John O'Brien Sep. 4, 2014, 5:48pm

WINDSOR, Ontario (Legal Newsline) – Claims made in a recently filed class action lawsuit alleging pesticides are harming Canada’s honeybee population are not true, says an Alberta commercial beekeeper who has seen no ill effects on his colonies.

Two Ontario beekeeping companies filed a class action lawsuit against pesticide-manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta on Wednesday, seeking $450 million from the companies over claims that a class of insecticides known as Neonicotinoids is to blame for the deaths of many of their bees.

According to a Sierra Club Canada press release, the national program director of Sierra Club Canada introduced the beekeepers to the class action firm Siskinds LLP, which then filed the lawsuit on their behalf.

And so, bees became the spokes-animals of the Sierra Club Canada’s cause, said Lee Townsend, a commercial beekeeper at TPLR Honey Farms in Stony Plain, Alberta.

“They’ve been working a while trying to ban these products,” Townsend said. “First they tried to use butterflies and frogs.”

In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority claimed honey bees were being threatened by exposure to the pesticides, also known as “neonics,” via dust that is sent into the air during the planting of a crop, the complaint says.

“When they saw the dust issues… they latched right onto that topic and used the bee industry as their cause to have these products banned,” Townsend said.

“I have a fine understanding of what they’re doing. But it’s not accurate.”

In fact, Townsend said the amount of colonies on his farms has more than doubled in the last eight years – from 1,500 in 2006 to 3,100 this year.

However, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association claims the pesticides are to blame for incidents in Quebec, citing three Pest Management Regulatory Agency reports that found it was “highly probable” the neonics were to blame for deaths.

In June, the Sierra Club Canada urged Health Canada to ban neonics when it announced the results of a Worldwide Integrated Assessment study undertaken by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

“Canada needs a strong regulatory regime that bases its decisions on science, not on needs of the pesticide industry,” said John Bennett, national program director of Sierra Club Canada.

The debate has also taken place in Europe, where 15 of 27 European Union member states voted to restrict the use of three neocons for two years, beginning on Dec. 1.

“When bees forage on pollen or nectar from treated crops, consume guttation droplets or are otherwise exposed to small levels of the Neonicotinoids, paralysis and death can result along with a bioaccumulation of the Neonicotinoids in the bee hive,” the complaint says.

Richard Tren, the director of Africa Fighting Malaria, disagreed so strongly with the anti-neonic claims that he authored an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in July. It is called, “The Honeybees are Just Fine.”

The piece notes that the bee population in the United States has remained stable since the introduction of neonics, while numbers have slightly risen in Europe and have grown to the highest they’ve been in Canada since the late 1980s.

He also said worldwide, global bee populations are up dramatically since the 1960s.

“One thing that we know from other (environmental) campaigns is that you need to have a bit of cause and effect,” Tren said in an interview Thursday.

“I just don’t see that, and so the other threats to bees such as parasites and viruses seem to be more important causes of harm. It doesn’t seem to be that there is a problem to bees in Canada. There are all sorts of natural variations such as weather, not insecticides.”

But large pesticide-makers make enticing targets, he argued, and the word “insecticide” carries very negative connotations, he feels.

“This has more to do with politics than any threat to bees,” he said. “It’s very worrying.

“I live in Washington, D.C., now, but in developing countries, look at a world without insecticides. It’s a pretty nasty place with nasty parasites and low yield – less food that’s more expensive.”

The Sierra Club Canada’s news releases page has a graphic showing a bee wearing a protective suit. The group has also started a #SaveTheBees campaign.

Townsend said a better solution would be education. Of those beekeepers who are complaining, he says, “I wouldn’t call them exactly great beekeepers.”

“Many are small in size or hobbyists,” he continued. “It’s easier to blame a chemical than to explain the unknown, in their mind.”

A four-year program that began in 2006, he said, helped after substantial winter losses.

“This industry, while not perfect and the challenges before it, is thriving,” he said. “It’s bigger than it’s ever been. So where’s the crisis?”

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