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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 15 - Evidence - Meeting of September 23, 2014


OTTAWA, Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5:05 p.m. to study the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Honourable senators, I welcome you to this meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. My name is Percy Mockler, a senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. At this time, I would like to ask the senators to introduce themselves.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud from Saint-Louis-de-Kent.

[English]

Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant, Saskatchewan.

Senator Enverga: Tobias Enverga, Ontario.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais from Quebec.

[English]

Senator Beyak: Senator Lynn Beyak from Ontario.

Senator Unger: Betty Unger from Edmonton, Alberta.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: Senator Michel Rivard from Quebec.

Senator Dagenais: Senator Dagenais from Quebec.

[English]

Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you, senators.

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, given by the Senate of Canada to the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, is that we 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, one:

[Translation]

The importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production and honey production in Canada. We will also examine the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honey bees in Canada.

[English]

And also to examine the factors affecting honeybee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally; and strategies for government, producers and industry to ensure bee health.

Today, honourable senators, we have with us, by video conference, from the Government of Manitoba, Rhéal Lafrenière, Provincial Apiarist. We also have present at the committee table Janice Tranberg, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture for the Government of Saskatchewan.

The first presentation will be from Manitoba, Mr. Lafrenière, to be followed by Ms. Tranberg. Following your presentations the senators will be asking questions.

On behalf of the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, thank you to the witnesses for accepting our invitation and for being here and participating in this study.

Mr. Lafrenière, could you please make your presentation?

Rhéal Lafrenière, Provincial Apiarist, Government of Manitoba: Thank you very much.

The beekeeping industry in Manitoba is made up of two distinct industries: one, the honeybee industry and, two, the alfalfa leaf cutting industry. Both are important to the economy of Manitoba. We estimate that the Manitoba honeybee industry, just on honey alone, is worth approximately $42 million annually; the leaf cutting industry, with the alfalfa seed, is worth an additional $15 million.

When we relate the impact of pollination to agricultural crops grown in Manitoba, even though the beekeeper may not be earning an income from pollinating these crops, we estimate that there's an additional $80 million worth of benefit from having a honeybee industry to help pollinate crops such as canola, flowers and buckwheat seed. There's an additional value for having a beekeeping industry in Manitoba as well.

I'm going to focus the majority of my talk on honeybees because they're the ones that are most at threat during this bee decline. When we look at our honeybee colonies over the years there is some fluctuation that goes on, but since 2006-07 the decline or fluctuation in honeybees has predominantly been related to high winter losses. Prior to that, some of the fluctuations can be explained by market drivers like honey prices and occasionally to high losses as well. Long-term trends have generally been market-driven and now we're seeing the market having the opposite effect. It is very strong and we have declining colony numbers in the province.

If we look specifically at the last 10 years, and more specifically since 2007, we have averaged losses in the 26 per cent range, with normal losses across Canada generally at 15 per cent. In Manitoba we've been saying that for the last 20 years the losses have been somewhere between 15 per cent and 25 per cent, with 25 per cent being higher range and 15 per cent being the lower range. Now we're seeing losses much higher than these averages.

More specifically, since 2010 we find that in Manitoba our average annual loss of colonies tends to trend higher than the national average, whereas prior to 2010 the Manitoba average tended to trend lower than the national average.

We had one very distinctive year where we lost 46 per cent of the colonies and we tried to understand why these losses were so high. It appeared to be almost like a perfect storm, where the winter losses were definitely affected by a drought in the latter part of 2012. Going into winter the colonies had shut down very early and stopped producing brood in the month of August, when they generally produce brood right until September. Then we had a very long winter and a poor spring to reap those populations. By the time the bees had the ability to start replacing the old bees, the overall losses averaged 46 per cent. I would say that's a little abnormal. That certainly was a high winter loss, which was difficult for the industry to recover from.

When we asked beekeepers what they consider to be the primary factors for the high losses, the number one reported answer was weather-related, followed closely by problems with queens. There were other factors involved as well. We also noted that beekeepers who reported the highest losses tended to respond by saying that winter was the predominant factor that affected their "winterability'' as well as some of the diseases like Nosema. The producers that reported relatively low losses that year determined that queen problems and starvation were the primary reasons for their losses.

The response in Manitoba from the government and beekeepers to address these higher unpredictable higher losses has been to develop business risk management programming after the high losses started to occur. There is an overwinter mortality insurance program that assists beekeepers financially to replace some of the losses they have incurred. We have also focused on education and the adoption of best management practices more directly relating to bee biosecurity. We promote workshops and training sessions on bee biosecurity and incentive programs to adopt some best practices by incorporating items into their operation that will assist with their biosecurity.

We have also worked very closely with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency for the reporting of pesticide impact losses in the beekeeping community. When the losses are noticed they are reported to the PMRA who documents these incidences. We have also worked with beekeepers to help them record their incidences.

As well, we have focused on surveillance and mitigation. The surveillance program is primarily focused on a honeybee disease inspection program, where we have annual inspections in the spring of honeybee colonies throughout the province to monitor for diseases. Some of these diseases are regulated. For some diseases we just provide information on their impact on bees and suggest recommendations for treatments.

We have also focused on research and innovation. We have worked with the University of Manitoba as well as the Beekeepers' Association to look at bee pests and disease management activities, more specifically some treatments for controlling one of the important economic pests, varroa mite. We have also worked with the PMRA on their national hot-cold study where they look at the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides in certain areas.

Lastly, we have been working with the Beekeepers' Association and some beekeepers on trying to find options for identifying new sources or producing more bees in Manitoba to replace the losses that we have over the winter.

That terminates my presentation.

The Chair: Thank you. I would ask Ms. Tranberg to make her presentation.

Janice Tranberg, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Saskatchewan: Thank you for inviting me today.

Honeybee health is of great concern to the Government of Saskatchewan. The apiculture sector makes up an important part of our province's agricultural landscape. Through good stewardship and management by beekeepers, the beekeeping industry in Saskatchewan has grown from 85,000 colonies in 2010 to over 100,000 colonies in 2013. It produces approximately $40 million of honey each year. The value of pollination is estimated at nearly 10 times the value of honey.

The Government of Saskatchewan supports bees and the apiculture industry. We are participant in the newly formed Bee Health Forum, chaired by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Honey Council, to deal with all aspects of honeybee health. We are pleased to see that so many others, including provinces, commodity groups and agriculture input suppliers, have joined to discuss bee health.

In 2014, more than $1.1 million over three years was committed to bee research by Saskatchewan's Agricultural Development Fund. Projects include honeybee breeding, honeybee disease management, leaf-cutting bee disease management and a project on speciation and cataloguing of wild populations in orchards. These projects will help us to identify and address the various bee health and pollination issues in the province.

In addition to supporting research, the Ministry of Agriculture provides extension and lab services to beekeepers through the Provincial Specialist in Apiculture. This enables beekeepers to make better disease treatment decisions.

Recently, new risk mitigation tools have been implemented by the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation. Programs offered to beekeepers include crop production insurance, winter mortality insurance and wildlife damage coverage. These programs help beekeepers to better manage unanticipated losses.

Saskatchewan also maintains the Apiaries Act and regulations to help maintain healthy honeybees. The act and regulations are designed to help track and deal with existing pests and diseases and to provide a framework for dealing with potential new issues in the industry. The effect is to reduce the impact of bee diseases in Saskatchewan.

Many aspects of honeybee health include pests and diseases, climatic conditions, availability of sufficient forages for nutrition, and pesticides. In Saskatchewan, disease management is seen as the most important aspect affecting bee health. Varroa mite and Nosema management greatly affect winter mortality in the province. Without control for these diseases, honeybee mortality greatly increases. Development of resistance to disease control products means that beekeepers are running out of management options for both these diseases. There is a dire need to develop new options.

When bees become exposed to insecticides, there can be pesticide mortality incidents. With the cooperation of beekeepers, pesticide applicators, Bayer CropScience and Dow AgroSciences, Saskatchewan was the first province to implement an online sensitive area mapping tool. The tool is designed to help facilitate communication of sensitive areas, including bee yards, orchards and other sites. This is between farmers, pesticide applicators and beekeepers. It's hoped that the use of DriftWatch will help to reduce the number of drift incidents involving foliar applied pesticides through collaboration.

Seed treatments are an important part of the cropping system for grain and oilseed production. Most importantly in Saskatchewan, neonicotinoid treatments are used to protect canola from flea beetles. In Saskatchewan alone, this crop had an estimated value of $3 billion in 2014. There are limited other viable options to protect canola from flea beetles, so without the protection of seed treatments, much production and profitability for canola producers would be lost.

Canola and bees have an important relationship. Honey and leaf-cutting bees are necessary to produce hybrid canola, meaning that every canola plant in the province is a result of bee pollination.

At the same time, this crop is the most important forage for honeybees, making up approximately 75 per cent of all honey produced in the province.

Effectively, all bee colonies in Saskatchewan are within flight range of at least one canola field. Despite this high exposure rate, there have been no reported incidents of seed treatments affecting honeybees in Saskatchewan. This indicates that bees and seed-treated canola can thrive together.

Saskatchewan Agriculture believes in sustainability of all of its sectors. To achieve sustainability, effective tools for maximizing the cropping systems are essential. These tools must be judiciously evaluated, using a science-based approach. This is the only way to ensure that all sectors can coexist.

Although there have been bee health issues that need to be overcome, with the innovative nature of beekeepers and the ministry's support of bees, through research, extension and risk-mitigation programs, Saskatchewan Agriculture feels that apiculture and bees in general have a bright and important future in the province.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

We will start questions with Senator Merchant, to be followed by Senator Maltais.

Senator Merchant: Thank you very much to both of our presenters, and a very warm welcome to you, Janice. You have highlighted the importance to our province — the province of Saskatchewan — of bees and also canola. Bees are very important things to us, and they're very important for food production for Saskatchewan, Canada and the world.

It is the federal government that deals with pesticides and regulates the neonics and things that other witnesses, over time, have expressed a concern about. You know that the Ontario government has been talking about bringing in licensing. Some people would have to be licensed to use. Are you familiar with what Ontario is trying to do?

Ms. Tranberg: Yes, but not well.

Senator Merchant: I'm not either, and I wondered if you could tell us something because they are poised to have a licensing system where farmers who need to use the pesticides have to demonstrate what the circumstances are in order for them to get a licence to use them. That is not something that you say is a concern to Saskatchewan, even though we use treated seed for canola?

Ms. Tranberg: I'll let others answer as well, but from my perspective, sometimes a farmer, or a beekeeper, needs to make a decision quickly. They monitor their fields. They look for increased disease pressure and pest pressure. They need to be able to make these choices on whether or not to spray very expediently.

In Saskatchewan, DriftWatch is one of the methods we have used. By allowing beekeepers to highlight where they are putting their hives, when a sprayer is looking to spray in an area, they can look on the map and see where a beekeeper has their hive located. Then, they can talk to each other, and the beekeeper can try to protect his colony.

From my perspective, that's a much more proactive approach, but I will let my colleagues answer.

Senator Merchant: I'm wondering if there's something in Manitoba, if you have a similar watch or cooperation between farmers and beekeepers.

Mr. Lafrenière: We don't have the program DriftWatch per se, but over the many years that beekeeper-pesticide interactions have occurred, we've always felt that communication between grower and beekeeper is really important. Similar to what's been said, sometimes decisions are made with very short notice because of potential outbreak, and the window of opportunity is very small. Incidents where pesticides impact bees have occurred, but, generally, communication is the tool that has worked quite well for the beekeeping industry.

With regard to canola and seed treatment in Manitoba, with Manitoba Agriculture, we feel similarly to what Saskatchewan has reported. The number of incidents reported in Manitoba has been very low. Over the last three years, one year there were five. The following year, there were four, and this year there have only been three. In some of them, the incident was reported as a loss, but the direct link to the seed treatment was not made. There is some data that continues to be used to fully understand the impact that this pesticide use could have on bees, but at this point in time, both the beekeeping industry in Manitoba and the government are looking to PMRA and their review of neonicotinoid use and its impact on bees as helping to direct future actions.

Senator Merchant: You also mentioned the insurance program. You have it, I think you said, in Manitoba, and Saskatchewan has also introduced the insurance program. Are farmers insuring themselves? Do you find that there is a good uptake on that?

Ms. Tranberg: This year, in Saskatchewan, about 30 per cent of beekeepers took up the mortality insurance, and about 2 per cent took up the production insurance.

Senator Merchant: Is it similar in Manitoba?

Mr. Lafrenière: In Manitoba, we have had the program since 2011. On an annual basis, about 40 to 50 beekeepers — and it's only available to commercial beekeepers at this time — are signing up for the program. We only have the winter loss insurance program. We don't have the production insurance program yet.

Senator Merchant: Thank you.

The Chair: Honourable senators, before the chair recognizes Senator Maltais, B.C., do you hear us?

The Chair: Honourable senators, we have with us, by video conference from B.C., Mr. Paul van Westendorp, Provincial Apiary Specialist, Government of British Columbia.

Please make your presentation and then we will continue with questions.

Paul van Westendorp, Provincial Apiary Specialist, Government of British Columbia: Certainly. Thank you very much.

To give you a short overview of what happens in British Columbia, British Columbia is vastly different from the principal beekeeping areas in Canada, which of course are the Prairie provinces. In B.C, we have a much more diversified and smaller industry. Our apiculture program has a legislative mandate, which is the administration of the Bee Act and its regulations, although that is going to be replaced by the Animal Health Act in the near future. The primary purpose of the entire legislation is to prevent the introduction and spread of bee diseases and to assist the beekeeping industry to mitigate the impact these diseases have on their industry.

In order to accomplish these goals, we follow a set of program strategies and they include apiary inspections. We have six to eight inspectors hired on a seasonal, part-time basis, and each of those is located in key areas in the province. They carry out apiary inspections and determine the presence of disease.

We also provide a full array of laboratory diagnostic services free of charge to B.C. beekeepers. We provide a great deal of extension services from Internet-based materials to published articles, information kits, things of this kind, as well as training courses. We also have limited project collaborations with other institutions and provinces.

The beekeeping industry in itself, as I mentioned earlier, is small but very diversified. There are approximately 2,300 beekeepers in the province, most of whom are small, hobbyist beekeepers, and there are a relatively small number of very large beekeepers. As you can see in the figures, there are approximately 45,000 colonies operated in the province, and the yield is approximately 2 million to 3 million pounds per year. Also, we have relatively low annual yields per colony, and this is determined by both climate and topography here in the province, for a total market value approximately $10 million.

If you add to that the value that beekeepers obtain from pollination contracts, which is estimated to be approximately $5 million, the total industry is worth about $15 million.

What makes it so important is the function that it has in the pollination of many different fruit crops. Blueberries are by far the greatest, and you have in the Okanagan a great deal of tree fruit crops as well.

That is basically an encapsulation of the industry here in the province.

The Chair: Thank you, sir.

I will recognize Senator Maltais to be followed by Senator Robichaud.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: I will address the British Columbia representative. You said at the beginning of your presentation that the beekeeping industry in your province was not large. How significant is British Columbia's contribution to honey production?

[English]

Mr. van Westendorp: No, honey production, as I pointed out in the small outline, may be considered almost a by- product. It's 2 million to 3 million pounds of honey, which is worth about $10 million on the market value; that's not very much. It's the critical function that bees fulfill within the crop pollination business that makes it all important.

British Columbia is a very small player in the honey business in Canada. Clearly the Prairie provinces carry the flag when it comes to honey production.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: I understand perfectly well, but British Columbia is known for being especially rich in fruit trees and vineyards, which are necessary for pollination. Do you have an idea of what the bee mortality rate in hives is during the winter season?

[English]

Mr. van Westendorp: Yes, it varies from year to year. We do surveys to determine the winter mortality rate, and this has varied. In 2007, it was as high as 60 per cent; then it went down to 38; from there, the latest was in 2013, when it went down to 18; and unfortunately this last spring season, in 2014, it rose again to about 28 or 29 per cent.

The causes of this are multi-faceted. We cannot really pinpoint it on a single cause that has led to higher mortality rates during the winter season. It is generally ascribed to a variety of conditions, including diseases, poor management, quality of bee stock and a whole range of possibilities.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Mr. Lafrenière, the mortality rate is still higher than the Canadian average. Have the real causes behind this been identified?

[English]

Mr. Lafrenière: I think it is weather related. We have suffered very long winters in the last couple of years that have contributed to maintaining high losses during the winter.

We've also struggled in the early parts of 2006 with some varroa control. I think the industry has responded well and varroa is now under control, or very few beekeepers are reporting that it is contributing to a high amount of their losses. Certainly, there is vulnerability over that winter period that is still difficult to completely explain.

We are, unfortunately, getting used to 20 to 25 per cent losses as annual losses, when 10 or 15 years ago, that was on the high range. There are certainly factors at play that are continuing to put a lot of stress on bees.

I agree with what Mr. van Westendorp has indicated. There are multi-factorial issues that could drive the losses. If there has been a trend that we're starting to see, it is that in addition to perhaps higher losses over the wintering period, the recovery in the spring has been very much a challenge. The colonies coming through winter, if the mortality is high, are generally weakened, and it's very difficult to back the existing numbers in an operation when you have a state of being weakened or poor bee health in your operation. It has been a challenge to recover the losses and get back to the same numbers we had in the previous year.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: The witness from British Columbia said that inspectors were visiting hives to try to identify the ones that may have issues, such as diseases, and to identify different factors that may have caused those issues. Does Manitoba have inspectors who have been trained to recognize diseases that could spread in hives?

[English]

Mr. Lafrenière: Yes, we do have an annual inspection program. It varies from year to year as to how many inspectors we have. Probably we have somewhere in the range of three to four inspectors that are hired to go around the province looking at honeybee colonies and determining if there are identifiable diseases in the hives, offering to take samples for the beekeeper to bring back to a lab for diagnostics. We have had that for several years.

Unfortunately, we've had some budget cuts where we have cut the amount of inspection we have done compared to 10 years ago, but there is still an annual inspection program.

Right now we're investigating whether we can work more cooperatively with the beekeeping industry, where perhaps they could be the driver of the inspection program and contribute more to conducting the actual health inspections or disease inspections, but we would still retain the regulatory authority to regulate disease once it is found.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Ms. Tranberg, do you have a similar program in Saskatchewan?

[English]

Ms. Tranberg: Yes, we have a couple of inspectors who go around and inspect the hives in Saskatchewan. As well, that is linked to our insurance program. Through the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance program, we have inspectors who go out and do that as well.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: The presentations have led me to believe that more research and especially innovation are needed. Last week, we heard from witnesses from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, and they said that, in the case of most registrations for the use of neonicotinoids, all products were approved temporarily, and some of them have been approved for 10 years, or even 20 years.

Do you think enough is being done when it comes to neonicotinoids?

[English]

Ms. Tranberg: I am going to let my colleague Rhéal take the first stab at this, and then I can follow up.

Mr. Lafrenière: If I understand the question correctly, it indicates that the neonicotinoids have been in use for an extended period of time, up to 20 years, and whether that gives us some confidence that their impact is less than what has sometimes been reported. I think it does, to a certain degree, but I would also say that health has been on a decline for a long period of time. We have indicated that it seems to be a multifactorial issue, where I believe that pesticides in general, maybe not just the neonics, are a factor, a stress on bees. We're dealing with some new diseases and also dealing with changes in weather patterns that have put a lot of stress on bees.

What we need is research in the area to determine the links between all these factors. When you have weakened bee populations, how do pesticides impact the bees even further to cause higher levels of mortality, as well as how do the weather patterns that we're dealing with affect the weakened population?

Strong colonies can probably withstand it, but the weak colonies can't. We have to determine the factors creating these weak conditions but also identify all these links — biological links, diseases, as well as the environmental links — that are putting bee populations in a situation where the losses during winter can double from one year to the next.

Senator Robichaud: If I may interject, my question was really this: Though the use of neonics has been temporarily approved, the PMRA is still waiting for information from those who produce those pesticides, and they are not receiving the information to give it a permanent licence to use. This is why I say: Are you confident that the use of those pesticides should continue before we receive all the information from those who make those pesticides?

Mr. Lafrenière: I think at this point in time the position of the province, as well as what we have heard from the beekeeping industry, is that they support the action that PMRA is taking to evaluate the impact on bees. So I believe that they're not requesting any further action like supporting a ban. I believe that, at this point in time, we're waiting very eagerly for the final report from PMRA.

The Chair: Thank you.

Ms. Tranberg, you had comments?

Ms. Tranberg: I'm not sure what you heard last week or who you heard it from, so I am not going to discuss that, but from my understanding, a pesticide would not be allowed to be released to Canada unless it was approved.

A condition of approval is that if new information comes to light, they have to give more evaluation to that. From my understanding, that is what is currently happening.

To date, the PMRA uses a very robust risk assessment process. They take in a lot of studies from different aspects including toxicology. They take in information from many different resources and people. Canada currently has, from my perspective, one of the strongest regulatory systems in the world. I think our industry and our ministry supports the PMRA and the study that they're doing, and the use of the products.

The Chair: Do we have any comments from B.C.?

Mr. van Westendorp: The problem with this whole neonicotinoid issue is partly due to the fact — and probably you senators are aware of this — that in the past, traditionally the toxicological profiles of many of these products were determined through studies that followed the principle of determining the acute toxicity of these chemicals to see how much is needed to kill a certain amount of test animal.

What we are talking about with the neonicotinoids, which makes this so extraordinarily difficult, is that they may be present in quantities that are exceedingly low, at sublethal levels, in other words, never high enough to actually kill pollinators — bees, for example — but their chronic exposure to these sublethal levels may cause alterations in their behaviour or in their reproductive capabilities.

A certain body of evidence is slowly emerging that seems to indicate that the neonicotinoids collectively may have a far greater impact on the environment — not just on bees but also aquatic life and things of that kind — that requires closer study.

The problem is that that kind of study is long term. It requires a great deal of input and research before you can get a definitive answer. As far as I understand, that's exactly the strategy that PMRA, as well as the EPA in the United States and some organizations in Europe, are currently following. That is one thing.

The other thing is that as tempting as it may be to slap a prohibition on the further use of neonicotinoids — by the way, I don't speak on behalf of the industry. Certainly much more careful usage of this is warranted. But if it is going to be withdrawn, I would like to know what farmers can be expected to use. In that case, they're likely to be resorting to organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates and all those hideous hard chemicals that we were all so delighted to see disappear. So there's a terrible price to pay in case we resolutely ban the further use of these chemicals without a clear body of evidence to indicate the contrary.

Legally, there will also be a lot of problems and challenges by the chemical companies to say, "Hold on; we are legitimate appliers of this product and sell it and therefore may go a legal route.''

There is one area that I would like to draw your attention to, and that has to do with the way many of these chemicals are marketed today. If I am a corn producer and I order 10 tonnes of corn seed for next April, I will get 10 tonnes delivered to the farm gate. That corn seed will be automatically treated. If I say, "No, I don't want it treated and would like to have it untreated,'' that would be considered a special order for which I will have to pay more. I don't want to go into the economics, but if I'm a shareholder of Bayer, I think this is all great stuff.

I would like to invite the Senate committee to consider the potential implications and effects that this incessant use will have on the environment. That is where we should place much greater attention. It is what they call "indiscriminate prophylactic use.'' There are already indicators in Canada that in some crops, such as soybeans and canola, where the need for the application of neonicotinoids is totally unwarranted. But for convenience and for extra insurance, you might say, for the farmer, it is applied automatically.

It is folly for society and certainly for regulators to condone that kind of release and incessant use of these kinds of chemicals. It is unwarranted and, therefore, far greater respect and careful use of these neonicotinoids is required.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Enverga: I thank our panelists here today. A great deal of information was presented to us.

On the last statement from Mr. van Westendorp with regard to our application of pesticides, it seems to me that there's no control whatsoever. We have no control over how much pesticide will be applied or on what areas. Is that correct? Is it the same in Manitoba and Saskatchewan?

Ms. Tranberg: Currently, canola seed is treated and then planted. Almost all canola seed is treated. I would also like to say that canola is grown on over 10 million acres in Saskatchewan. It represented $4.5 billion in 2013 and $3 billion in 2014. The flea beetle is quite a prevalent insect on canola, and it is hard to quantify the exact amount of damage that they do because it is multifaceted. There's quite a bit of evidence that reports approximately 10 per cent of losses, which would be $300 million in 2014, would be due to flea beetle if we lost the use of this particular pesticide. As was said, there are no good alternatives.

From the perspective of a producer whose livelihood is what he produces, this is the way he's protecting himself against this important insect pest.

Senator Enverga: Do you have any ideas on this in B.C. and Manitoba? Do you have the same issue?

Mr. van Westendorp: In British Columbia, we don't grow canola in any appreciable amount except in the Peace River area. I fully appreciate and understand the potential economic implications if there were no access to neonicotinoids.

In my last comments, I only focused on the fact that the manner in which these neonicotinoids are marketed, not regulated, seems to be all in favour of incessant, frequent and indiscriminate use. Certainly a person of my generation who spent their entire career on integrated best management principles, this kind of usage is clearly a departure from that. It is most unfortunate.

Senator Enverga: Is it the same for Manitoba?

Mr. Lafrenière: In Manitoba, it is probably similar to Saskatchewan. Canola is a very important crop in Manitoba, as are corn and soybean. The seed for much of those crops is treated.

To put it all in perspective, we're also trying to relate the impact that beekeepers have reported because of suspected poisoning by these treatments and the incidence is very low in Manitoba.

At this time, I fully understand that we can do things better in terms of ensuring that the treatment used is proper and needed, but it needs to be weighed against the insurance process as well. I believe that PMRA is looking at the usage of seed treatments as part of their review of neonicotinoids. Again, I think we refer to PMRA's lead on evaluating this.

Senator Enverga: We are focusing more on the loss of colonies. In fact, was there any government initiative to get more biological pesticides instead of using neonicotinoids? Has there been any government initiative that will work out some other solution besides this chemical on our canola crops? Was there anything from your end?

Ms. Tranberg: I will respond by saying that we certainly encourage best management practices, communication and more education with our producers in looking at alternatives. At this time there isn't another chemical that will work the same way that this chemical works, unless, as was already mentioned, we want to go to chemicals that have an even stronger environmental impact.

All of that weighed, currently our beekeepers in Saskatchewan are seeing an increase in colony numbers. It's a case of making decisions on practices based on causes that aren't quantified at this time when our beekeepers are telling us that it's disease and winter mortality.

Senator Enverga: Do bees in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have the same genetic qualities? How are they related to each other? How are they being affected?

Ms. Tranberg: I'm going to let my colleagues answer that.

Mr. Lafrenière: Basically we are all using a similar bee. Our bee stock is generally considered the European. There are certain variations. The bee that works very well under Manitoba conditions is a hybrid between the Carniolan bee and Italian bee. I suspect that's similar to Saskatchewan.

In B.C., they raise a lot of their own Queens and there are lots of small beekeepers, so there may be more variation. Perhaps I'll let Paul answer that question.

Mr. van Westendorp: Basically, regardless of the type of bee, it is an elusive term. Beekeepers, no matter whether they live in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or anywhere else in Canada, including British Columbia, evaluate their bee stock according to four criteria. Those criteria are productivity, disease resistance, winter hardiness, and gentleness or good behaviour. It doesn't matter whether the bee looks green, blue or brown, that is basically the field-based evaluation that any beekeeper applies. I would dare say that most of the bees used in Saskatchewan, Manitoba or British Columbia are very comparable if they satisfy all these criteria.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My question is for Mr. van Westendorp. You talked a lot about apiary inspections. I would like to know what apiary inspections consist of and what evaluation criteria are used in those inspections.

[English]

Mr. van Westendorp: The inspectors that we have appointed for this job are trained and have great experience in the detection of diseases, as well as in beekeeping management. They mostly go out on the basis of either a request inspection — in other words, a beekeeper who says, "There's something wrong with my colonies and I would like to have an inspection done'' — or it is done as a follow-up to a previous visit that we have conducted or just for survey purposes.

When the inspector comes into an apiary, preferably in the company of the beekeeper, they open up a certain set of colonies and evaluate them and look at them in terms of any signs of disease that may be present. At the same time, an extension service is really rendered by offering the beekeeper recommended management practices that can vary from the location of the colonies in a certain setting or the equipment that is used or any possible technique to enhance the management of the bees. That is basically what an inspection service would entail.

Senator Ogilvie: Mr. Westendorp, with regard to the use of neonics in B.C., what are the principal ways in which the neonics are applied? You've referred to seeds already coated with neonics. What are the other ways in which neonics are employed in B.C.?

Mr. van Westendorp: With the exception of the Peace River District on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, neonicotinoids have been used in relatively small quantities over the last 20 years. They were first introduced in the 1990s exclusively for use in orchards in the Okanagan, where they were only used as a foliar application for spot treatments.

Since that time, they have of course become registered for use in a whole range of crops, including field crops like corn in the Fraser Valley and also as foliar applications in blueberries. It is limited to foliar applications, some seed treatments and in some cases they probably are also used as a soil drench application.

Senator Ogilvie: The reason I ask is you used a rather powerful term in your response to an earlier question where you said "this indiscriminate use.'' That's why I'm asking the question. To me, "indiscriminate'' means something very significant.

Mr. van Westendorp: Oh, it is significant, "indiscriminate'' meaning without scientific proof that the need for use has been proven; in other words, prophylactic use.

Senator Ogilvie: I see. You were using it in the sense of the way you were responding to the question with regard to the fact that most of the seeds are already pre-treated and, therefore, it's a prophylactic use. It is in that context that you are using the term "indiscriminate'' as opposed to dropping gallons of it out of the back of a tractor wherever you want.

Mr. van Westendorp: No, I think the cost would prohibit any farmer from doing that. Yes, your conclusion is correct. It meant widespread, shall we say, indiscriminate prophylactic use. That is what was really meant.

Senator Ogilvie: Thank you. It's a powerful term and it's really important for us to understand the way in which you were using it.

I'd like to put a question to all three of you. From the beekeepers in your provinces, is there any major movement within the beekeeper associations to request a full ban on neonics within your provinces?

Ms. Tranberg: I can say no.

Mr. van Westendorp: The answer is no.

Mr. Lafrenière: Manitoba is no as well.

Senator Unger: My question is for Ms. Tranberg. In your presentation, you said that disease management is seen as the most important aspect affecting bee health, and these two, the varroa mite and Nosema greatly affect winter mortality. Without control for these diseases, honeybee mortality greatly increases, and then you say it means the beekeepers are running out of management options and there's a dire need to develop more options.

What, if anything, is being done to provide other options?

Ms. Tranberg: Through our Agriculture Development Fund we have research dollars that are being put towards finding different controls to these. As well, there is research going on, I believe across Canada and in the United States, to try to find other control methodologies.

Perhaps my colleagues can expand on that.

Mr. Lafrenière: There has been a coordinated effort with many of the provinces doing screening trials to try new chemical treatments, try some of the existing chemical treatments that have had variable results or variable efficacy, and try to fine tune them so the efficacy is improved. This coordinated effort has been going on for approximately three years.

We are in discussions right now to continue the whole process and continue to screen more treatments over the next three years, if we can, because it is very important.

We have one product called Apivar that is very much being used by beekeepers and we don't want to get into a situation where it becomes the only choice and selection for resistance to develop, so we want to have as many options as possible.

Senator Unger: That is almost where we are with antibiotics and human use.

Mr. Lafrenière: Yes.

Senator Unger: Mr. van Westendorp, did you have a reply?

Mr. van Westendorp: No, other than that we teach a lot of courses to beekeepers in advanced beekeeping as well, and there is a common desire to lower the usage of chemicals and drugs in our beehives. That is a very great idea, but a lot of people forget that there has to be something as a substitute to that reduction in use. The province of British Columbia has been advocating no prophylactic use of drugs and chemicals in beehives for more than a dozen years, but what we have always been emphasizing is that you cannot just reduce your usage of it and that's the end of the story. You will have to do something instead. That "instead'' is to do far closer monitoring of your diseases.

It is unfortunate that beekeepers, particularly commercial beekeepers, face high personnel costs, labour costs and things like that. That makes it difficult to do these detailed inspections, but good management practice is to do very frequent monitoring so that you can deal with a disease before it becomes a blazing problem. That will allow you to use chemicals and drugs far less frequently than if you wait until it has become a big problem.

Reduction of drugs and chemicals means more monitoring and high labour costs.

The Chair: Do we have comments from Manitoba?

Mr. Lafrenière: I believe I provided mine.

Senator Robichaud: Are we paying enough attention to wild pollinators as to how they are affected by the use of pesticides and how they somehow contribute to pollinating in Canada?

Ms. Tranberg: I will defer this to my colleagues to start.

Mr. Lafrenière: Is your question asking about the benefit of pollinators and the impact of pesticides on pollinators?

Senator Robichaud: On wild pollinators. Are we paying attention to the effect on pollinators other than the domestic bees that we use to pollinate the fields?

Mr. Lafrenière: I don't have any information to share specifically on pesticide impacts on pollinators. I don't have any information from Manitoba.

Mr. van Westendorp: In B.C., we have a great variety of wild pollinators, and it is unfortunate that research in that field is very limited and problematic because of lack of funding and specialists to carry out this kind of work.

There are some indicators, though, that because of human activity, many of these wild pollinator populations have declined. Their decline is multifold. It's not merely the quantitative decline in pollinators but the qualitative one, meaning that there is a decline in the overall species diversity of pollinators in many agricultural areas. This can be attributed to chemical use but also, of course, to a whole range of other human activities, such as our propensity to pave things over for parking lots and highways and byways and for controlling waterways, as well as unwanted vegetation. It is the combination of all of those factors that has led to a decline in the abundance and species diversity of many wild pollinators in agricultural areas and, of course, in urban settings.

Senator Enverga: I just want to follow up on the last question I had with regard to the type of bees. With almost the same bees, it looks like it's not even a Canadian bee but almost a European bee from Italy and Europe, so it is really not a local bee. What do you think about the gene pool here? Would it be something that we should think about that might cause catastrophic, sudden death because it's all the same genes and any disease could impact anything else that pollinates our crops? Do you think the gene pool is an issue here among bees?

Mr. van Westendorp: To whom do you ask the question?

Senator Enverga: You can answer it.

Mr. van Westendorp: Recent research has shown that the genetic diversity of the honeybee, which is only one species of insect, of course, one pollinator species, is actually quite diverse. Therefore, there is not really an acute concern about the genetic diversity of honeybees as such. There should not be a concern there.

What is a concern, however, is that from a large agricultural perspective there is just one species of bee, notably the European honeybee, that all of our modern agriculture is dependent on. The wild pollinators are sometimes far better as pollinators in certain crops because of certain morphological characteristics, but the problem is that you never have the numbers. We have done lots of research here to promote the wider use of bumblebees, but the problem with bumblebees is that you never have the numbers to meet the crop pollination requirements in these large plantings. It's our dependence on one species of honeybee that is our vulnerability.

Senator Enverga: Anything from either Manitoba or Saskatchewan? No, nothing?

One last question, please. You mentioned earlier the high exposure rate; there is a lot of exposure among honeybees to these chemicals and different pesticides. How is the quality of our honey? Is it being affected by all of these pesticides right now?

Mr. van Westendorp: No.

Ms. Tranberg: We have great honey.

Mr. van Westendorp: Do you know that our honeybees are superbly capable of filtering out all kinds of environmental pollutants? That is what gives us a high level of confidence that the honey that they finally produce is remarkably free of contaminants that would otherwise be found in the environment.

Senator Enverga: That's great to know. Thank you.

Senator Merchant: Mr. van Westendorp had not connected with us when I first asked my questions. We have heard about the reports from beekeepers regarding the neonics, but have there been, Mr. van Westendorp, any comprehensive studies that prove that neonics are a key factor in the decline of bees? Are you aware of any studies that have gone on in the last few years?

Mr. van Westendorp: Well, yes and no. The problem is that there has never been a debate about the efficacy of neonicotinoids to kill insects. They are remarkably effective in doing that. The problem is the impact that these neonicotinoids have on pollinator populations — on bee populations — at sublethal levels and through chronic exposure. That is so difficult to measure. We have no clear answer on that, but there are some indicators.

I will refer you to a celebrated study that was done by a researcher, Dr. Morrissey, in Saskatchewan, who did a very comprehensive study on the impact that neonicotinoids may have as runoff in fields in wetlands in the Prairies. These subtle effects may be enough that the basic food chain is disrupted because of the midges and the mosquitoes that don't come out of all of these wetlands that end up feeding all of the bird species, for example.

It was a particularly interesting study because it was unrelated to pollinators and unrelated to bees. There are some small indicators that suggest indeed these neonicotinoids may have an adverse and unexpected impact on non-target organisms.

Ms. Tranberg: I would like to shed a bit of light on this report. This is a four-year study. The results of the report are due in 2016. Anyone who is involved in the scientific arena recognizes that releasing results after one year does not give us a very good picture of exactly what the results will be because many different things can impact the results. I would caution this committee to wait until the end of this study and take a look at the results as a whole instead of basing your findings on information taken from the first year of the study.

The Chair: To the witnesses, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with the committee. It's been very informative, instructive. We brought clarity to many questions. Thank you also for your patience and the same to the interpreters for their efforts under — I have to admit, as chair — difficult circumstances. It reminded me of when I was watching TV last night and they were reporting what was happening in New Brunswick.

That said, to the witnesses, thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned.)