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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ontario looks at restricting pesticide that may play role in death of honey bees

TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals are looking at restricting the use of a pesticide that may pose a risk to honey bees, rather than banning it temporarily as put forward by a government working group on bee deaths.

The governing Liberals say they'll start consultations on a potential system where permits would be required to use plant seeds treated with neonicotinoids.

"We'll be looking at a very balanced approach based on sound science," Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal said Monday.

"The licensing regimen is just one of the options that may be put on the table."

A temporary ban on the use of neonicotinoids on field crops of corn and soybeans until the federal government completed its re-evalution of the pesticide was one of the options put forward by the government working group.

A Health Canada report has suggested that seeds treated with the insecticide contributed to the majority of the bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec in 2012, likely due to exposure of the pesticide-laced dust during planting.

The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists says that while the overall number of bee colonies in Canada has increased over the years, the annual "winter loss" reported by beekeepers has generally averaged well above the acceptable level of 15 per cent. In 2012-13, the loss was 28.6 per cent.

Many fear that the decline will have a severe impact on the pollination of many plants and the global food supply.

The Grain Farmers of Ontario said they were "extremely disappointed" with the idea of a licensing system, calling it "a move against Canada's science based regulatory system."

The organization, which represents corn, soybean and wheat farmers, said the industry taken measures over the past two years to mitigate the risk to bees. It said ongoing research projects and practices will be important in determining what should be done.

"The effort and leadership grain farmers have demonstrated on this issue has been second to none, and to have this discounted with such a rash move and announcement through media, is frankly insulting," chairman Henry Van Ankum said in a statement.

During the June 12 election campaign, Premier Kathleen Wynne promised an insurance program to help Ontario beekeepers "recover acute bee losses" from this spring.

Beekeepers must have at least 10 registered hives to be eligible for the program, among other requirements. Those who have lost more than 40 per cent of their active hives may be eligible for a payment.

Leal said the weather may also have played a role in bee deaths this year.

"This is a harsh winter that was particularly rough and it had an impact on our bees," he said.

No date has been set for a decision on what steps the government will take to mitigate bee deaths, but Leal says he'd like to have a system in place by the 2015 planting season.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had incorrect information on the trend in the bee population in Canada over the past three years.

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