Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 10 - Evidence - Meeting of May 1, 2014
OTTAWA, Thursday, May 1, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day,
at 8:03 a.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.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I welcome you to this meeting of
the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
To Dr. Hayes, we want to say thank you very much for accepting our
invitation and sharing your comments and vision with us. Before we ask you
to make your presentation, I would like to ask all senators to introduce
themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Robichaud: Good morning. I am Fernand Robichaud from
Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Oh: Senator Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Dagenais: Good morning. My name is Jean-Guy Dagenais, and
I am a senator from Quebec.
Senator Maltais: Good morning. Ghislain Maltais, senator from
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
The Chair: And the chair, Percy Mockler, senator from New
The committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee
health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.
We've received an order of reference from the Senate of Canada that the
Senate Standing 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 and pollination to produce
food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production and honey
production in Canada; the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter
bees and honeybees in Canada; the factors affecting honey bee health,
including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally and also
strategies for governments, producers, stakeholders and the industry to
ensure bee health.
Honourable senators, this morning we have Gerald "Jerry" Hayes,
Commercial Lead, Beeologics.
Thank you for accepting our invitation, doctor. I now invite you to make
your presentation. It will be followed by questions from the senators. Dr.
Hayes, would you please make your presentation?
Gerald (Jerry) Hayes, Commercial Lead, Beeologics/Monsanto: Mr.
Chair and members of the Senate committee, thank you so much for the
opportunity to appear before you from St. Louis on the important topics of
honeybees and honeybee health that intersect many agricultural sectors, the
environment, and human health to improve all for Canada and the world.
My name is Jerry Hayes, and I'm the lead for Beeologics, now a part of
Monsanto. I have been at Monsanto for approximately two years. Previous to
this position, I was the chief of the apiary section of the Florida
Department of Agriculture. The condition that we named and defined as colony
collapse disorder, CCD, was discovered while I was in Florida. Colony
collapse disorder has a definition. The definition is that the queen, the
only fertile female in the colony, is left behind with a small cadre of bees
to attend her, but for the most part the whole colony has left. There are
baby bees still there. There is food. There are resources, but the colony
has left. Not that they're dead on the ground or dead on the bottom some
place. They've just simply left like they've been beamed up. This is
significant because this was the catalyst for all of the awareness of
honeybee health and how honeybees interact in the environment for all of us.
We called it a disorder because the results of all of our field analysis
and lab analysis did not show any single defined disease, parasite or pest.
We simply called it a disorder.
Now, years and lots of focused laboratory and field analysis of honeybee
biology later, we know more about honeybee health than ever before. The term
colony collapse disorder is now out of date, a misnomer. The real focus that
has been learned is that it's all about honeybee health in general and all
the many moving parts that contribute to honeybee health. Sometimes this is
termed multifactoral. What we have learned over the years is that there are
approximately four key elements to honeybee health that are affecting
beekeepers, the environment and agriculture's access to this super important
The first is called varroa destructor. This is a large parasitic mite
from Asia. Our honeybees in North America have a European genetic
background, but this parasite that was accidentally introduced from Asia is
a good parasite, if you will, on the Asian species of bee. On our European,
undeveloped bee, it is a bad parasite. It kills its host.
If I could impose on you, if you care to, make a fist and put it some
place on your body. Proportionally, this is how large a varroa mite is to a
honeybee's body. It is a huge parasite. It would be like you or I having a
parasitic rat on us sucking our blood, vectoring viruses, causing all sorts
of problems for us. It does the same thing with our honeybees.
I mentioned that the varroa, as it feeds on honeybees, vectors, viruses
and pathogens, leaves open wounds, causes immune suppression, so that any
viruses that are in the honeybee that are benign or latent will start to
replicate, and add to this stress and to the health implications of this.
The third would be nutrition. If you look at the commercial, professional
honeybee industry in North America and in Canada, the bee that produces
honey or is involved in fee-based pollination, or both, you see hundreds,
thousands, tens of thousands of colonies. Honeybees are the key element of
pollination, which means that they visit flowers. Honeybees and flowers have
a developed relationship over millions of years. Flowers produce food for
honeybees. They collect that and also provide this pollination.
But when you have hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of colonies
in one area, there simply is not enough natural forage. There are not enough
natural flowers to provide complete nutrition to these colonies.
So we tried to supplement honeybees' diet with artificial foods, but
there are no nutritionally complete diets available for honeybees. It seems
kind of strange; we know how to feed every animal in the zoo, but we don't
know how to feed honeybees. As a result, this is an added stressor.
Number four is pesticides. Certainly you're all aware of the implications
of agricultural pesticides on honeybee health; and yes, those pesticides can
have an impact if they're improperly applied or used, and that's why best
management practices that have been created in Canada are a huge step
But this is a minor element, in my opinion, to honeybee health in
general. Think about this large parasite, the varroa mite. The only way we
have been able to control that since its introduction is by beekeepers
applying pesticides within a honeybee colony, trying to kill a little bug on
a big bug.
All our studies and analysis show that most of the chemical residues in
honeybee colonies are from these miticides, these pesticides that beekeepers
have been forced to apply because they had no other alternative to control
this devastating varroa mite. It sounds crazy, but that has been our only
Early in CCD, we found a virus of honeybees, the Israeli acute paralysis
virus, which was strongly correlated with CCD. This is where Beeologics
comes in. Beeologics was a private company in Israel that was researching a
newly understood biological process called RNA to control the Israeli acute
paralysis virus in honeybees.
This was about 2006-07. A colleague, Dr. Jamie Ellis at the University of
Florida, and I had independently started down this same path to see if we
could use RNA to potentially control honeybee viruses and varroa —
RNA is a natural biological process that is going on in you or in me. It
is in the food that you had for breakfast or will have for a snack. It is
going on in all organisms. It is a biological process. Not to bore you, but
let me just give you a quick overview because many people misunderstand RNA.
You are all familiar with DNA. That's the code for you. It is in every
nucleus of every cell in your body — every cell. It codes for everything
that is you: your hair colour, your eyes, the enzymes you are producing to
digest your breakfast — all these things. However, DNA never leaves the
nucleus of that cell, so how does it get information from there to that part
of a cell to turn a protein on or off? The DNA makes a copy of that
instruction and uses RNA to send it to a cell area to turn a protein on or
off; it is a normal process.
If we can copy this process, if we can copy the RNA that is being used to
turn a protein on or off, we think we can then focus and target it, maybe
turn off the ability of these viruses to replicate or hurt varroa — there
again, non- chemically, non-GM. It doesn't affect the genetics of the
organism. This is transitory. It is very hard to make this work and work
well, but we're trying our very best to have this done.
Beeologics found Dr. Ellis and me, and we started collaborating until
about 2007, when Monsanto acquired Beeologics. I have been at Monsanto for
two years. I'm simply here because Monsanto has the tools, foresight and
resources to discover if we can make RNA work at all.
I have been in the industry a very long time. I love the industry. I love
beekeepers. I love agriculture. We have been talking about trying to control
varroa for decades, 30 years, and the best we could possibly ever do is give
beekeepers pesticides to put in colonies. That's crazy. What I am doing here
is putting all my time, effort and resources into using the technology that
Beeologics developed to discover if we can have RNA interference, or RNAi,
improve honeybee health.
On a larger platform, think if RNA could be used to control other
agricultural pests, control weeds, and remove even more chemicals from the
environment — non-GM, non-chemically — using this normal, natural process.
Maybe it can work and maybe it can't, but it won't be for lack of trying, it
won't be for lack of resources or it won't be for a lack of commitment by
Monsanto to do something that has never been done before.
RNA is being researched by every pharmaceutical company in the world,
spending billions of dollars to find ways to use it for health control for
you and me, because it is targeted, it is focused, there are no chemicals
and there's no collateral damage. This is the holy grail of not only
honeybee health, but health for you and me and our livestock and our pets
for years to come.
Once again, I thank you for this opportunity to give you this broad
overview of honeybee health and how important it is to all of us. A third of
the food that you and I eat every day comes because of the relationship
between a pollinator and a plant. That has to be maintained for human
health, food diversity, and nutrition.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Hayes. The first question will go to the
deputy chair, Senator Mercer, to be followed by Senator Buth.
Senator Mercer: Dr. Hayes, thank you very much for a very
informative presentation. You have introduced some thoughts that we haven't
seen before and offered us some hope that we hadn't had before. I'm a little
concerned about the visual aspect of a parasitic rat, but that's another
In your opening comments, you talked about colony collapse disorder and
about the bees having left the colony. The logical question is: Where did
they go? Do we know that?
Mr. Hayes: What we have discovered over the years is that the
honeybee colony is very altruistic, if you will. They are all sisters. They
want to protect their sisters and their colony. When they become ill or
sense that they're sick, they will fly out of the colony and simply not
return, so that they're not infecting their sisters and spreading this
disease. But when you have a colony-wide event like this, these bees will
sense that they're ill, leave the colony over just a few days or a few
weeks, and then diminish the colony population dramatically and just fly out
into the environment and die, separating themselves from re-infecting their
Senator Mercer: So they don't go off and commit mass suicide; they
just go off and die individually. It is not a massive thing; nature takes
its course because they're out in the environment and not in the hive.
Mr. Hayes: Absolutely. They make this independent decision to
protect their colony and their sisters.
Senator Mercer: In the latter part of your presentation, you
talked about RNA, and did you say RNAi? Was that the other term you used?
Mr. Hayes: RNA is the carrier for instructions from DNA, and we
have put an "i" on the end of that when we talk about the RNAi that is
used — "i" stands for interference, when the RNA is used to turn off
Senator Mercer: It is very positive talking about being able to do
this without use of pesticides. How close are we?
Mr. Hayes: I have meetings every day, and I'm probably more
obnoxious here than people want me to be because I want this to happen
quickly. We're probably looking at around five years or so, senator.
Senator Mercer: In terms of research and the world in general,
five years is not a long time, so that's pretty close.
Mr. Hayes: It is pretty close, and what I want to do is have this
right, to have it perfect, so that it brings real value to beekeepers and
the industry. We have stepped back a couple times here under my direction
just because it wasn't perfect, and I'm not going to bring something to the
market that doesn't bring real value and real solutions.
Senator Mercer: You also talked about the fact that research is
going on not just on bee health, but that the RNAi is being looked at for
human health, et cetera, and the health of other organisms. Across the broad
spectrum of science, where is the emphasis being placed? Is it being placed
by scientists doing the research on human health or in other areas such as
what Beeologics has been doing?
Mr. Hayes: I think that the pathways are parallel. The
pharmaceutical companies are looking at ways to control us, diseases in us,
without having to give us medicines. When we take a medicine, certainly it
might affect a bacteria or something, but it has collateral damage on us,
and agricultural crops as well. Looking at it broadly, in fact, the
pharmaceutical industry has a method to control macular degeneration right
now in the eyes. The problem with getting RNA to work is that it is a — I'm
going to use the wrong term here — normal protein. To get a protein in our
bodies and not have it broken down or eaten or diced up or what have you is
the big hurdle. We know how we can get it to affect and turn off bad
bacteria, or even looking at it for cancer, but it is getting it past all of
our sentry systems to the target and have it work well. From Monsanto, we're
looking at it also for corn, root worm and ear worm control, so those
chemicals, seed treatments, can be eliminated.
Senator Buth: Good morning, Dr. Hayes. Thank you for your
Can I just ask how long you were working with — did you say USDA in
Mr. Hayes: No, I was with the Florida Department of Agriculture. I
was the chief of the apiary section. My office was right next to the
University of Florida.
How I found out about RNA is I was invited to a meeting at the USDA lab
that was right around the corner from me. They were putting on a workshop in
about 2006 on how they were going to control mosquitoes that carry malaria
using RNA. I thought this was terrific. I don't know anything about
mosquitoes, but can we do this for honey bees? So I stopped by Dr. Jamie
Ellis' office on my way back to mine and said, "Jamie, what do you think
about this?" So we looked at it. We got some money from the state
legislature, and we started down this path. Because we were asking a lot of
questions, the Beeologics people found us and we found them and decided to
Senator Buth: You have mentioned one virus, the Israeli acute
paralysis virus. Are there other viruses within honeybees?
Mr. Hayes: Yes. They have identified about 27 viruses, but the
latest data seems to show that one virus, deformed wing virus, plus varroa,
equaled death. My conundrum is that we can control viruses with RNA, and we
hope to be able to control varroa with RNA. Do you go for the viruses and
wipe them out and leave varroa, or do you go for varroa and then cut off the
vector of the viruses? None of this is easy. I'm trying to figure out how
best to do this.
Senator Buth: We have in our midst, actually, Dr. Kelvin Ogilvie,
who is a senator who actually developed the methods surrounding RNA. I was
going to ask him some questions, but I'll ask you instead.
Mr. Hayes: Feel free to ask him. That would be fine.
Senator Buth: I'm having a hard time visualizing what it is you
actually do. If it's not a chemical and if it's a protein, how does it get
applied? How does it get into the body? What does it do when it's in?
Mr. Hayes: As I was telling the previous senator, getting it into
the human body is difficult because we have all these defence mechanisms
that recognize foreign proteins and foreign chemicals. Honeybees, insects,
don't have a highly tuned immune system as we do. In our studies, we have
done is put the RNA that actually we have identified in bees, say, to
control varroa. Bees will produce RNA, but they can't produce it quickly
enough for this huge parasite. We have identified what the RNA is. We put it
in sugar syrup. We feed it to bees because that's one of the ways that
beekeepers feed bees. The bees ingest this, and then the RNA goes to every
cell. As the varroa feeds on the honeybee, it uptakes this RNA, and we see
how much it will control protein synthesis in the varroa and either harm it,
damage it or kill it.
Senator Buth: How long does that normally take?
Mr. Hayes: This is a biological. It is not like a chemical that
you would see immediate effects, immediate death. You see effects probably
over a week to 10 days. We would certainly like to speed that up, but right
now that's what our analysis is showing.
Senator Buth: What is the intellectual property situation with
Mr. Hayes: RNA is widely known. Two gentlemen, Mello and Fire, won
a Nobel Prize for it in 2009. This isn't anything secret. The IP is where
you pick out the RNAi and the gene segments that it's going to turn off.
That's where that would come into play.
Senator Eaton: Dr. Hayes, my questions are less intellectually
challenging. In prioritizing, you named four things. Did you give us the
four things in order of importance? Was there a reason you started with
destructor and went on to nutrition, varroa mite and pesticides?
Mr. Hayes: Actually, I cheated, senator. I copied what the USDA
has identified as the four main focuses of honeybee health in the U.S.
Senator Eaton: How would you prioritize them?
Mr. Hayes: This is my opinion. You can look at this old face and
see that I was pre-varroa and now post-varroa. The world changed in the
beekeeping industry for varroa. In my mind, if we could control varroa
safely and sanely, non-GM, non-chemical, we could probably improve honeybee
health 70 to 80 per cent without doing anything else. In my mind, that's it.
All the researchers around the world, in fact the great researchers in
Canada, I would say, would agree with that as well.
Senator Eaton: You have explained to us what varroa mite is, and
we have heard what it is. Does it have anything to do with the fact that
bees now are kept in manufactured hives? Does that contribute to the
Mr. Hayes: Yes. Not to pick on beekeepers, but this is the model
for production agriculture. Yes, the bees are in boxes. Truthfully, they're
the wrong size boxes. You look at where honeybees select nesting cavities
and how they forage and separate themselves. Think of the beehive. It is the
wrong cavity and the wrong size. The entrance is in the wrong place. We put
them side by side so that they can share pests, predators and diseases.
If you've ever seen an apiary or a commercial bee colony where there are
hundreds or thousands of colonies all together, this is like an elementary
school. Everybody is sharing everything, but it's not any different than
production agriculture, where you have 500 hectares of something growing in
one spot. So this is a model for the most efficient agriculture that we
have, and as of right now there isn't another model.
Senator Eaton: Unlikely to change then, I guess?
Mr. Hayes: I doubt it because, truthfully, if you look at Canada,
it is the world's largest producer of canola because you have millions of
acres that are efficiently farmed, efficiently managed and efficiently
harvested, and the only way you can do that is in that particular model.
Senator Eaton: You said another surprising thing to us, which was
that nobody knows how to feed bees. We've asked the question from various
witnesses, "Are you sure that your bees have enough to eat going into the
winter?" talking about our problems of overwintering here. "Oh, yes, yes,
we know." You're the first one who has raised the flag that we really don't
know how to feed bees or don't understand bee nutrition.
Mr. Hayes: Absolutely. Honeybees collect pollen, but they don't
eat pollen. Pollen has a hard shell on it. Bees don't have crunchy, chewy
mouth parts. They collect this pollen. They add bacteria, fungi and yeast to
it and put it in the cell, and there is a fermentation process that allows
this pollen grain to break open and release its goodies. Bees feed on that.
So that is a natural food, but commercial beekeepers have to artificially
stimulate their bees in order to get them ready for pollination events or
honey events. They try to feed bees these supplemental diets that fill in
some gaps, but they are not nutritionally complete. They lack the compete
component of amino acids, vitamins and minerals. In fact, there is data that
shows the best artificial diet on the market for the honeybees can only
maintain a honeybee colony for about nine weeks. This is a stressor because
I can take you, senator, and put a parasitic rat on you and feed you a diet
of Hershey bars, and I guarantee you that you will get sick.
Senator Eaton: If we understood more about honeybee nutrition,
would that help us with overwintering problems, do you think?
Mr. Hayes: I think it would because we are talking about varroa.
We're talking about viruses. We're talking about nutrition, and then we're
talking about these miticides or pesticides that we use to control varroa.
This is death by a thousand cuts. None of those individually, maybe other
than varroa, will probably kill a colony outright, so these are all
additional stressors. What are the easiest ones to take out of this map of
honeybee death? One of the simplest — and I'm not quite sure why nobody has
done this — is nutrition, in my mind.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much.
Senator Ogilvie: Thank you, Dr. Hayes. It's been an absolutely
wonderful presentation. I want to thank you for the clarity. You have
largely answered the question I was going to ask you, and that relates to
how you've been able to succeed in stabilizing the interfering RNA piece to
get it to move through the biological systems to the end point. You describe
the process you're looking at. How far along through that process, from a
bee through to the mite, have you been able to ensure the stability of the
RNAi to this point?
Mr. Hayes: Excellent question. In the lab situation, in a petri
dish, we can make it active in five days and kill about 50 per cent of the
mites. That's not good enough, and, as you know, when you get into a field
situation, things change.
So we have to look at, as you're implying, our buffers. Is there some
type of buffer, or can you insert the RNA in fat particles — liposomes — and
get it in there to have a bit longer life as it goes through the system?
We're also looking at whether there are ways to have a contact system so
that the RNA could be absorbed through the cuticle and not have to go
through these systems. In these timelines in big corporations and research,
you have discovery and phase 1, 2, 3 and 4, and we're early in phase 1,
right now, of figuring some of these things out. Truthfully, we don't have
the absolute answer for you at this time, senator.
Senator Ogilvie: It is the issue in all interfering RNA
possibilities. So it is a significant challenge, but the potential is
enormous. I know exactly what you meant when you used the terms "protein"
and "RNA" at that one point. I think we do need to clarify a little bit,
though, that RNA is definitely not a protein, but the point you were making
is that it's like that. It's unstable in a biological system. As a chemist
dealing with RNA and DNA over my career, I just have to make sure we clarify
that. But I knew exactly what you were intending with your comment. Thank
Mr. Hayes: Thank you, senator.
Senator Maltais: Can you tell me what kind of bees you have in St.
Mr. Hayes: We have, other than Canada, the best bees in the world.
No. We have the European bee. We have Italian bees. We have Caucasian bees,
and, of course, we have the mongrels. We have a mixed genetic base of most
represented European races of honeybees.
Beekeepers right now in St. Louis — in fact, I have colonies in my
backyard — are pretty excited. There is pollen coming in and some nectar and
the hint of more spring in the air, so it's an exciting time of the year.
Senator Maltais: You might have the best bees, but not the most
loyal. They abandon their queen and go elsewhere.
Mr. Hayes: There again, they're trying to protect the colony. So
maybe they aren't the best, but they're trying.
The growth and interest in beekeeping has been phenomenal over the last
10 years. I'm sure that you've experienced this as well as people discover
honeybees and discover this link with the environment and how they can help,
but there's a big learning curve to honeybees. This is not like buying a
puppy or a kitten or a bird. There is a new language; there's new biology to
learn. There are many things to learn, so there are a lot of
well-intentioned new beekeepers out there that have a lot to learn. As a
result, with the extreme winter that we all have had, there is probably
going to be decreased winter survivability over the past several months.
Senator Maltais: Unlike us, you do not have to deal with winter
conditions, which no doubt has a significant effect on bee mortality in
Canada. What is the average mortality rate in your hives annually?
Mr. Hayes: I've been on the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group
since its inception. The average, since about 2006, 2007, has been about a
30 per cent loss in the U.S.
We have a beekeeper group that meets monthly here on the Monsanto campus,
in one of our auditoriums, and they're experiencing anywhere — and this is
typical — from a 20 to 60 per cent loss.
The thing you have to understand about not only hobby beekeepers but also
professional beekeepers, especially professional beekeepers, is that if you
have a 30 per cent loss, if you're a small business person and lose 30 per
cent of your inventory every year, that's not sustainable. You can't do
that. The only thing that's keeping beekeeping alive right now is the
biological ability to take one surviving colony, divide it, make two and
replace your losses, but how long can you do that? That creates two weak
colonies instead of two strong colonies. To address honeybee health and have
this as an active supported part in agriculture is our goal.
Senator Maltais: Monsanto does research on bee survival. But is it
in regular contact with other research facilities, such as those in
California, Florida and other states researching what is causing mites, how
to mitigate the problem and perhaps solve it? What relationships do you have
with other academic scientists?
Mr. Hayes: I've been in the industry a very long time. I was
President of the Apiary Inspectors of America for two terms. I write a
monthly column in the American Bee Journal called "The Classroom"
where I answer questions. I have a book by the same name, and I'm an author
or co-author on many papers.
Because of all those things — I'm not patting myself on the back — I have
been connected to the research community for years, not only here in the
U.S. but globally. There again, I mention my colleagues. The provincial
apiarists in Canada are good friends of mine. Dr. Steve Pernal in
Beaverlodge, we worked together in B.C. We're a small part of agriculture.
We're a small family. Many of us have grown up together, and we rely on and
trust each other.
Senator Robichaud: The research you are doing, and the way you
want this RNAi, is that having any effect on the genetics of the bee?
Mr. Hayes: No, it is not a genetic change. It is going on in you
right now, senators. Your cells are sending out RNA to turn a protein on or
off in your cells and your body. When that process has been completed, the
RNA is broken up by enzymes; it's diced and it disappears. That's what's
going on and that's what we're trying to make happen to control honeybee
As Senator Ogilvie said, having that process work consistently and having
the RNA persist long enough to make that happen is difficult because this
RNA is eaten; it's digested. You spill it on the ground and bacteria will
consume it. That's a great point, but from a research perspective, it's
really hard to make it last long enough in an organism to actually do
Senator Robichaud: Are you looking at a way to genetically modify
the bees so they can better absorb and transfer that protein?
Mr. Hayes: No. When I started at Monsanto, I told everybody that
Monsanto is known for doing wonderful work and genetically modifying plants
that bring tremendous yield to farmers. But I told them when I came here
that we're not going to do anything like that in the honeybee. It wouldn't
be wise and it's not necessary. So I have been beaten up many times saying
that Monsanto is going to genetically modify bees, that it only pollinates
Monsanto crops. No.
Senator Robichaud: I wanted to beat you up too on that.
You say that when you do find the proper process, that will be patented.
There will be an IP on that, will there not?
Mr. Hayes: Not so much the process but the protein that we're
going to turn on or off and how we do that. That will probably be part of
the IP, yes.
Senator Robichaud: How will that be passed on to the producers?
Then the question that begs to be asked: How expensive is that going to be?
Mr. Hayes: That's another great question. Monsanto acquired
Beeologics, a large, successful seed company that had no relationship with
the beekeeping industry, or the beekeeping industry with it. So they
purchased Beeologics and — bless their hearts — they kept the honeybee
piece. They didn't have to do that. There wasn't going to be a whole lot of
value to them. If you look at the market which we have here for honeybee,
even globally, Monsanto will make a little bit of money, but nothing like
corn or soybeans or any of those kinds of things.
So the thought right now is to somehow collaborate with national or world
organizations. Once this is developed, it's basically turning it over to one
of them to actually sell and distribute and get the funds from, just because
this isn't something that's going to be a big money-maker for Monsanto.
Senator Robichaud: One last question. You heard all the people
talking about neonics and their effects. If you find a way to protect the
bee, then there will be less pressure from the agricultural community to
stop using neonics. Monsanto is going to be the winner at the end, will it
Mr. Hayes: That's capitalism, senator; yes.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Hayes, I have two questions for you. The
first has to do with queen bees. Should we import queen bees only from
certain countries? Which queen bees would be best suited to Canada?
Mr. Hayes: This is a slippery slope, senator, because Canada
imports queens and bees from other countries.
When I was the chief of the apiary section in Florida, I was involved
with the USDA and some of the things. Early on, when we were losing lots of
bees, the U.S. was importing bees from Australia and New Zealand to fill in
these gaps of losses of bees. But after a few years, cooler heads prevailed,
because the risk of bringing in other parasites or other diseases was too
great, looking at the health concerns that we were already dealing with. So
that has been curtailed.
Queen honeybees are the only fertile female in a honeybee colony. Canada
has good queenery operations that can fulfill that. An opinion is like a
nose; everybody has one. I think the queens that Canada produces would
probably be better than the ones that they're bringing in.
Senator Dagenais: You said that pesticides had little impact on
bee survival. How do you explain the difference in the survival rate of bees
in regions without pesticide use?
Mr. Hayes: I don't think I said that they didn't have an effect on
honeybees. For instance, you've had incidents where seed treatments,
dust-off issues with neonics, have impacted some Canadian beekeepers. In the
U.S., we have had the same. They are few, minor, but there are also some
For instance, there has just been a report out of Australia talking about
honeybee deaths. They use lots of neonics. They spray them widely, and they
don't have the honeybee health issues that you or I have. That's because
they don't have varroa. Varroa seems to be the key, and then all these other
things are added stressors.
You also have to remember that honeybees have had a relationship with
plants and with flowers for millions of years. These plants produce their
own toxins to keep bad bugs away, so honeybees have developed ways to
neutralize those toxins that are introduced in pollen or nectar. They have
these systems. But when you add on these other ones, and when you add in
these miticides to try to control varroa — beeswax, their comb is a fatty
acid; it's a chemical sponge, so it absorbs a lot of these miticides that
beekeepers put in there. But bees are exposed to them 24-7, 365.
This is why I said earlier that if we could eliminate or reduce those
chemical impacts, we could improve honeybee health amazingly, not only from
direct control of varroa but because of these residues.
Senator Oh: Good morning, Dr. Hayes.
What is the percentage of honeybees leaving the hive in your area? Is
that a problem that is increasing?
Mr. Hayes: We're still waiting for next month. The numbers for
colony deaths will be reported. Because of our more severe winter, I'm
predicting that the losses will be higher than 30 per cent. If you are a
backyard beekeeper and you have two colonies and you lose one, that's 50 per
cent loss. That's not as bad as if you're a beekeeper with 10,000 colonies
and you lose 50 per cent. This is tremendous.
What is the tipping point? That's what we have had discussions about in
my world for a couple of years. What's the tipping point? When don't you
have enough and when is pollinator-dependent agriculture impacted?
Senator Oh: Do we have the same problem happening in Canada?
Mr. Hayes: It doesn't seem to be as severe as in the U.S. You
certainly have migratory commercial beekeeping and pollination, but Canadian
beekeepers must be better than our beekeepers. It is reported, but it
doesn't seem to be as severe as here in the United States.
Commercial beekeepers would come to Florida in the winter to be able to
raise bees. Their first pollination event is in almonds in February, so they
would transport, by semis, bees from Florida to California, bringing in 1.6
million colonies of honeybees. We only have 2.4 in the United States. This
is like the wildebeest going across the Serengeti, bringing all these bees
to one location. They're sharing pest predators and diseases. I don't know
what honeybee stress is, but loading 500 colonies on a semi is stressful.
Then you put them in this location over 3,000 miles away at different
temperatures and climates. They spend three weeks there. They don't get
proper nutrition. Then you move them north to Washington or Oregon for
pollination for apples and cherries, and then maybe back to Florida, winding
up in Maine for cranberry pollination.
This is a gypsy lifestyle, if you will. To be able to pick up an insect's
nest and move it and have them readjust, you can't do that with anything
else. The honeybees are the strong link in pollinator-dependent agriculture
and the weak link because, if you don't have those, production agriculture
and economies and our diet and nutrition are impacted.
Senator Robichaud: I'm not a capitalist. Are the wild bees having
the same problems with the mites? Have you taken a look at the wild, native
bees to see if they have fought that parasite off or if they have the same
Mr. Hayes: They don't have the same problem. This varroa mite
seems to be obligate to honeybee apiarist species. It has been found on
bumblebees, but it doesn't seem to be reproducing. Nature finds a way — this
is pretty cool. When varroa wants to spread itself around, it rides on a
honeybee. When a honeybee lands on a flower, the varroa mite will jump off
onto the flower waiting for the next bee or insect to come by to jump on to
spread itself around. They do ride around, but they only seem to be able to
reproduce on what we call our honeybees.
The other native pollinators are being impacted by environmental changes,
by weather and by some chemicals in the environment. Some of these other
native pollinators are tremendously better pollinators than honeybees,
individually. Honeybees are great, but they're generalists, and the reason
that they're so effective is we can transport them. You can bring 50,000 in
a box, and they will go out and do their thing. The pollination
effectiveness is by redundancy. You have lots and lots of individuals. Some
of these native pollinators that are specific for certain crops are much
more effective, and I think we need to pay more attention to them as well.
Senator Robichaud: That was the point I was trying to make. Just
how much attention are we paying to the wild pollinators? Thank you.
The Chair: Dr. Hayes, thank you very much. Your presentation and
your answers have been enlightening and also very informative. Do you have
anything to add?
Mr. Hayes: Just a couple of things, if I may. Once again, thank
you for your time and concern on this.
This is not something that everybody needs to know about. Your
constituents probably don't think too much about this as they go to the
grocery store. If you think about a third of our food dependent on this
pollination effect, and then if you think about the environment, honeybees
not only pollinate crops that we recognize and can get food from, but think
of all the plants that they pollinate in the environment that produce seeds
for that plant to reproduce, or berries or nuts for birds and wildlife. I
haven't seen a dollar figure on that, but that has to be huge. How does all
this impact us? Honeybees are the environmental poster child, and I think
that your efforts in asking these questions and bringing in others is
outstanding. Once again, I appreciate the opportunity.
The Chair: Thank you, sir.
Honourable senators, the committee will now hear our second panel: from
the National Farmers Union, Ms. Coral Sproule, 2nd Vice-President; and Mr.
Michael Lynch-Staunton, as an individual.
I have been instructed by the clerk that Madam Sproule will make the
presentation, and then we will go to questions. Please proceed.
Coral Sproule, 2nd Vice President, National Farmers Union: Thank
you. I just wanted to, first of all, thank the committee for doing this
in-depth study on bees and bee health. It is obviously a very important
thing, with one of our primary pollinators, to be looking at how we can
improve the health because there have been so many losses in the past. Thank
you to the committee for doing this and for inviting the National Farmers
Union to speak.
I just wanted to give a brief introduction. I am a small-scale farmer
from Lanark County, just about an hour west of here, and Michael
Lynch-Staunton is a small-scale beekeeper and farmer from the same area. The
National Farmers Union is a general farm organization. We represent family
farmers of a variety of commodities, including grain, oil seeds, vegetables,
honey. We represent different farmers of various scales, local, direct
markets and then also commodity markets.
We're committed to protecting biodiversity, hence our being here on this
behalf today. Also, we're a democratic organization and strongly believe in
a democratic society where Canadians have a role to play in the decision
making of our environment and our food system.
We submitted comments to the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency
consultation in December of 2013, with a letter sent also to the Minister of
health, Ms. Rona Ambrose, in April of this year, 2014.
I will outline some of the concerns we presented in our submission, which
is a little lengthier. The Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency has
concluded that bee mortalities in 2012 and 2013, in corn and soy-growing
regions of Ontario and Quebec, were due to neonicotinoid-treated seed. In
September of 2013, the "PMRA has concluded that current agricultural
practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed
are not sustainable." That's a quote from the release of their report.
The OMAFRA staff in Ontario say that neonicotinoid treatments are being
used on almost 100 per cent of Ontario's corn and canola acres and 80 per
cent of soybean acres, with 35 per cent of wheat acres also being treated
with this same seed treatment.
The OMAFRA staff say that only 10 to 30 per cent of corn and soybeans
benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatment.
We feel that since the PMRA has concluded that seed treatments are
responsible for bee mortalities, we question why they're continuing to allow
the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed treatments for prophylactic
We at the NFU, the National Farmers Union, view bees as an indicator
species. Part of the formal agricultural system, their populations and
health are tracked more consistently than other pollinators. We also believe
there is a likelihood that other pollinators are also being impacted. There
have been some studies, as well, on their effect on some bird species.
I will just outline some of the NFU's recommendations. We believe it is
the responsibility of the Canadian government and other regulatory bodies in
Canada to act in the best interest of the public and Canadians, our
environment and our biodiversity. Since the PMRA has concluded that the
current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid-treated
corn and soybean seed are not sustainable, it is in the public interest to
stop the widespread prophylactic use of the neonicotinoid seed treatments.
The position of the National Farmers Union is based on a resolution
brought forward to farmers at our annual convention in 2013, in November.
One of the resolutions has asked that we place a five-year moratorium on
neonicotinoid seed treatments in all field crops. We also request that, if
necessary, we begin with the moratorium on corn and soybeans in Ontario and
Quebec, to start January 1, 2015. That is because some of the studies have
indicated that the bee losses in these particular provinces have been
greater than in other provinces.
During the moratorium, we would like to have third-party, publicly funded
research, as needed, to assess whether or not there is yield benefit to
further develop and promote alternatives, including non-chemical
alternatives, and to monitor pollinator populations and residual
neonicotinoids in water and soil.
We're also asking that the government take a precautionary approach,
rather than risk management after these particular neonicotinoids have been
released into the environment, as is done in many European countries thus
far, where they have placed moratoriums on these particular pesticides until
further research is done.
I just wanted to pick out a few of the studies that have been cited in
our more lengthy presentation that we have given to you in writing, just to
support what we're saying. There is a woman named Tracey Baute, a field crop
entomologist, the program lead for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and
Food. She's quoted as saying there is ". . . no doubt the acute poisoning
in bee colonies over the past few years is linked to the planting of treated
corn and soybean seed." The seed treatment only benefits 10 to 30 per cent
of corn and soybean acres, and OMAFRA has identified conditions which place
a particular field at risk, such as soil type, crop rotation and pest
history. There are recommendations from Tracey that farmers should go back
to following integrated pest management, which will be referred to as IPM if
I speak about that again, and to make choices to use non-insecticide-treated
seed in fields that don't have a history of pest issues.
The Center for Food Safety in the U.S. had a literature review release
March 14, 2014, of independent peer reviewed studies on the relationship
between seed treatments and yield in major field crops in North America. A
quote from the study says that "in many cases, the compounds are not
providing a yield or economic benefit to farmers," once again.
The widespread adoption of neonicotinoid seed treatments has led to a
move away from integrated pest management. Some of the other alternative
practices that could be used to maintain fewer pests in the fields are not
being used because of the dependency on these seed treatments.
Christy Morrissey of the University of Saskatchewan, a biologist, has
been quoted as saying that "over the past few years neonicotinoids have been
used increasingly on crops in Western Canada and the chemical is making its
way into wetlands, potentially having a devastating `domino effect' on
insects and birds that rely on them."
In reference to the precautionary approach that I mentioned, which we
would prefer be taken from the government regulatory bodies, Canada has
signed on to the approach in international treaties. In 1992, there was the
UN Conference on Environment and Development. The precautionary principle
calls on public authorities to act to prevent irreversible harm when it is
within their power to do so, even if there is not complete scientific
A lot of what we're trying to present here is that we don't really know.
I know the previous presenter had referred to there being multiple stressors
on bee health, but as we're aware, one of the stressors on bee health and
the bee immune system is neonicotinoids. We would like to try and put more
research into what exactly the effect is before going forward.
The Canadian government and Canadian regulatory agencies should act in
the public interest. The PMRA has concluded current agricultural practices
related to the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in corn and soybeans are
not sustainable. I have repeated that again. Again, we're saying that the
widespread use of seed treatments as a prophylactic we wish to not continue
as it harms bees, pollinators and the environments.
Thanks for the introduction, and I guess we're here to answer any other
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Sproule.
Senator Mercer: Thank you both for being here. It has been an
informative morning, hearing two different angles to this.
Your suggestion of a five-year moratorium is one that we heard before
from others. The issue is that if we have a five-year moratorium, what
effect do you think that will have on the production of crops? We talk about
bee health, but one of the issues for people in the farming community is
maintaining high yields, which means a higher return to the farmers. What
effect would a five-year moratorium have on yields?
Ms. Sproule: As I stated, in studies that have been done thus far,
there's only a 10 to 30 per cent yield shown in particular crop yield
increases in this crop due to the seed treatment. That's not across the
board, of course. That's an average. Some farmers haven't been affected.
In the individual case of a farmer that I spoke with a couple of years
ago who was able to still get untreated seed, he did sort of his own — of
course, this is not necessarily reflective of a particular proper study, but
he did a little bit of one corn field with untreated seed and another with
treated seed, and he did not find that there was any significant difference
in the yield of his crops. That was just an individual National Farmers
Union member who does tend to grow commercially and larger scale.
Without taking the precautionary principle, we can't really know what the
effect is on bees, and that can potentially affect our yields across the
board with food production. We are not just looking at corn and soybean
production; we're looking at production of food in our entire country. The
importance of bees and pollinators in food production is a very important
thing to look at. We can't just look at the decrease in potential yields for
corn and soybeans. We must also look at the potential effects in the long
term of other crops as well. We are already seeing devastating losses for
beekeepers. We're seeing devastating losses for fruit production and
otherwise due to the lack of pollinators. As we have seen, a lot of the time
in the U.S. you hear more of these orchards where they're having to bring in
bees from various other places and truck bees across the country, which can
also have an effect on bee health as well. Since we're looking at bee health
here, that's part of it.
Just to address that a little bit, we are concerned with the lack of
availability of untreated corn and soybean seed as well. That's something
that we would like to address also. There doesn't seem to be much on the
market in larger scale forms of untreated corn seed, but we would like to
see the development of alternatives to it.
Michael Lynch-Staunton, as an individual: In Europe, a year ago,
or two or three years ago, in France, I believe, beekeepers protested about
neonics. They have had a moratorium on them for three years now, for that
Senator Mercer: We're aware of the moratorium, but —
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: We were using — neonics is new.
Senator Mercer: I was looking for data on the changes.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: This is a new pesticide. We have been growing
corn and wheat in this country for a long time. This is a new pesticide.
Because it is a new pesticide, we can go back to the old system, is what I'm
saying. You know what I mean?
Senator Mercer: Right.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton, the name Lynch-Staunton is a very familiar name
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: My uncle was a senator.
Senator Mercer: I assume one of your relatives from Alberta is in
the cattle business, and a former colleague of ours, John Lynch-Staunton,
was Leader of the Government in the Senate.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: It would have been I guess an uncle who was
the head of the cattlemen's association in Alberta, and my uncle was a
Senator Mercer: And a very good one, I have to say.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Thank you.
Senator Mercer: He was a gentleman. I don't say that about
Conservatives very often.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: He always referred to this as the chamber of
sober second thought.
Senator Mercer: Do you have bees yourself?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes, I do.
Senator Mercer: What was your mortality rate this year?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Zero. I had no mortalities. I had 100 per cent
Senator Mercer: Why?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I changed what I did from last year to this
Senator Mercer: What did you change?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I went to better practices as far as
monitoring mites and stuff like that.
I don't want to take issue with the gentleman from Monsanto, but all we
heard was varroa mites. Varroa mites have been around for 30 years. Why is
it such an issue now? Well, because of an additional input that the bees
just can't handle.
I read a report yesterday where the pollen in the beehives is full of
fungicide, pesticide and stuff like that. He makes a good example. If I put
a rat on you and feed you chocolate bars, sooner or later you are going to
die. That's the same analogy. If I feed you nothing but poor nutrition all
winter long and then increase the amount of stress on you, then yes, I could
see that you could die. But if you monitor your hives and you put screen
bottom boards on them and make sure that they have enough stores going
through winter, I think they can survive. I don't think they need massive
inputs of fungicide and miticide and stuff like that.
There's a beekeeper in London, Ontario, named Szabo who is trying to
genetically produce a mite-resistant bee, which to me is more a way we
should be going. Our society is great for just, "Here is a pill for this
and a pill for that." If we have a company that's willing to produce these
pills, it's great for the economy, but in the long run is it really going to
be good for the economy?
What I look at is what I can do to make my environment better. If I use
that with respect to my bees, then I'll do everything that I can to do that.
If I don't monitor them properly, if I don't follow procedures properly,
then I can expect to have losses. That's what's happening.
If I add one plus one plus one plus one, I'm going to get a number. That
number will be a big number. I don't want that number to be big; I want it
to be small. If my stressors are small, then I have more chance for my bees
Senator Mercer: I'm fascinated by the fact that you have no
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Last year I had 50 per cent, but I followed
the same practices that other people followed as well.
Senator Mercer: I'm hoping that either you're going to find a way
of marketing what you've done —
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I'm not a capitalist, though: I just give it
Senator Mercer: That's fine with me also. I would certainly like
to have more detail, not necessarily here today, because of the forum we're
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: This is anecdotal. It's not scientific or
anything like that, but what I like to do is follow it over a few years and
see what the results are. That's all we're asking with this.
Senator Mercer: The first year has been very successful, but it's
a change in how you've treated your bees.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Exactly.
Senator Mercer: As opposed to the other issue of pesticides on
Senator Robichaud: How much were you using neonics on your farm?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: There is a big farm down the road; he's got
probably 200 acres of corn, and he does soy as well. That concerns me. It's
less than two kilometres away from me. That concerns me a lot. That's why I
changed what I was doing, because when I had 50 per cent losses the year
before, my first concern was the guy down the road. I don't want to blame
the guy down the road. You know what I mean? I want everybody to exist
happily, but if he's an issue, then I want to know. If that's an issue, then
I have to change what I do in order to compensate for that problem.
Senator Robichaud: If I understand right, there's minimum use of
neonics on your farm.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I have none.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton, you made the comment that neonics are a new product,
but they have been around for about 10 years. This is not a question
directed at you: both of you could answer.
If we don't have the neonics, then what types of practices are the
growers going to use?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: We will go back to what we were doing before.
From what I understand of neonics, this is a systemic insecticides, or
pesticides. This is in the plant. This is part of the DNA of the plant.
Senator Buth: Instead of going through what it does, I just want
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: We'll just go back to what we were doing
before with spraying Roundup.
The Chair: Would you let the senator make her point and then we'll
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Sorry.
Senator Buth: What I'm trying to get at is growers were using
foliar products before if they weren't using a seed treatment. I don't want
to get into a debate in terms of foliar versus seed treatments. I would
rather understand what types of IPM practices corn and soybean growers would
Ms. Sproule, could you tell me about what types of things you do on your
Ms. Sproule: I do a diverse range of vegetable crops mainly, and
then I also do small-scale livestock. I run a community-supported
agricultural program where I sell a box of a variety of vegetables. I grow
up to 40 different types of vegetables on my farm. Biodiversity is part of
encouraging healthy production in our crops, crop rotation, using cover
crops and other things. Having a cover crop of buckwheat can improve bee
health and be a great source of food for the bees as well.
There are other things that I'm not as familiar with, about which we can
possibly get information to you afterwards, as far as using other species of
insects to potentially prey upon the insects that we have on our farms and
that type of thing.
Part of the issue with these seed treatments, and with pesticides in
general, is that it's also creating resistance to the pesticides. The
healthier of the species of insects that they're trying to combat are
actually becoming resistant to the pesticides as well.
They have been used for some time, but now their use as a systemic
pesticide is what we're more concerned with. I can't say off the top of my
head the year that that came into play, but that is something that is more
of a new technology. Now the pesticide is actually in the plant, and that's
what we're saying is something that hasn't been studied very well and hasn't
been used very widely until only recently. That seems to have a correlation
with when these increased bee deaths were happening.
Senator Buth: We haven't heard from any witnesses that have
actually presented any information or scientific studies or incidence in
terms of resistance. If you have any references to that, it would be quite
helpful if you could send those to the clerk, in terms of resistance.
Ms. Sproule: Yes.
Senator Buth: I'm curious about your comment about untreated seed.
Have you talked to growers who specifically have not been able to access
untreated seed this year?
Ms. Sproule: Yes. There was a letter sent to Ms. Ann Slater, who
prepared the brief for you today, our vice- president of policy in the
National Farmers Union. She wasn't able to get the letter to me or to you,
she just received it, and I guess we had to get permission from the person
who sent the letter to be able to submit it to senators. We can submit that
letter to the committee as well. It is through talking to individual farmers
thus far that I have been able to understand that there is availability of
some untreated seed, but it seems to sell out very fast. That leads me to
believe there's not as much availability of that on the market as otherwise
That's something that I would encourage the committee to look into as
well. It has been the case of, again, individual witnesses saying this to me
at different meetings at various locals around Ontario and otherwise. I know
it is not as much of a problem, seemingly, in the West, or hasn't been
focused on in the West, but I've talked to some canola growers in the West
who say some of the alternatives for them are perhaps using different
chemicals on those seeds and fungicides that they also don't want to
necessarily put in the environment.
It's a matter of what is available otherwise as not being something that
they necessarily want to use on their farm either.
Senator Buth: The issue of untreated seed is interesting. I just
saw a report about untreated seed availability in Ontario for corn. I'm not
sure if it was corn and soybeans, and they indicated that there was quite a
bit of untreated seed available this year and there was very little uptake.
There were very few growers that essentially purchased it this year, so the
seed dealers did provide it.
I wonder what the disconnect is between growers who are saying they can't
get it and the seed companies essentially saying they made it available. I
don't know if it's a disconnect in terms of communications.
Ms. Sproule: Where was the reference from?
Senator Buth: I saw it on Twitter. I think it was a reference from
the Canadian Seed Trade Association. They are the people that provide the
seed, so they know what's available out there. We've had witnesses here
who've said they provided it.
I want to go back to your organization, because I'm always curious in
terms of the background of the organization. You say you represent thousands
of family farms. How many farms would the NFU represent?
Ms. Sproule: I cannot give you an exact number of our membership
right now. We have several thousand members. In Ontario, I believe we have
1,600 members at the moment, but we do have a stable funding program in
Ontario that promotes farmers being part of one of three general farm
organizations. That's a provincial program, and we have that in some other
provinces. We represent farmers from British Columbia to the Eastern
The Chair: Mr. Lynch-Staunton, you wanted to make a comment?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Just on your point about getting the
I was listening to CBC, and they were talking about getting the untreated
seeds. If I was a farmer and had the choice between untreated seed and
treated seed, it's a gamble, so I could see a lot of farmers just saying,
"I'm going to go with what I've been used to in the past rather than trying
to grow something for which I don't know what the results are going to be."
That was the premise that was presented on CBC about this free-source seed.
Senator Buth: Another reliable source. It's a choice, actually.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I agree.
Senator Buth: If treated seed was available out there, it was one
of their choices.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: If I have a company saying, "These are the
results you will get from our seed," and another company saying, "We have
this new seed out," I don't know what the results are going to be.
Senator Ogilvie: I'm going to change my questions because you gave
us a very fascinating observation, and I want to come to it, Mr.
Before I do that, are a significant number of large field producers also
members of the NFU?
Ms. Sproule: Yes, we have many members. We were founded in the
Prairies, and so we do have many large-scale grain farmers who are members.
Senator Ogilvie: I wanted to cover that. It's not an issue I
wanted to pursue; it's just for information.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton, I thought your observation was a tremendously
interesting one for us — your difference between last year and this year. By
the way, I don't think you and Dr. Hayes were saying things very
differently. I think he was saying that there are a number of stressors, but
if you've got a major stressor or two major stressors, the mite and the
virus, that weakens the organism and then makes it much more susceptible to
nutritional issues and pesticides and other issues. I think, with regard to
the overall impacts on bees, it wasn't far off. He is focusing on trying to
deal with one of those stressors, but the ultimate issue is the total impact
on the bees overall and their survivability.
A little bit about your farm: How many acres do you have on which your
bees are confined?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: We have 55 acres.
Senator Ogilvie: How many hives do you have?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I started off with six. I lost three last
year, but I can split. So I made two more. I have five right now.
Senator Ogilvie: You brought five in through the winter under
these conditions, and you have had virtually no loss at all in those areas.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: No loss at all.
Senator Ogilvie: This is really interesting.
On your 55 acres, what kind of habitat are you looking at?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: It's varied. We have two fields that we take
hay off of, and then there's an area where I have maple trees and do my
maple syrup. Then, there's just a brush area, but I have two farms on either
side that do cattle.
Senator Ogilvie: Okay. So two farms, and then the one that has the
large production a couple of kilometres down the road?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: He's two kilometres down, yes.
Senator Ogilvie: Your bees are operating largely within what would
be considered a traditional natural habitat?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes.
Senator Ogilvie: Yet, the previous year you had roughly 50 per
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes.
Senator Ogilvie: This would suggest that the way in which you have
actually managed the hive has had an enormous impact against what would be
considered relatively normal stresses on the bees, which, in the previous
year, caused a 50 per cent loss and, this year, has led to virtually no
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: That's where I will disagree with the guy from
Monsanto because I don't think there is need for —
Senator Ogilvie: Right. You're looking at a different solution.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I'm looking at a natural solution. I'm looking
at a management solution rather than a monetary solution.
Senator Ogilvie: That's what I'm saying; I don't think you're
disagreeing with what the problem is. You're talking about different
approaches to the solution.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Exactly.
Ms. Sproule: I think they used the word "anecdotal" earlier.
This is one case of it as well, when we spoke with the security guard at the
front desk, who is a beekeeper in Orleans. He had a 100 per cent loss this
year of his hives. He also had only six hives, but he said that there was
someone down the road from him. He's part of a beekeepers association as
well, and there have been great losses seen by many of the beekeepers who he
is involved with and meeting with on a regular basis as well.
Senator Ogilvie: It may well be.
Just to finish off with this, what Mr. Lynch-Staunton has said is one of
the more dramatic examples of definitive action that has been presented to
our committee, and that is that he has produced bees in the same environment
in previous years, with substantial losses in some of those years. He took
deliberate actions that he can document as to what he did, and he is telling
us that he had virtually no loss this year. That is not an insignificant,
Ms. Sproule: No.
Senator Ogilvie: I simply want to say that I appreciate very much
your presenting that to us.
Ms. Sproule: I guess we're trying to also place the onus on the
regulatory bodies to do these kinds of studies, to study these cases, and
that's what we're asking for.
Senator Robichaud: When you do a bit of travelling around Ottawa,
you see a lot of corn being grown in fields, and I see, sometimes, a sign in
front — OFA. That's the Ontario Federation of Agriculture?
Ms. Sproule: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: Are those people also members of the National
Ms. Sproule: No, that is a separate general farm organization. The
OFA is the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and they are linked with the
Canadian Federation of Agriculture. We have the National Farmers Union in
Ontario. We are incorporated in Ontario, through an act of Parliament, but
we are part of the National Farmers Union as a whole.
Senator Robichaud: What would be the big difference between the
two? I just want to know because I want to come to the resolutions that you
came to in regard to having a moratorium.
Ms. Sproule: I'm not sure exactly how the operations of the
Ontario Federation of Agriculture work. We find ourselves to be a grassroots
organization, so we have much-involved locals. We have very many active
locals, and that is where our resolutions come from. They come from a local
level to a regional level, which we have organized as well. Our national
convention is where these are passed or defeated. This was a resolution that
came from Region 3, the Ontario region of the National Farmers Union, and
that was presented at our March 2013 convention in this region, in Ontario.
Then, that was brought forth to our national convention in November of the
same year and then passed there as well.
We separate ourselves as being a family-farm organization. Our membership
is inclusive of every member of the family farm. When the farm becomes a
member, women, children and everyone else on the farm are included in this
membership. We do have particular positions within our union specifically
for youth and for women. We have a youth president and a youth
vice-president on a national level. We have a women's advisory. We have a
youth advisory, and we do have very much more, I would say, diverse and
small-scale farmers, as well as sort of what we now see as the only growing
sector of the farm industry — the new farmer who is somewhat a second
generation and not necessarily a multi-generation farmer. But we do have
quite a few of those members as part of our organization as well, and we
also have urban farmer members as well.
It's just a very diverse makeup of what our organization is, and, perhaps
the OFA is focused more on larger, commercial-scale agriculture and not
necessarily independent family farms.
Senator Robichaud: You said that resolution that came to the
meeting was from region 3.
Ms. Sproule: Region 3 of the National Farmers Union is Ontario. We
usually separate our regions provincially, and we don't operate in Quebec
because of the legislation in Quebec that they have only one representative
for farms in Quebec.
Senator Robichaud: I see that your resolution asks for a
moratorium in Ontario and Quebec. Do I read it correctly?
Ms. Sproule: I believe we had asked particularly for a five-year
moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in field crops. Give
me one moment.
I have the resolution right here. Would you like me to read the full
resolution and then we can just be clear on it?
Therefore be it resolved that the NFU will lobby the federal Health
Canada for an immediate five-year moratorium on the use of the
neonicotinoid class of pesticides in seed treatments for field crops;
Be it further resolved that the NFU calls upon Health Canada to
require completion of independent scientific studies, unencumbered by
industry influence, on the sub-lethal and synergistic effects of
neonicotinoids on honeybees, wild pollinators and other affected
species, including the farmers who use them, with full results to be
made public and available for review and comment prior to the lifting of
any moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments.
So it is being requested federally, but sometimes we have to approach
these things on a province-by-province basis. It has been seen that there
have been more effected bee losses in Ontario and Quebec, and that's where
we are beginning. There is a list of I think actually 13 recommendations. I
haven't necessarily included those all in my summary, but there are 13
The Chair: Did you bring it to the attention, Ms. Sproule —
Ms. Sproule: It's in the written presentation.
Senator Robichaud: The Government of Ontario has the authority to
ask for a moratorium in Ontario. What kind of debate would that initiate in
Ms. Sproule: Amongst our farmers?
Senator Robichaud: Amongst farmers. Let's say the OFA and the NFU.
Ms. Sproule: I actually have spoken to a couple of OFA members who
have come to a local meeting of our local 362, which is the Ottawa region
into Winchester and Chesterville. This farmer grows corn and soybeans. He
was at our meeting because, at that AGM, we brought a beekeeper in who was
speaking to the use of the seed treatments, and he was quite interested
because of the use of these seed treatments on his farm. As I said, we all
are reliant on these pollinators for pollinating our crops. It is a concern
to these farmers as well.
There's also the Christian Federation of Farmers in Ontario, and that is
the third general farm organization that's recognized by accreditation in
this province. They haven't necessarily put forth much, but there were some
news releases that I had seen in The Rural Voice, which is an
agricultural publication, last year, as well as the Ontario Farmer,
where they were speaking about neonicotinoid seed treatments, so it's a
concern of the other organizations as well. I'm not familiar with their
policy so we would have to look into that. But from OFA members that I have
heard from, they are concerned about this as well, and they ask if it's
being addressed or if these kinds of questions are being asked in other
organizations, not necessarily on a continued basis but that they have made
their own press releases on it as well.
Senator Eaton: This is very interesting. I have a couple of
We try to be very scientifically based in our reports. Do you have a
scientist who works for the NFU who has collaborated and who looks to see if
there are the same common denominators amongst neonics and bees, amongst
your families? Is there somebody looking at the data quite precisely?
Ms. Sproule: We have researchers. We have one staff researcher for
our entire national organization.
We also experienced a bit of a financial loss last year due to a decision
by a tribunal here in Ontario that we had our accreditation stripped from us
unlawfully, which had been proven in a court of law, but we experienced
great financial losses in the past year. As farmers, we are used to being
frugal and using our resources as efficiently as possible, but we don't
necessarily have the resources as an organization to provide that kind of
study. As has been the case, a lot of these studies that have been brought
forth thus far have been by the precise companies that are actually
marketing the pesticides and the treated seed. That's why we are asking as
well that this be verified by a third party and that the regulatory bodies
take that on, because it's something that shouldn't be the onus of farmers
and beekeepers. This is something to protect our health and our agriculture
Senator Eaton: It will affect us all.
Ms. Sproule: Yes.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Lynch-Staunton, just to pick up on where
Senator Ogilvie was going on bringing your bees through without problem this
winter, you heard Dr. Hayes talk about how little we know really about bee
nutrition. Could you give us some of the things you did precisely to bring
your bees through? We had a terrible winter from a cold and length point of
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Exactly.
When I went to my local bee supply place and I asked him, he gets
everybody in the area, and in the area it was about 40 per cent loss. If you
have two hives, 40 per cent —
Senator Eaton: That's huge, half your hives.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes, but the nice thing about it is you can
recoup easily if it is a strong hive.
I spent a bit of extra money. The mites have little idiosyncrasies that
they do. Mites will only grow in a drone cell. A drone cell is bigger than a
normal worker cell. If you put a frame in that will allow the bees just to
make drone cells, and then you take that out and don't allow those drone
cells to develop, then you can decrease the amount of mites that you have in
your hive. If you put a screen bottom board on our hives, the mites fall
through the screen and they don't get back up into the hives.
Senator Eaton: What is usually at the bottom of a hive?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: It's usually a straight board.
Senator Eaton: If you put a screen in, they fall through the
screen onto the board?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Onto another board, and then you can count
them to see how many mites you have in there, but they also don't get back
up into the hive. If you have a stupid mite, which they can't be that smart,
they fall off and they don't get back up. If I can take 10 per cent out by
doing this and 10 per cent out by doing that and 10 per cent out by doing
this and 10 per cent out by doing that —
Senator Eaton: You keep your hives clean.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes, and if I can get bees that naturally
clean themselves, because there are bees out there that naturally clean
themselves, then you just produce bees that have a natural —
Senator Eaton: Is that a type of bee that naturally cleans itself?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes. Bees clean themselves.
Senator Eaton: Every bee?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Every bee cleans itself and the whole hive.
You can have a really clean hive or a dirty one. Bees are like people.
Seriously, they're like people. You have good hives and you have bad hives.
I have one hive that's just angry all the time.
Senator Eaton: They're dirty?
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I don't know whether they're dirty. I have a
couple of hives that you go in there and they don't bother you at all, but I
have this one hive that, as soon as you open up, they want to head-butt you
and they're not happy. I will eliminate those bees. I will re-queen them and
then eliminate that genetics of being too aggressive.
Bees have different personalities because there are different kinds of
bees. Italian bees aren't the same as Russian bees and they're not the same
as New Zealand bees. You look at it from that aspect and you look at it from
the fact of let's manage it rather than I'll just paint a brush over it and
fix it that way, which doesn't really work most of the time.
What I did was I talked to my other bee guys, and I talked to a guy from
the OBA who has been doing his own hives for 10 years, and I listened to how
he did his, and it changed the way I approached mine.
Senator Eaton: There is now more knowledge being passed amongst
beekeepers about natural ways of looking after varroa mites.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Yes.
Senator Eaton: You heard Dr. Hayes. As far as he's concerned,
varroa mites are 80 per cent of the problem.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I thought he was even going to mention the
"N" word, but he didn't.
Senator Eaton: He did say pesticides.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: He spent his whole presentation on this new
product that Monsanto is going to bring out to combat varroa mites, which
have been around for 30 years. All of a sudden, they just decided to do that
Senator Eaton: I thought they were doing something with RNA, which
is not —
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: I understand, but why now? Why all of a sudden
today? We have had varroa mites — from his own mouth — for 30 years now. For
30 years, we've had a varroa mite issue. Now, they're just deciding to do
something about it? My question is this — and I know I'm not supposed to ask
a question —
Senator Eaton: Yes, you can.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: My question is this —
The Chair: Mr. Lynch-Staunton, you have made your point.
Is there another question, senator?
Senator Eaton: No, thank you very much. We could go on for hours.
Mr. Lynch-Staunton: Invite me for a drink sometime.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Lynch-Staunton, bees' anger is not always to
blame, it could be anything.
Your organization suggested that the measures issued by PMRA to protect
bees against pesticides during the 2014 planting season were not sufficient.
Are there other measures you would suggest to protect bees against
pesticides? Seeding probably has not started given how long the winter was.
Thank you. Do you have other suggestions for protecting bees against
pesticides? The planting season will probably get under way soon, I would
Ms. Sproule: The best management practices I would have to read
over again. I have the list of them in here, but they don't prevent all of
the pesticide residue. As I said, this is an insecticide that is inside the
plant. So if the pollen from this plant is found on other plants as well,
with wind and whatnot, it's something that is potentially affecting other
plants and other pollen of other plants, as well. I have no scientific basis
for this necessarily, but I guess that's the thing. This has not been
effectively studied, at this point, so we don't think that just taking
certain precautionary measures is necessarily adequate.
I can't recommend, at this point, what the further recommendations would
be, but we are trying to ask for a moratorium on this and for further
studies to be done because we do not have very much technical research done
on this thus far.
Senator Dagenais: For your information, we heard earlier from a
witness who worked at the Department of Agriculture in Florida. You
mentioned plant pollination. Did you know that in Florida — and he did not
mention this — they have a problem with the spread of bad plants, bad
pollen? And it is due to bird excrement. Are you aware of any such problem
in Canada? Perhaps it does not happen as much here because of our winter.
Ms. Sproule: I'm not aware of this, no.
Senator Robichaud: In your recommendations, you recommend that
Health Canada require completion of independent scientific studies. I don't
want to put words in your mouth, but you don't feel that the PMRA should be
the body to do those? They're not independent enough to do those studies?
Ms. Sproule: We didn't necessarily state that. We just say that
the studies have not been done and that the seed treatment and seeds are
already in our environment, so we're asking that we put a moratorium so that
we're able to have a conclusive comparison of when they are used and when
they are not. When they're currently in our environment, there is no way of
separating the fields where there is potential contamination and whatnot.
It's not about who, necessarily, is right now looking at it, but we're
saying that we can't be responsible for it. We can't be necessarily
receiving reports or research from the companies who are selling the treated
seed, and so we are asking that there be an independent third body to look
There hasn't been a recommendation as to what particular research.
Senator Robichaud: Those coated seeds and pesticides and
insecticides cannot be used unless they go through a rigorous process
through the PMRA. Am I right in saying that?
Ms. Sproule: I'm not sure of what the process is at the moment. I
don't think we have found it to be enough because it does seem to be
affecting the bees one way or another, and there have been studies done in
other countries that have provided that there is a correlation between the
use of these seed treatments and the bee deaths and bee health. So we're
thinking that not enough has been done so far.
As well, in relation to your question about whether or not these are
being used, we have also made recommendations that farmers could apply for
one-time use of these seed treatments but that they also would have to look
into demonstrating, through a soil test, that their crop is threatened by
pest pressure, demonstrating that there are no alternative control options
and then requiring a permit to be submitted to purchase neonicotinoid seed
treatments, with seed treatments purchased separately and cost of seed and
treatment separated. I think that does somewhat address it. There can be use
of these with proper controls, potentially, during this moratorium, but we
would have to have some kind of process to apply for using these. That seems
more our solution at this moment.
Senator Robichaud: You use those pesticides and insecticides, and
they're safe if you use best practices. Are you satisfied that, generally,
best practices are applied in the use of those chemicals or whatever?
Ms. Sproule: No.
The Chair: Mr. Lynch-Staunton and Ms. Sproule, if there is any
other information you would like to bring to the attention of the committee,
please do it through the clerk.
(The committee adjourned.)