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Back to November 2018 Newsletter

Update on Neonic Pesticides

Kim Fellows

It's time for an update about neonicotinoid pesticides. Known as neonics for short, these insect-killing chemicals are the most widely used pesticides globally. They are used for turf on golf courses, on food and energy crops, and even in pet flea control applications. In the past, we have talked about the effects that neonics have had on pollinators and recently we noted that a third of Canadian bees died over the past winter.

That number almost reached half the bee colonies in Ontario, and Jim Coneybeare, President of the Ontario Beekeeping Association, reminded us that hives in areas where neonic use is high endured colony losses beyond 65 percent. Ontario grows over two million acres each of both soybeans and corn for grain, according to the 2016 agricultural census. Both crops are typically planted using neonic-treated seed, as is canola.

This summer neonics made headlines when Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) recognized that the pesticides, which are water soluble, are accumulating in groundwater at levels that are dangerous for aquatic invertebrates like midges and mayflies, which are important food sources for fish and birds. So while the deleterious effects of neonics on bees wasn’t enough to influence Health Canada to act on a ban, the agency has decided to phase out two of three particular neonics on the bees’ popular cohort, the birds, and they will make a final decision at the end of this year about a third neonic of concern (imidacloprid, made by Bayer). Thiamethoxam (made by Syngenta) will be banned for outdoor farming and ornamental plants, and clothianidin (made by Bayer) will be banned for outdoor farming and turf. It is purported that products that have an existing alternative will be phased out by 2021, and those that do not have an alternative will be gone by 2023. However, it is not clear what those alternatives are.

Thankfully, the crew at Ecojustice has their finger on the pulse, and noted that although the PMRA recognizes the dangerous risks that thiamethoxam offer the environment, the PMRA extended thiamethoxam’s registrations to December 2020 and proposed granting additional three-year registrations — yet the agency failed “to ensure it had the scientific information necessary to determine the pesticide’s risks to pollinators. The PMRA has also skirted its legal requirement to consult the public on thiamethoxam’s environmental risks.” And so Ecojustice’s lawsuit against the PMRA stands as a case in progress, since 2016.

What about that vote from the EU that was expected last December 2017? It was delayed until April 2018, when “the European Parliament voted for a complete and permanent ban on all outdoor uses of the three most commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides.” Professor Dave Goulson, University of Sussex, noted that other governments around the world, with the “partial exception” of Ontario, Canada, have failed to take action.


Kim Fellows is Seeds of Diversity's Pollination Canada coordinator

Photo: Dying bumble bee on sidewalk, after the University Park of Penn State campus was sprayed with pesticide to protect its elm trees. (Kim Fellows)


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