Health Canada proposes banning neonic

UPDATED – November 23, 2016 – 1535 CST – Health Canada is proposing to ban a Bayer neonicotinoid because the insecticide is a threat to aquatic insects in wetlands and other water bodies.

In a teleconference with media early this afternoon, Health Canada said levels of imidacloprid in water bodies near agricultural land are unacceptably high, which is putting insects and animals that feed on those insects at risk.

Consequently, the department is proposing a three year phase out of agricultural uses of imidacloprid or a five year phase out in cases where producers have no alternatives for pest control.

The proposed ban is not final because there will be a 90 day comment period, and Health Canada is planning a forum with industry stakeholders.

In addition to the proposed ban, Health Canada announced a special review of two other neonicotinoid insecticides: thiamethoxam, a Syngenta product, and clothianidin, a Bayer product.

Neonicotinoids are applied as seed treatment to almost all of the corn and canola planted in North America and a portion of soybean acres. Imidacloprid is also used as a foliar insecticide on many crops in Canada.

Related story: Horticultural producers reject proposed neonic ban

The class of insecticides has been highly controversial over the last four years because they are linked to bee deaths and bee colony losses in North America and Europe.

The Europeans banned the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in 2013 in an effort to protect bees and other pollinators.

However, a Health Canada review released in 2016 concluded that imidacloprid is not a substantial risk to bees.

The proposed ban on imidacloprid came out of a Health Canada re-evaluation of the insecticide, looking at human health and environmental risk.

“It’s through that process where we identified risks to aquatic organisms,” said Scott Kirby, director general for the environmental assessment with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

Kirby, during the teleconference with media, said repeatedly that today’s decision is not about bees but the risk to aquatic invertebrates.

The Health Canada decision validates research done by Christy Morrissey, a University of Saskatchewan biologist. Morrissey has published studies on neonicotinoids and how the insecticides are contaminating water bodies in Western Canada.

Morrissey’s research found that many wetlands within or near agricultural land in Saskatchewan have troubling concentrations of neonics.

“It’s staying in the soil and then as soon as the snow melts or it rains … it’s just running off the fields and into these ponds,” Morrissey said in 2014.

As a result, neonics are killing aquatic insects, and reducing the food supply for birds and other animals, Morrissey said.

Health Canada considered Morrissey’s work and other research to reach its decision.

“(It) is based on a weight of evidence,” Kirby said. “It’s a volume information including information from academics.”

Kirby said Health Canada relied on “pivotal” data from provincial and federal agencies, which monitored wetlands and other water bodies throughout Canada.

“Those studies have measured levels of imidacloprid in aquatic systems adjacent to agricultural areas that are well above the benchmarks that we consider protective to aquatic life.”

John Gavloski, Manitoba Agriculture entomologist, wasn’t surprised by the Health Canada announcement.

For more than a year Gavloski has been warning producers about overusing neonicotinoids.

Last January, at Ag Days in Brandon, Gavloski said neonicotinoids are flowing into ponds and larger water bodies adjacent to agricultural land. Gavloski predicted that the government could crack down with regulations.

“They (neonics) are being overused. They are being used to the point where we’ve got these levels showing up in surface water that we don’t want to be seeing,” he said last January.

“I personally see the surface water residue as probably the issue … that’s probably the thing that’s going to push it (regulations).”

Kirby said Health Canada would listen to comments about the proposed ban and consult with the ag industry, meaning it will consider other methods to mitigate the risk to aquatic insects.

“(But) any proposals for continued registration would need to clearly demonstrate concrete action that would ensure that imidacloprid levels in water would be reduced below the (threshold) levels.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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