Neonic restrictions in Ontario continue to cause confusion

The Ontario government is pushing ahead with its plan to reduce the use of neonicotinoids by 80 percent by 2017.

The move comes despite a newly released study from Washington that says the controversial seed treatments may not be the main culprit behind mass bee deaths after all.

Ontario officials released their draft regulations March 23. The regulations, which the province says were designed after months of consultation with stakeholders, triggered anger from Ontario farmers who say the loss of the pesticides could severely affect their operations.

The province’s plan would see coated corn and soybean seeds listed as a Class 12 pesticide. Use of the chemical would be heavily regulated, with farmers allowed to buy up to only 50 percent treated seed if they can show proof of need to a certified agrologist or field inspector

The certifier must not sell treated seed.

Questions about the draft regulations are plentiful, said Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Mark Brock.

He said details of how the audit process would work are still being sorted out. As well, the province has not said how it will ensure that enough certified agrologists and field inspectors are available to do assessments, nor has it said who will be liable in cases of crop failure that could have been prevented by using neonicotinoids.

Brock said there are also concerns about the availability of treated seed. Seed producers will likely cut back on the amount of treated seed for sale because of the uncertainty around Ontario’s new regulations.

He also said farmers are worried that many pests aren’t listed on the province’s list of nuisances that would warrant neonicotinoid treatment, such as corn midge. Meanwhile, the thresholds for listed pests such as wireworm are so high that farmers say it will be hard to meet them.

He said it’s also unclear how the new regulations will be enforced.

A spokesperson for agriculture minister Jeff Leal said that would be developed in conjunction with the yet to be finalized audit system.

Grain Farmers of Ontario isn’t the only group infuriated by the province’s draft regulations. Anne Fowlie, president of the Canadian Horticulture Council, told the House of Commons’ agriculture committee March 26 that Ontario’s plan to limit neonicotinoids was causing confusion and “a patchwork of regulatory approaches across provinces.”

“Growers do not know which way to turn or how they will compete with their colleagues and peers in other areas of the country,” she said.

Parliamentary agriculture secretary Gerald Keddy would later appear to agree with Fowlie, noting the proposed regulations could affect interprovincial trade.

“If one province has an advantage over another, it becomes a real problem,” he said.

Growers couldn’t help but note the irony around the timing of Ontario’s announcement.

Just days before the draft regulations were published, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study on the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinator health that concluded the pesticides were not driving bee deaths.

Social media was aflutter.

Not only was the report released just days before a special White House task force is poised to address concerns about vanishing honeybees, which is expected to call for a larger restriction of the pesticide, but the study’s findings also directly contradicts Ontario’s neonicotinoid reduction plan.

The USDA said past research that linked mass bee deaths to the pesticides often based their experiments on high levels of exposure to neonicotinoids rather than levels that better reflected the actual amount bees would be subject to in the field.

Researchers concluded that widespread claims around neonicotinoids being the main driver of bee health problems have seriously distorted the scientific explanations for pollinator deaths, including disease, loss of habitat and starvation.

Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which is responsible for pesticide approval, has repeatedly said the science does not support restricting neonicotinoids.

The agency has said mass bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec in 2012 and 2013 can be linked to exposure to neonicotinoid contaminated dust. Those findings triggered an edict from the agency ordering farmers to adjust their planting equipment and techniques to mitigate dust.

Industry said those new planting practices have been successful in reducing the amount of dust generated.

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