Health Canada’s insecticide ban angers fruit, vegetable growers

The imidacloprid ban may force the use of more harmful, less effective pesticides: growers’ association

Grain Farmers of Ontario has faith in Health Canada and its process to evaluate pesticides, but another Ontario farm group has a starkly different opinion.

A representative of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association said Health Canada’s proposal to ban imidacloprid, a Bayer insecticide, is a blunder.

“In my humble opinion, if it’s like anything they (Health Canada) have produced in the last couple of years, there will be flaws,” said Craig Hunter, research and crop protection specialist with the association.

“It (imidacloprid) has a really good record, and this whole thing was done in total secrecy,” he said.

“I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to say that the use that’s on the label is either causing a problem or is unsustainable.”

Health Canada issued its plan last week to ban imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide widely used by fruit and vegetable growers across the country.

Health Canada said the ban is necessary because water bodies near agricultural land have unacceptably high concentrations of the insecticide. The levels of imidacloprid are a risk to aquatic insects, such as midges and mayflies, and animals that rely on those insects for food.

Hunter said imidacloprid, a Bayer product, was once the most commonly used insecticide in the world. Fruit and vegetable growers in Canada apply the product on crops such as field tomatoes, sweet corn and peas.

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“It’s used on a great many fruit and vegetable crops and ornamentals.”

The Bayer Canada website says imidacloprid has been an “important product for potato growers for over 10 years.”

Many potato producers apply it in the soil or as a seed treatment to control beetles and other pests.

Hunter said the case for a ban should be definitive, considering how Canadian growers of special crops are dependent on the insecticide.

“I haven’t seen enough proof that the levels they’re finding, in the environment, are in fact real, that (the results) are, in fact, representative of all the use areas. And most importantly, even though they claim they have some numbers, they made their determination on the basis of a model,” he said.

“They put numbers into a model and then said it was unsustainable.”

Health Canada said in a summary of its decision that it relied on environmental modelling and data from water bodies.

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“Robust environmental monitoring from several areas of intense agricultural activity in Ontario and Quebec further support these findings as imidacloprid is detected frequently in surface water at levels well above concentrations that may result in toxic effects to insects. These regions include both outdoor mixed agricultural uses (for example, potatoes and vegetables) as well as greenhouse uses.”

Hunter, who has asked Health Canada for its complete report on imidacloprid, said it’s difficult to replace such a chemical because specialty crops are a relatively small slice of agriculture.

“It’s a huge deal for growers of all the minor crops in all of Canada because a registrant who may already have a product (insecticide) registered for corn, canola, soybeans … would have to spend a lot of their own money to develop the data to register (the insecticide) for all our (specialty) crops,” he said.

“It (a ban) also means increased use of other pesticides, maybe not as effective. The net environmental (impact) could be higher.”

Horticultural producers decry neonic ban

Water monitoring data for Health Canada’s evaluation of imidacloprid came mostly from Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan. Based on that testing data, imidacloprid concentrations were higher and exceeded safe thresholds for aquatic insects more often in water bodies near:

  • greenhouses in Ontario
  • vegetable crops in Ontario (imidacloprid applied as a seed treatment, foliar spray and soil applications)
  • potato and mixed vegetable crops in Quebec (applied as seed treatment, foliar spray and soil applications)
  • Health Canada said risk to aquatic insects isn’t associated with a particular method of application, but monitoring data is likely an “underestimate of actual exposure, as sampling typically does not capture peak concentrations.”

Source: Health Canada

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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