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Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees!

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The European Union (EU) banned three pesticides (Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam) last week to protect rapidly declining bee populations.

Bee pollination is essential to the functioning of our ecosystem and the production of all fruits and vegetables. When bee populations start to mysteriously and rapidly die-off, it's a big deal.

The pesticides in question -- from a chemical family known as neonicotinoids -- are neurotoxins. Bayer (yes, the aspirin company) is the largest global manufacturer of these chemicals which have been on the market for a decade. Originally they were billed as "safer" than other pesticides.

Over the last decade global bee populations have been declining at disturbing rate. Investigations are underway in Europe and North America to conclusively determine why the bees are dying, though neonicotinoid pesticides have long been a suspect. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes declining bee populations is the result of several causes including: climate change; habitat loss; mites; and pesticides.

Then last spring beekeepers in Canada, U.S. and Europe reported a massive loss of bees. Analysis of the dead bees confirmed they were killed by neonicotinoid pesticides. It's this latest data that lead to the new EU ban that is now in effect.

Two paths: Thoughtful vs. wishful thinking

Science prompted the EU to respond with a two-year ban and further studies -- a wise "precautionary principal" approach. On the other hand, Canada and the U.S. responded by "talking" to farmers, farm machinery makers and chemical companies about "better" pesticide use practices.

Canada and the U.S. concluded the latest die-off was caused by of a "hot dry spring" and resulting "dusty conditions" that led to neonicotinoid pesticides becoming airborne and affecting the bees. Essentially their argument is: Pesticides are not the problem -- it's that darn dust that the pesticides attach themselves to that killed the bees!

The Ontario Bee Keepers Association agrees the extremely hot and dry 2012 summer was indeed a major factor leading to the exceptionally high death rate observed. But the beekeepers point out the Canadian government's analysis simply does NOT explain the decade-long collapse of bee populations, and seriously question how much farmers can really change when and the how they plant corn -- and all commercial corn planted in Ontario is treated with neonicotinoids. The Canada/U.S. approach is cautious about changing the status quo. Some might say it is more protective of the chemical companies than the bees.

The facts are pretty clear: bee populations are in freefall. Perhaps there are multiple causes, but the only factor we can control and firmly take action on is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. That's why we're strongly supporting beekeepers in their call for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides (like in the EU).

You may remember last week we asked the federal minister responsible for pesticide regulation to join the EU and ban these bee-killing chemicals. Our intervention helped put the issue on the radar in Canada and, as a result, we spent nearly a week doing media interviews. The beekeepers have urged us to "keep up the pressure". The Club agreed to help and is launching a national bee petition to raise public awareness and pressure the feds to do the right thing and ban these bee-killing pesticides.

Please take a few seconds and sign our bee petition today.

Thanks for your ongoing support and inspiration.

Yours sincerely,

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog

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