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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
The Chair: In the spirit of the budget, I think that is a very good
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
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
The Chair: It certainly links to the comment made previously by
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
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
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
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
The Chair: With Ms. Aïcha's explanation, we must consider two aspects
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
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
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
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.)