Health Canada holds off on neonicotinoid ban

Health Canada won’t issue a final decision on whether it will ban imidacloprid for at least six months, says a horticultural industry representative.

Last November, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency proposed to ban the use of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, because it was accumulating in water near agricultural land. That was reportedly putting aquatic insects at risk and threatening animals that rely on those insects for food.

Craig Hunter, who works in research and crop protection with the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said the PMRA is considering more information before it makes a decision.

“Their plan is to make their final determination by December…. and probably be published by the spring of (2018).”

A Health Canada spokesperson didn’t provide a date for the final decision. The public and agriculture industry representatives submitted comments about the PMRA proposal from late November until the last week of March. Health Canada experts continue to review that information.

“We’ve received a significant number of comments (during) the consultation period,” the spokesperson said. “We’re still going through them, so we can’t give on timeline on when to expect a final decision.”

The Bayer product was once the most popular insecticide in the world. It is used as a seed treatment on field crops, but is very important to fruit, vegetables and potato producers in Canada.

On the Prairies it’s used on wheat crops to control wireworm.

Environment Canada data, from 2012-14, showed that imidacloprid concentrations were highest in creeks and streams in southern Ontario, particularly in areas with intensive vegetable, fruit and grape production.

Health Canada also used computer modelling to estimate imidacloprid levels in water bodies in other parts of Canada.

Many grower associations told the PMRA, an agency operating under Health Canada, that nationwide phase-out of imidacloprid, over five years, was too severe and there wasn’t sufficient evidence to justify such a ban.

With the comment period over, Health Canada continues to gather more data on imidacloprid levels in ponds and wetlands.

“There’s been a huge increase in the effort for monitoring (water bodies) this year, in various parts of the country,” Hunter said.

“They will wait for the data from that. Hopefully that will all get in by October.”

At this stage, it’s hard to know what Health Canada will do, but Hunter is feeling somewhat optimistic that the PMRA will revise its initial decision.

They might ban the use of imidacloprid in certain geographies, where there is a greater risk of it accumulating in water.

“Other areas where they’re not finding anything of concern, OK, those uses can continue,” Hunter said. “So it (might) be by area and not necessarily by crop…. That would be my guess.”

The PMRA decision on imidacloprid is significant because the agency is also evaluating two other neonicotinoids and their impact on aquatic insects.

Those neonics, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, are applied as a seed treatment to almost all of the corn and canola acres in Canada, and a portion of the soybean crop.

Hunter said the decision on imidacloprid could be a “bellwether” for the other neonics.

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