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Astroturf alert: the Pollinator Partnership

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In Agriculture
Mar 1st, 2016
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Our bees – both the domesticated honey bee and the 400 species of wild ones that are native to Eastern Canada – are in serious trouble and the Ontario Beekeepers Association’s response to Ontario’s Pollinator Action Plan is a wake-up call.

It emphasizes that the need for action is urgent and immediate.

All of the recommendations that the association puts forward to improve the draft plan make sense to me and I hope the government pays attention and incorporates them into the final document, and honestly uses that to guide its actions. I have listed a few of the important recommendations below and linked to the full OBA submission so you can read for yourself the group’s findings and advice on what’s happening out there in the field.

But there was one recommendation that I found particularly interesting and pulled for further research and reflection. It says:

10. “Do not partner with the Pollinator Partnership. There are many worthy Canadian- NGOs that would be more appropriate partners. (Frankly, we find the mention of them in OMAFRA’s draft Plan puzzling and question the rationale for this.) The Pollinator Partnership is a U.S.-based organization that accepts funding from the pesticide industry and holds views at odds with Ontario’s neonicotinoid restriction policy and the conclusions of scientists and the PMRA in regard to the harmful effect of neonicotinoids on bee health. They are admittedly in conflict with the primacy of reducing pesticide use before habitats can be created.”

And the OBA adds a telling quote: “It may take years to determine the veracity of lethal and sub-lethal impacts of neonicotinoids.” From: A Message from the (Pollinator Partnership) Executive Director on CCD and Neonicotinoids xxiv Bees and Beekeeping.

The Pollinator Partnership is one of two organizations named in the government’s draft plan in the section Partnerships in Practice. (The other is the Ontario Waste Management Association, which is to create wildlife habitat at waste management facilities). It appears this American pesticide industry-funded organization is to be retained on the taxpayers’ dime to “facilitate the development and delivery of education, awareness and guidance materials for establishing and maintaining pollinator habitat on a variety of landscapes across Ontario.

“The guidelines will identify how to find opportunities to create pollinator habitat on public infrastructure holdings, commercial properties, parks and natural areas, and will be an important resource for large-scale landowners and managers.”

The Pollinator Partnership was founded in 1997 and is based in San Francisco. Click on the ‘donate’ button on the Pollinator Partnership Canada website and your gift is headed to California. The website proclaims the Pollinator Partnership to be behind a host of initiatives – the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, National Pollinator Week, a school garden kit, planting guides, etc.

But the Organic Consumer Association, based in Finland, Minnesota, considers the Pollinator Partnership to be “a corporate creation whose primary purpose it is to shift the blame for Colony Collapse Disorder away from the real cause: Bayer’s (and other companies’) neonicotinoid pesticides.”

Here’s a link to two of the OCA’s posts about the Pollinator Partnership:

Bee Killers Sponsor National Pollinator Week

Tell Burt’s Bees: Stop Consorting with the Bee Killers!

It took some digging through the Pollinator Partnership website to find its response to “unfounded attacks.” Here’s the link  (scroll down). Funding apparently comes from over 3,000 sources. No names given.

“It may take years to determine the veracity of lethal and sub-lethal impacts of neonicotinoids,” the response states. In the meantime, the plan is to engage in “open dialogue” and “real projects” such as pollinator plantings.

The problem, as the OBA points out in its submission, is that only 20 per cent of systemic pesticides applied to seeds travel to the target plant. “The remaining 80% of a systemic pesticide seed application dissolves into the soil and can be present in puddles in the field visited by bees or are moved via groundwater to other areas, often kilometres away from the planting area.”

Furthermore, other researchers have noted, the fact that neonicotinoids are used prophylactically (preventively) as seed dressing has led to the abandonment of principles of Integrated Pest Management, an approach which aims to minimize pesticide application and stresses monitoring of pest populations to ensure treatment is only applied when necessary.

The OBA urges that habitat restoration be delayed in any areas where any area where neonicotinoid-treated corn, soy or winter wheat are being or have been grown until the target area is deemed safe. What the Pollinator Partnership is doing is trying to get us to waste our time on projects that are doomed to fail if we don’t tackle the pesticide issue.

Astroturf is the name for groups that appear to be grassroots or environmental and are in fact fronts for the industries and economic interests they purport to monitor. South of the border, the Koch brothers have poured millions of dollars into such advocacy groups, designed to minimize real environmental and social challenges and turn politicians away from meaningful solutions.

It seems that the Ontario government has either willingly or unwittingly stepped into this particular baited trap. We need to tell our government to partner with the many credible organizations based right here in Ontario and in Canada – and stay away from the Astroturf guys!

This is the Ontario government’s Draft Pollinator Action Plan.

This is the OBA response. OBA-Response-Ontario-Pollinator-Action-Plan-FINAL

This is a news release from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which published the results of its two-year study of the threats faced by pollinators on February 26, 2016.

This is a link to the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry, where you can submit your comment on the draft plan (EBR# 012-6393). The deadline is Monday March 9, 2016. Do it for yourself, if not for the bees! We owe one quarter of our diet to these imperilled little creatures.

Here are a few of the recommendations from the OBA that I found of particular interest.

2. Follow through on the promise to reduce the use of neonicotinoids on corn and soy acreage by 85% by 2017. It is not acceptable for these goals to be ‘aspirational’, they must be real.

3. Broaden class 12 pesticides to include all new systemics on field crops, as we know that additional systemics are entering the distribution pipeline

4. Review the current use of systemic pesticides on vegetable crops, flowers and plants sold in Ontario for their direct impact on pollinators and the spread of neurotoxicity via residues in plant soils.

5. Close the loopholes allowing the continued application of systemic pesticides as foliar sprays on fields where farmers did not get permission to use seed treatments.

6. Allow Ontario’s Ethanol Growth fund to lapse, and end market subsidies that artificially encourage expansion of corn growing areas. Reinvest those funds in pollinator health.

7. Incentivize farmers to restore or rotate marginal farmland back to clover/alfalfa hay and other bee friendly crops.

8. Establish an ongoing monitoring and reporting system to trace pesticide levels in soil and water throughout Ontario on farm and non-farmland. Establish standards that set both lethal and sublethal limits for pesticide residues prior to habitat restoration.

9. Urge lawn seed suppliers and retailers to add white clover to their lawn grass mix.

12. Do not require mandatory training for beekeepers. This is an inefficient way to improve beekeeping practices. Beekeeping practices in Ontario are among the best in any province, given OMAFRA’s world class inspection program, OMAFRA support of an expanded OBA tech transfer programs (TTP) and OMAFRA’s ongoing close collaboration with beekeepers on managed bee health issues. Mandatory training is tantamount to licensing and will be difficult to enforce, it would be a barrier for new beekeepers and could drive some beekeepers to avoid registering their hives. The OBA supports IPM for beekeepers but does not consider their use a farm safety issues requiring mandatory training.

13. Rescind the 30-meter property line restrictions to provide more flexibility on the placement of hives in rural areas and give municipalities the ability to expand managed colony placement in urban areas.

23. Create an overarching brand and brand identity that stands for pollinator appreciation and pollinator health action. This brand will serve as the connective tissue that synergizes all partner and OMAFRA activities promoting pollinator health.

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