Proposed neonic ban finds farmer acceptance

Grain Farmers of Ontario has bitterly sparred with the provincial government for more than two years over regulations restricting the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

The GFO called the Ontario government “anti-science” and “anti-agriculture” and even took the province to court.

However, when the federal government proposed in late November to ban one neonicotinoid and investigate two other products, the GFO response was more restrained.

Mark Brock, GFO chair and a grower from Staffa, Ont., said the organization accepts Health Canada’s decision.

“As an organization, we looked to the federal government as our agency, Health Canada and the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency), to provide a science based approach to the regulatory process of these chemicals,” he said.

“I would be deemed a hypocrite, I think, if I were to throw Health Canada (and) PMRA under the bus.”

On Nov. 23, Health Canada released a proposal to phase out the use of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide used around the globe.

The department said the ban is necessary because water bodies near agricultural land have unacceptably high concentrations of the insecticide.

The levels of imidacloprid are considered a risk to aquatic insects, such as midges and mayflies, and animals that rely on those insects for food.

Health Canada is proposing a three-year phase-out of imidacloprid, or a five-year phase-out in cases where farmers have no alternatives for pest control.

The department also announced a special review of two other neonicotinoid insecticides: thiamethoxam, a Syngenta product, and clothianidin, a Bayer product.

Department scientists want to know if those neonics are a threat to aquatic insects.

Bayer said in a statement that it is disappointed in the decision.

Brock said he has faith in Health Canada.

“From our standpoint, we want to be engaged and supportive of this process of review and phasing out of that one product and the review of the other two,” he said.

“It does hinge on safety of people and the environment, and they’ve identified a risk here.”

The tenor of Brock’s comments are distinct from the GFO’s crusade against the Ontario government, which introduced regulations in 2015 to cut the use of neonic seed treatments in corn and soybeans by 80 percent.

The province said the measure was needed to protect bees, but the GFO said the regulations were unscientific because there wasn’t sufficient evidence linking neonics to bee colony losses.

In the case of imidacloprid, the PMRA eventually agreed with the GFO. In January, it reported that the insecticide does not put bees at risk.

In a teleconference with media, Health Canada officials made it clear, many times, that the proposed ban is because of aquatic invertebrates, not bees.

The science may eventually show that neonics are not a threat to bees, but with insecticides collecting in water and posing a potential threat to birds and wildlife that feed on aquatic insects, all this may change the broader conversation about neonics and could force producers to change their practices.

Integrated pest management specialists and environmental groups have criticized farmers for using neonic seed treatments as insurance or as a prophylactic, without evaluating if there actually is a risk from crop pests.

John Gavloski, a Manitoba Agriculture entomologist, said the agricultural industry is overusing neonics. He told growers almost a year ago, at Manitoba Ag Days, that neonics accumulating in surface water could provoke a regulatory crackdown.

He is also frustrated that neonic seed treatments are sometimes being used for the wrong reason — research suggests that certain neonics improve seedling vigour.

“This is an insecticide,” Gavloski said.

“If you’re overusing the product, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.”

The proposed phase-out of imidacloprid is not final. There will be a 90-day comment period, and Health Canada is planning a forum with industry stakeholders to discuss other potential solutions.

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