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EDITORIAL: Little players have big role in farming

There should be little doubt lingering about how crucial bees are to the natural world – and to human food production.

Yet we continue to hear reports about the threats to their survival, partly due to the use of certain kinds of pesticides in agriculture and horticulture.

The wake-up call was there years ago. Do human populations have to go to the brink of disaster before they realize they have to do something about their negative impact on the natural world?

The latest report, which emerged this week, discusses the effect on bumblebees of thiamethoxam, a major neonicotinoid found in agricultural crops around the world. Ontario researcher Nigel Raine, an environmental science professor at the University of Guelph, finds the substance reduced the chances of bumblebee queens starting new colonies by more than a quarter.

This news comes as scientists worldwide note the decline in bee populations, with a common link being pesticide use. Even those not overly concerned about healthy, diverse insect populations should take notice: scientific reports show about a third of the crops eaten by humans depend on insect pollination, with bees responsible for about 80 per cent of that figure.

Concern over the health of bees – and other pollinators – has seen campaigns in recent years urging homeowners to refrain from being so intent on eradicating wild flowers from their properties. We’ve seen more encouragement to grow patches of wild flowers to help these insects.

We also need more of a focus on the industrial farming level. Recent research by York University showed neonicotinoids had spilled over from crops such as soy and corn in Ontario and Quebec into plants and wildflowers such as maple trees, dandelions and clover.

Granted, large-scale modern farming relies on these inputs – fertilizers and pesticides – but we need a more critical look at what works well and what carries risks. Also, how about more research and information on farming practices that manage to cut down on chemical use?

Europe has imposed a moratorium on neonicotinoid use. In North America, the province of Ontario has made some headway addressing the concern by putting restrictions on their use.

That’s a start, perhaps, but other areas need to have a close look at this.

Governments often are slow to act unless the boom is falling, partly because they’re afraid of upsetting anyone. In that case, the public needs to be more aware of the consequences both the natural world and humans are facing and put pressure on them.

The farming industry – those players who depend on these products – also need to think about the bigger picture. If practices that seem convenient today mean sacrificing future production, then it’s time to work hard on finding more sustainable alternatives.

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