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Report On Business Ontario farmers lose bid to overturn ban on pesticide linked to bee decline

Some environmentalists are concerned about the use of neonicotinoids and their potential effects on Canada’s bee population.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

A group representing Ontario's 28,000 grain farmers has lost its bid to overturn the province's ban on a controversial type of pesticide linked to the decline in bees and other pollinators.

A three-judge panel at Ontario Court of Appeal on Wednesday sided with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and backed a decision made by a lower court judge that rejected an attempt by the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) to delay or change the first agricultural ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on soybeans and corn for grain.

"The regulation is not ambiguous and GFO has not identified a genuine dispute about the farmers' rights and obligations," Justice Bradley Miller wrote. "To grant the remedy that GFO seeks would be tantamount to amending a regulation through interpretation, a remedy well outside the court's discretionary power to order declaratory relief."

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Mark Brock, chairman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario and a farmer in the southwestern part of the province, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling he said would mean "hardship" for growers. "It's the undue stress on our members," he said on a media call on Wednesday afternoon. "Am I complying? Am I not complying?"

He said tests on his own farm have show a difference in yield, with and without neonics.

He declined to say how much the group has spent on its fight against the law, but said he was "comfortable" with the amount. The group has hired an auditor to determine the impact of the regulations on the production of soybean and corn, much of which is grown for animal feed and biofuel.

The Ontario law requires farmers to plant half their corn and soybean acreage this season without neonics. In 2017, use of the seed treatment is banned unless growers can show their fields are infested with crop-eating worms and insects.

The farmers said the insecticides are required to protect yields, and the government's regulation was unworkable. They also argued in court the law infringed their property rights.

However, Justice Miller ruled the restrictions were constitutionally valid. "The limitation of a right does not, standing alone, create a justiciable issue," he wrote in a ruling released on Wednesday.

Beekeepers and scientists say neonics are responsible for declining numbers of pollinators, and worsen the effects of winter and pathogens present in honeybee hives.

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