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Plight of the bumblebee

Banning neonicotinoids alone will not solve the bee crisis

Plight of the bumblebee

On June 1, over 200 scientists signed an open letter calling for the restriction of neonicotinoid pesticides. The letter comes just over a month after the European Union (EU) banned the outdoor use of several neonicotinoids. Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, the lead signatory, directs the letter to policymakers around the world in hopes that it will motivate them to follow suit.  

Years of evidence link neonicotinoids to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear. Worker bees are exposed to this neurotoxin when they pollinate crops.

When reports of large-scale CCD events in bees began to crop up in the mid-2000s, the cause was unknown. Several studies that linked neonicotinoids to CCD were published in the years that followed, however, there was a lack of consensus in the scientific community over the significance of the threat. This was due to doubt and speculation as to whether laboratory studies could be extended to the real world.

In 2015, scientists from Sweden published two landmark papers that presented irrefutable evidence. By exposing bees to neonicotinoids in a controlled outdoor farm, the scientists demonstrated that neonicotinoids posed a threat to bees in a real-world scenario, and not just a laboratory one.  

Neonicotinoids are the largest used class of pesticide in the world and are used to combat pests like aphids and grubs. As such, alternative pest control methods are needed following a ban. Ontario, which is the only region outside the EU to regulate the pesticide, is attempting to take a non-chemical approach to neonicotinoid alternatives. If Ontario farmers wish to purchase neonicotinoid-treated seeds, they will need to first, demonstrate a true pest problem, and second, take a course in integrated pest management (IPM).

IPM advocates the use of chemical-free alternatives over pesticides and has been proven effective for several crops and forest systems. However, Ontario farmers are only required to implement IPM if they wish to use a regulated pesticide. All unregulated pesticides are still fair game.  

As such, we must be wary of ‘regrettable substitutions.’ This term describes instances where the substitute for a toxic substance is just as, or even more, toxic than the substance being replaced. Unfortunately, regrettable substitutions are not uncommon and run the chemistry gamut from flame retardants in children’s pajamas to the protective fluorinated coating in your raincoat. Most industrial chemicals have very little toxicity information available, and companies tend to act hastily when replacing banned materials. For example, although BPS was introduced as an alternative to BPA, a toxic additive in plastic products, studies later revealed that BPS was no less toxic than BPA itself.

History shows that banning just a single chemical does not necessarily solve the problem. If Ontario — and the rest of the world — wants to curb CCD in bees, they need to invest in green chemistry research. Green chemistry, which is a set of principles that aim to reduce or eliminate hazardous substances when designing, manufacturing, or applying chemical products, is an appropriate next-step in the neonicotinoid ban. Whether it involves the development of a new, safer pesticide, or research into the toxicity of existing compounds, green chemistry could prevent a regrettable substitution.

While IPM is an effective approach that should continue to be implemented, it does not stop the pesticide industry from developing new chemicals. If we do not fight chemistry with chemistry, we run the risk of playing chemical whack-a-mole. It would be foolish to ignore the lessons learned from similar scenarios: to let the story of neonicotinoids become one of regrettable substitution is inexcusable.

CFS national meeting opens with admission of new members, expulsion of British Columbia locals

The Canadian Federation of Students met in Gatineau June 9–12

CFS national meeting opens with admission of new members, expulsion of British Columbia locals

Canada’s largest student organization, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), held their 71st semi-annual National General Meeting (NGM) in Gatineau, Québec this weekend. The meeting on June 9 began with the opening plenary, which included the admission of new universities and the expected expulsion of 12 institutions from British Columbia.

The CFS represents more than 650,000 students in approximately 80 student unions across the country, including five from U of T — the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the U of T Mississauga Students’ Union, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the U of T Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students.

Before the plenary began, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and keynote speaker Sarah Jama shared her experience as a community organizer. Jama did not hesitate to speak about the contentious topic of decertification, which is the process member institutions must take to leave the federation.

The CFS has had multiple disagreements in the past with member locals over the process of decertification, including a recent lawsuit with the GSU over the validity of the union’s referendum to decertify. The UTSU executive has also endorsed a referendum on the question of decertification. Multiple motions put forward for the NGM address simplifying the process of decertification, which the judge in the GSU lawsuit called “antiquated and impractical.”

Jama challenged the growing decertification movement by saying that “maybe people who continue to be uncomfortable should just leave… Unless there’s a change in the CFS, it’s going to be a waste of everybody’s time.”

Jama argued that the CFS should be used as a platform to combat the growing trend of racism and white supremacy. “We have an opportunity here today to change the direction of the Canadian Federation of Students.”

Following roll call, the opening plenary passed a motion to admit l’Association des étudiantes et étudiants de l’université de Hearst as a new member. According to the agenda, 95 per cent of the 100-member institution voted to join the CFS. Another successful motion granted the Dalhousie Students’ Union observer status. This move is the penultimate step to becoming a full member of the organization.

Discussion then moved to the special motion to expel members of the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS), which include all but two members from the province, from the CFS.

The special motion was announced to members in an email from Chairperson Coty Zachariah, Deputy Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell, and Treasurer Peyton Veitch on April 17. The move was unanimously decided by the National Executive and representatives from BC, though Zachariah stressed that “this is not a direction we hoped for.”

The debate lasted less than 10 minutes, with delegates from the University of King’s College Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Union of the Memorial University of Newfoundland speaking in favour. The motion was passed and enforced effective immediately, with BCFS locals asked to leave the room.

The motion’s success means that the CFS has lost approximately $400,000 in membership dues, or 10 per cent of its annual budget. Only two unions in the province are left in the federation — the Kwantlen Students Association and the College of the Rockies Students’ Association.

The NGM also marks the end of the current term of the National Executive. Although Zachariah will return as Chairperson, Kiddell was defeated in her bid for re-election by National Women’s Representative Jade Peek, and Veitch will be succeeded by CFS-Ontario Treasurer Trina James.