Comparing neonicotinoids to DDT called irresponsible

Ontario’s heated battle over neon-icotinoids has nearly reached the boiling point after Ontario’s commissioner of the environment said neonics are worse than DDT.


“All the science is not done, but everything that I have before me … suggests to me as an ecologist that this is the biggest threat to the structure and ecological integrity of the ecosystem that I have encountered in my life,” said Gord Miller, who has worked in environmental protection for 37 years. 


“(It’s) bigger than DDT.”


Miller’s comments were based on the contents of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s annual report, released in early October.


Ontario environment minister Glen Murray echoed Miller’s DDT comparison when he told the media that neonics are more toxic than DDT.


Neonicotinoids, which are applied as a seed treatment to almost all of the corn and canola in North America and most soybeans, have been linked to bee colony losses across the United States and Canada. In September, Ontario beekeepers filed a $450 million class action suit against neonicotinoid manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer, claiming production losses dating back to 2006.


Miller’s statements generated provocative headlines and also provoked stern rebuttals from Grain Farmers of Ontario and Crop Life Canada.


Both organizations said Miller’s comments were irresponsible.


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“It’s disappointing that Miller’s comments call into question our world-renowned regulatory system,” said Barry Senft, GFO chief executive officer. “Neonicotinoids went through years of rigorous testing before being approved by the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency). If there were any similarities to DDT, neonicotinoid-based products would not have been permitted into the marketplace.”


Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry for Crop Life Canada, an organization made up of crop protection companies, said the environment commissioner’s comments don’t fit with the contents of the report.


“He got some of it right when he said bee health is complex and it’s affected by the number of different factors,” Petelle said. 


“He seems to single out one chemistry in his commentary as being the only culprit. It just doesn’t match up with the reality.”


Miller’s DDT comments were based on studies showing neonics can accumulate in soil and water. 


University of Saskatchewan re-search has determined that neonics are present at detectable levels in sloughs and wetlands in Western Canada. The insecticides are possibly killing bugs that come in contact with the water. A lack of insects reduces the food supply for birds and animals that rely on the insects.


Keith Solomon, a University of Guelph toxicologist, said earlier this year that comparing neonics to DDT is incorrect.


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“In no way is it (comparable). DDT was very persistent. It was metabolized into a metabolite called DDE that was even more persistent.


“And it also bio-magnified through the food chain. It (DDT) dissolved very easily in fat and moved up through the food chain. All of that led to issues, at least in birds.”


Solomon said neonic insecticides don’t bio-accumulate in species and don’t move up the food chain.


Miller said the environmental threat from neonics is distinct from DDT, which built up in birds and compromised the health of raptors.


“This (neonics) is much more broad spectrum. It’s an aqueous soluble, which means it moves in the water system. It moves through the soil and into the streams.”


Petelle said that conclusion is based on a few studies and ignores a wider body of research.


“He didn’t convey the whole story. He cherry picked, in his report, a couple of studies that supported his view of the world.”


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