive for managing varroa mites and the issue where they get a product registered, the mites develop resistance and another product comes in. What is the industry doing to help beekeepers access safe products that they can use in their hives so they can use an integrated approach to management rather than having one product at a time?

Dr. Trainer: One of the things we've done, as I mentioned earlier, is that we established a round table with the Canadian Honey Council to talk about bee health generally with value chain stakeholders across the entire value chain. One of the outcomes of the last meeting was to identify opportunities to work together to screen for new active ingredients. Our industry and a number of CropLife companies are committed to working with beekeepers to screen existing chemistries for those that might have miticidal properties. One of the biggest challenges is that you're trying to identify an insecticide that will kill an insect on an insect. It's a very challenging proposition and I know a number of our member companies are actively committed to working with the beekeeping industry to try and identify new products, but I can't underscore how difficult it is to identify the appropriate chemistries that can work in that environment without posing a risk to the bee itself.

Senator Robichaud: You all spoke about using treated seeds, the yield and the advantages and all of that. Dr. Trainer you also said that you were increasing the availability of untreated seeds, so is there a push out there to move away from treated seeds that now you have to provide untreated seeds?

Dr. Trainer: Others could speak better to a movement of any variety in the marketplace. The provision of untreated seed was important for growers who scouted their fields and determined they did not have a pest pressure, they did not need to treat, and that they have access to untreated seeds. We felt that was very important so we supported the efforts of others along the value chain who are implementing that.

Mr. Denys: For corn and soybeans in particular, growers have always had the ability to order untreated seed so there was a certain percentage on corn and soybeans that would be fungicide only or even no treatment. For organic farmers, they wanted to order seeds without fungicide or insecticide, so that ability has always been there.

Because of awareness around the whole area of bee health, grower-producer organizations came forward and said, ``As seed companies, can you make sure that you offer this?'' We had to remind them we do offer it; we just don't get a lot of uptake.

As we came to the 2014 planting season there was an effort put in place to communicate with producers that these options were available, particularly in corn and soybeans. The numbers have stayed constant in terms of use by producers because they feel it's an asset, and they need it to produce their crop and protect their investment.

The Chair: There is no doubt that if we go through the clerk we could send you a letter specifying the additional questions.

Witnesses, on behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, if you feel the need to add additional information do not hesitate to contact the clerk, Mr. Pittman. You have been very informative. This has been educational, enlightening and no doubt helpful for the mandate we have from the Senate of Canada.

Honourable senators, I will ask the clerk to inform the committee on the fact-finding mission to Washington and Morrisburg, Ontario, and to consider the budget so that we can make the presentation to Internal Economy. On this, Mr. Pittman.

Mr. Pittman: For this particular study, we've proposed two activities for the budget for this upcoming fiscal year, a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit with the FDA, the EPA and also with your counterparts on Capitol Hill. The second activity would be in Morrisburg, Ontario. The idea would be to visit a farm in the region of Morrisburg, Ontario, as well as an apiculturist from that region as well.

Senator Eaton: You're Ontario senators, so you have to go to Morrisburg and can't go to Washington, right?

Senator Mercer: That sounds good. We need a volunteer.


Senator Maltais: For several weeks, we heard many witnesses and their testimony has been contradictory. We have heard that this is no one's fault; it is global warming.

I am really not satisfied, not at all! We are conducting a study to find out what bees are dying from and all of the testimony is contradictory. I want to meet someone who will tell us the truth. Why not go to Nova Scotia, why not go to New Brunswick, to the West, to the North? If we are undertaking a study that costs taxpayers money, we need to find out the truth. If we want to make a recommendation to the Senate, we need to know the truth. Currently, we are running around in circles. The beekeepers are right, the people who sell the machinery are right, in short, everyone is right. I asked the doctor a question and she is not stupid, after all. No. The problem must be elsewhere. If we pursue our study, we need to find the truth so that we can make a recommendation.

The Chair: In the spirit of the budget, I think that is a very good comment.


Senator Mercer: I don't disagree with my friend Senator Maltais. However, we have to continue the study. We have to broaden the base of the knowledge that we're picking up. There are some very important things going on at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in and around Washington that we can expose ourselves to and learn from. I think that trip would be very worthwhile. Going to Morrisburg and actually being on a farm and also meeting with beekeepers in the field is also very important. I think that we've had a breadth of witnesses. If there are other witnesses that anybody thinks we should have, then I think we should reach out to them. We constantly get suggestions even from witnesses. They mention groups. I know the steering committee always looks at suggestions and says, ``Do we know these people? Can we get these people?'' We are continuing to search for what the truth is. I think we have heard the truth. We just have to determine what it is because it's like life.

Senator Eaton: It's not black and white.

Senator Mercer: Absolutely. That's my point. Are we going to come up with a single answer at the end of this study? I doubt it.

Senator Buth: I think what we're hearing are various viewpoints that are telling us that this is a complex issue and that, in different areas, there are different things happening. I don't think going across Canada to look at different things would help us in any way. We have had witnesses from different parts of Canada, and they are telling us that, in their area, this is happening or, in another area, something else is happening. We heard quite a bit too about the differences even between how beekeepers are managing different things in their hives and in different regions. This is an interesting study because I think it is a complex issue, and the researcher will have a challenge in terms of putting together the report that essentially summarizes what is actually happening and what we've heard.

I think going to Morrisburg would be a very good idea for us to see a beekeeping operation and to see corn seeding, which is the primary issue that has come up for the bee deaths that we've seen.

Washington I'm 50-50 on because I think that we could hear from the USDA and the EPA by video conference, but I also think that there is value in sitting down with a group of people for a longer period of time, in person, to hear what they're looking at. I'm of two minds on the Washington trip but I strongly support Morrisburg.

The Chair: Senator Eaton, would you have any comments also?

Senator Eaton: Yes. I support what Senator Buth has said. I feel that we're missing a link, and the link is that we have not really heard, except perhaps from the first witness, about any cutting edge research on bee breeding, how to make a stronger bee.

One of the witnesses yesterday was talking about that research station at the University of Minnesota. Instead of going to Washington — an FDA official is an FDA official — let's do a teleconference. It might be interesting to have another teleconference or go to one of these research stations where they are doing overwintering and nutrition. Are beekeepers taking too much honey out of the hive? Senator Buth asked that question several witnesses ago. Don't you remember, JoAnne? It would be interesting if we looked at someone doing cutting edge research, either in Canada or the United States. I think that's the link we're missing.

The Chair: It certainly links to the comment made previously by Senator Maltais.

Senator Mercer: I think Senator Eaton has a point. I think that the urban people the other day were talking about 15 per cent mortality, but they also talked about not taking as much honey out of the hive so that, over the winter, there would be more nutrition in the hive. That may not be the easy answer, but it may be part of the answer that, in large commercial operations that are harvesting a lot of honey, maybe the question is: Are you leaving enough nutrition for the bees to winter in?

Senator Merchant: I was just talking to Paul Thiel and he said that we need more research to see why there's a high mortality rate in Ontario and in the States. He went on to say, ``We need to do more there.'' I don't know if that's helpful. He also talked about Saskatchewan having a closed border, which makes a difference to bee health. These were his concerns. Maybe that's a guide for us; I don't know. You can look into it.


Senator Robichaud: I would like to follow up on Senator Eaton's question. People talk to us about science constantly, and we need to base our recommendations on science, on something scientific. I agree with that because we have heard all kinds of testimony. Is there some place in Canada where we could have more information about the science of bees, so that we can know if we could better focus our research? I would also like us to talk about so-called wild bees. We have touched on the subject before. As far as going to Washington is concerned, I do not know if meeting officials in Washington would really help us.

If there is a place in the United States where advanced research on bees is being done, I would prefer to go there instead of to Washington. I know why Washington is being recommended; it is because we can go on our points. Otherwise, the committee will have to pay.

The Chair: Before asking Ms. Aïcha to comment, I see that Senator Buth wants to make a comment.


The Chair: Senator Buth wanted to make a comment. We will finish our discussion with Senator Maltais and then ask Aïcha to comment on going forward.

Senator Buth: I'm not sure if there will be a lot more information about bee breeding. We have heard witnesses state that we haven't been successful in terms of that. In terms of overwintering, I think that's an area where we should understand better, because everybody comes forward and says, ``Well, we have overwintering losses of this and this.'' There are many factors.

There is the bee centre in Beaverlodge, and Rob Currie has done quite a bit of work on overwintering in Manitoba. There's no point in going to the U.S. to talk about overwintering. They don't do it because they don't have the same types of issues. We might want to take a look at that.

Steve Pernal, the first witness we heard from, is in Beaverlodge. These trips give us an opportunity to really delve into the issues, so if that's an area —

Senator Eaton: That's a Canadian issue.

Senator Buth: Yes, it's is a Canadian issue. One of the key things that keeps coming up is varroa mite. That's had a huge impact since it has come to Canada. These are also centres that have also done work on varroa mites. I think, Senator Eaton, you have some good points there in terms of what we might want to do in terms of Canada. That would be my recommendation.

The Chair: Thank you. Senator Maltais.


Senator Maltais: Yesterday, the U.S. Farm Act was mentioned. Can we look into that legislation to see what is being done with bees? I do not think it is necessary to go to Washington, because with the Internet, we could look into the part on bees. That would give us a good idea. That would not eliminate the need for us to travel to Washington, but it would give us a better idea.


Senator Buth: Can I ask a question?

The Chair: Yes, Senator Buth.

Senator Buth: I want to make sure that we remember to have EPA as a witness if we can, because EPA is doing the same analysis that PMRA is doing. They're doing a joint project on the review of the neonicotinoids. It would be good to hear from EPA as well. If we could do a video conference with them, we don't want to miss that.


Senator Dagenais: Since the beginning, many beekeepers have told us that bees survive better in Florida. I suggest that we all spend a few days in Florida. That is just a comment.


Senator Mercer: We're not going to Washington. We will go to your place.


The Chair: That is a personal comment that has nothing to do with the order of reference before us.

Senator Dagenais: It was just to conclude on a lighter note.


The Chair: Aïsha, can you give us some comments on going forward? Then we will meet to consider a decision on the mission to Washington and Morrisburg.


Aïcha Coulibaly, Analyst, Library of Parliament: As regards the question by Senator Robichaud or Senator Maltais on the relevancy of travelling to the United States, I would point out that parliamentarians and officials were not the only ones to be identified in the United States. Several stakeholders have problems similar to those we are facing in Canada in terms of the loss of bees, namely in California and at the national level. They have serious problems, so serious that they have conducted a great deal of research. Last year, they met with representatives from the Department of Agriculture to organize a conference at the national level to better understand the various factors linked to colony collapse and how they should move forward, given everything that had been done in Canada. Even representatives from Canada participated in that conference in the United States and in Australia.

Yes, it was mentioned that they were parliamentarians.


Also, there is the Environmental Protection Agency, as mentioned by Senator Buth. There are also people from the USDA. They are also stakeholders from the industries that have been targeted in order to be able to have a more comprehensive view about what is going on in the United States and how this might correlate what has been observed here or go in different directions.

The Chair: Is that sufficient for clarification? If so, then a question from Senator Robichaud.


Senator Robichaud: In Canada, have we consulted people who are in the know? Senator Buth has just made a suggestion.

Ms. Coulibaly: When you say ``consulted,'' do you mean in terms of witnesses or visits or in terms of subject matter?

Senator Robichaud: No, in terms of knowledge.

Ms. Coulibaly: I cannot say that we have consulted, in that what we have done is listen to industry stakeholders, as well as beekeepers and producers as such. We have also heard from researchers, but the problem is that there is an international component to this issue, and we have not covered the international aspect.

Now, as for the problems, as mentioned by Senator Eaton, regarding queen bees or imports, yes, that has been covered off. But in terms of visits, the Beaverlodge Centre has done a great deal of research in this area. So yes, that could be a visit that could be added on to get a better overall view of the issue. Absolutely.

The Chair: With Ms. Aïcha's explanation, we must consider two aspects this morning.


One is the fact-finding mission in Washington and Morrisburg, Ontario, so we can instruct the clerk that we will sign off to present the budget to Internal Economy. Is there a consensus around the table to move on that? Is it agreed?

Senator Robichaud: Do we all agree that we should go to Washington?

The Chair: What are the comments around the table?


Senator Maltais: I have nothing against Washington, on the contrary, but that is not where the bees are. They are in California. You have seen Professor Dubreuil's results, and that work is being done with California.


The Chair: Are there any other comments before I call the question on whether we accept the budget for Washington or postpone it until we come back in two weeks?

Senator Buth: If we want to go to Beaverlodge, do we need to put it into this budget, or can we present another budget? We can do another budget later?

The Chair: We will do a supplementary budget.

Senator Eaton: Will the funds be there?

The Chair: Internal Economy will instruct the committee.

At the same time, we will ask our researcher and the clerk to come forward when we come back with information to complete examples for Beaverlodge and/or similar centres in Canada.

Senator Mercer: Well, I think that we should go ahead with this budget and examine whether we should go to Beaverlodge or whether we should find another way of communicating with Beaverlodge, via teleconferencing or something. I think we have to talk to Beaverlodge again, and I think that's very important. We don't have to have a full trip to Beaverlodge. It can be a fact-finding mission, which is cheaper.

Senator Buth: I think that's a good idea. Sometimes we hear from a witness and realize we haven't been able to question them as much as we want. I would like to have somebody like Steve Pernal back, where we can have a more in-depth discussion. He's known as one of the bee experts, and he's at Beaverlodge. He's our Canadian, really.

The Chair: Thank you, senators. Therefore, on the budget presented, is there a consensus that there will be two activities on the budget presented, for a total of $59,250, for fact-finding missions to Washington, D.C., and Morrisburg, Ontario?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: It is agreed that we will submit to the Internal Economy Committee the fact-finding mission for Washington and Morrisburg as per the budget presented, which will be $59,250.

That said, no other comments, I now adjourn the meeting.

(The committee adjourned.)