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Massive Bee Deaths Blamed on Pesticides

(CN) - Pesticides made by Bayer and Syngenta are causing the mass die-offs of Canadian honeybees, honey producers claim in a $400 million class action.

Lead plaintiffs Sun Parlor Honey and Munro Honey sued Bayer Cropscience, Syngenta Canada, and the companies' affiliates on Sept. 2 in Ontario Superior Court.

The class claims Bayer and Syngenta's insecticides, known as neonnicotinoids, have cost them millions in lost honey production and pollination contracts.

"The chronic effects of the use of the neonicotinoids are felt by Canada's beekeepers annually, and include: bee deaths; impaired reproduction; immune suppression; behavioral abnormalities resulting in hive loss; reduced honey production; impacts on the quality of honey; contamination of hive equipment; loss of queen bees; breeding stock; and difficulties fulfilling honey product or pollination contracts," the complaint states.

"Foraging bees are exposed to the active ingredients in neonicotinoids in addition to neonicotinoid degradates. The degradation components of the neonicotinoids are equally or more toxic to bees. ... The stored pollen or nectar brought to the bee hive containing a single neonicotinoid active ingredient may later contain a mixture of both the active ingredient and the degradation products that form over time. This mixture poses a significant risk of colony impairment for hives using stored food sources during the fall and winter months."

Sun Parlor claims that it lost more than $2 million from 2006 to 2013 in lost hives and decreased honey production.

Munro Honey claims it lost more than $3 million in the same period. Both are among the province of Ontario's largest honey producers and have been in business for nearly a century.

The beekeepers claim that Bayer and Syngenta's Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, and Thiamethoxam chemicals linger in plants for months or years and interfere with insects' nicotinic receptors, causing "tremors, paralysis and death, at extremely low doses."

"Neonicotinoids are among the most widely used insecticides in Canada and pose serious risks to the bee population primarily because of their persistence in crops and soil, and their potency at low concentrations," the complaint states. "These properties, coupled with the neonicotinoids' widespread use in many cropping systems and presence in pollen and nectar, result in a chronic, continuing and lethal exposure to the bee population."

The claim details several countries' responses to mass deaths in bee populations, and says that Bayer and Syngenta were negligent in "encouraging the indiscriminate use of neonicotinoids far beyond what was reasonable or necessary, purely for their own economic gain."

The class seeks $400 million in general and special damages, and $50 million in punitive damages. It is represented by A. Dimitri Lascaris, Michael Robb, Paula L. Lombardi, and Emilie McLachlan Maxwell with Siskinds LLP, of London, Ontario.

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