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National coordination needed to address bee health, says senator

By Amanda Brodhagen,

The Ontario government’s recent move to consider restricting neonictinoid (neonic) pesticides to deal with honeybee health concerns has garnered a significant amount of national attention, including from the Senate of Canada.

Bee health is not only an Ontario problem, but a national one, says Senator Terry Mercer.  

“It goes well beyond the scope of any one single province or single region,” Mercer said in an interview with

Mercer is calling for more coordination across the country to tackle the bee health issue, adding that the Senate standing committee for agriculture and forestry are in the middle of proceedings to examine and report on the status of bee health in Canada.

“This is a very important study,” he said.

But Mercer expressed concern that one province might be trying to wrestle with the bee health problem on their own, an issue that affects the entire country.  

“If Ontario is actually moving towards banning [restricting] neonics, than it’s going to create an interesting dilemma,” he said. “I am not suggesting that Ontario slow down or that others speedup, but I do think it’s a good idea that we all sit down and talk,” adding that the matter should probably be discussed by federal politicians.

Mercer, who was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 2003, represents the province of Nova Scotia. He currently serves as the Deputy Chair of the agricultural forestry committee in the Senate.

“In my province of Nova Scotia, bees are the main pollinators of one of our largest crops, blueberries,” he said, adding that he understands how important bees are to food security.

The Senate began looking at the importance of bees and bee health last year, and expect to wrap up proceedings later this fall. According to Mercer, the committee has heard from well over a 100 industry stakeholders and scientists from around the world on the topic.

Interestingly, Senators from the agriculture committee will soon be traveling south of the boarder to meet with U.S government officials.

“We are going to pay a visit to our colleagues in Washington D.C. in September,” he said, explaining that the delegation plans to meet with representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, as well as several academics.

He goes on to say that the committee has collected a wealth of data and information, and now it’s only a matter of reflecting on the evidence, with the aim of coming up with some sensible recommendations. Once the Senate committee has completed their report, it will then be presented to the entire Senate, and a copy of the findings will be provided to the federal government.

While Mercer was unsure about the specifics on the types of recommendations that the Senate committee plans to put forward, he did say that coordination with the provinces will likely be one of the main planks in the report.

“Agriculture is a shared responsibility across the country,” he said. “We need to find a better way to communicate with one another.”

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