Decision looming for neonics

Health Canada agency will rule this summer on fate of chemicals based on the threat to aquatic insects

The fate of two neonicotinoid seed treatments, applied to almost all of the canola and corn seeds in Canada and a portion of the soybean seeds, will be decided this summer.

For the last 18 months Health Canada has been studying neonicotinoid insecticides and assessing the risk to aquatic insects. The two products are clothianidin, a Bayer product, and thiamethoxam, which is manufactured by Syngenta.

Health Canada will release its findings, on whether the insecticides are safe for aquatic insects or not, in a couple of months.

“The results of these reviews are expected to be released, for consultation, in late summer of 2018,” said Scott Kirby, director general of environmental assessment with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, a division of Health Canada.

Kirby made the comment May 31 in a technical briefing with journalists.

The PMRA decision on the two neonicotinoids, commonly known as neonics, could potentially alter how Canadian farmers protect their crops from insect pests. Most producers like using the seed treatments because the products reduce the need for foliar insecticides.

The PMRA is reviewing thiamethoxam and clothianidin because in November of 2016 Health Canada proposed a ban of all agricultural use of imidacloprid, a Bayer neonic.

The PMRA determined that levels of imidacloprid in water bodies near agricultural land are unacceptably high, which is putting aquatic insects at risk and is a threat to animals that depend on those insects for food. The types of aquatic insects at risk include mayflies and midges.

Water samples determined that most of the unacceptably high levels were happening in creeks and ponds in southern Ontario, in areas with intense fruit and vegetable production or a large number of greenhouses. Imidacloprid is widely used in in the horticultural industry. It’s applied to crops like apples, berries, sweet corn, field tomatoes and beans.

Horticulture producers in Ontario criticized the ban, saying Health Canada didn’t have sufficient evidence to justify the decision.

“Even though they claim they have some numbers (water monitoring data), they made their determination on the basis of a model,” said Craig Hunter, of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, in December 2016. “They put numbers into a model and then said it was unsustainable.”

Since that time Health Canada has gathered more data on neonic levels in creeks and ponds.

“The PRMA received a large amount of additional neonicotinoid water monitoring data from agricultural use areas across Canada, in October 2017,” Health Canada says on its website.

“Discussion papers on possible ways to mitigate neonicotinoid exposure in the environment… were also provided to the PMRA at that time.”

The PMRA decision on thiamethoxam, clothianidin and the risk to aquatic insects is still a couple of months away. The main topic of the May 31 technical briefing with media was imidacloprid and whether it threatens bees and other pollinators.

For the last five years many scientists have linked the use of neonicotinoids to bee deaths and bee colony losses. The European Union banned the use of the neonics on agricultural crops.

Kirby said it does pose a risk to bees, when sprayed on a number of crops.

“Certain uses of products containing imidacloprid result in uptake by plants where it then moves into nectar and or pollen,” he said.

“Because bees use nectar and pollen as their primary sources of food, bees may be exposed to harmful levels of this insecticide when they visit certain flowers.”

Consequently, Health Canada is proposing the following changes for imidacloprid use:

  • Phasing out foliar application on orchard fruit, some tree nuts, and most small fruit and berries
  • Phase-out of soil uses on berries, some ornamentals and herbs, and outdoor-grown fruiting vegetables, cucurbits, and legumes
  • Changes to the timing of foliar application on some tree nuts, strawberries, grapes, fruiting vegetables, legumes, potatoes, peanuts, tobacco, hops, and some herbs.

The timing part means imidacloprid, in some cases, can only be used after the crop has bloomed.

Imidacloprid is also used as a seed treatment on some broad acreage crops. It’s used on wheat, for instance, to protect against wireworm.

Kirby said using imidacloprid as a seed treatment doesn’t pose a risk to bees and pollinators.

“The residues that are being found from seed treatment are not sufficient to cause restriction of the use.”

Kirby made it clear, several times during the technical briefing, that the PMRA risk assessment of imidacloprid on pollinators is separate from its proposed decision on imidacloprid, when it comes to aquatic insects.

Meaning, Health Canada is still proposing to phase out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid because of the threat to aquatic insects.

“(The) pollinator assessment is not changing that,” Kirby said.

The PMRA will make its final decision on imidacloprid and measures to protect aquatic life in December.

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  • richard

    They gotta go…. Just like PCBs, dioxins, lindane and so forth, when you saturate the biosphere with another xenobiotic “miracle” its gonna end up in everything…..Yet again ignorance and arrogance are a terrible tank mix….

    • RobertWager

      And replaced with what? The European research showed that the alternatives used during their 3 year ban were worse for the bees than the neonics. Be careful what you wish for as you just might get it.

      • S.G.

        All toxins that harm human health and life, insects and the environment need to go! Why are you okay with this Wager?

        • S.G. – People far more knowledgeable than me say, “it’s the dose that makes the poison.”

          Water can be toxic in sufficient quantities. The same is true for oxygen, and many minerals that are, otherwise, essential for life.

          I’m pretty sure we do NOT want to rid the planet of every toxin that is simply capable of causing harm to people, insects or the environment.

          And while I’m here, let’s put an end to the personal “challenges,” shall we?

          Mr. Wager’s opinion is every bit as valid and welcome here as yours or anyone else’s – and we welcome them ALL here.

          It’s ok to disagree. But you should do so in a civil manner.

          Failure to do so will result in me deleting your comment.

          Just my 2¢ worth…

          Paul – WP web editor

          • Goldfinger

            This may be true, but the data shows that neonicotinoids are one of the serious issues killing pollinators. Apparent the neonicotinoid dose the pollinators are receiving is having a drastic negative effect on some of the most important insects that support our food chain. Seems that simple slogans are only simple slogans.

          • S.G.

            Comparing life essentials such as water and oxygen to actual man made synthetic toxins, is ludicrous.

          • Not when it’s the dose that makes the poison…

            Paul – WP web editor

          • patzagame

            acute toxicity is not the same as long term chronic exposure,but I’m sure you know that. 🙂

          • S.G.

            Studies show man made, synthetic toxins can be accumulative over several years of exposure, causing long term health issues.

          • Rob Bright

            Of course, “the dose makes the poison” is rather simplistic and reductionist. Now that we know there can be synergistic effects when different combinations of chemicals interact — eg, apparently the formulation for RoundUp is FAR more toxic than the key ingredient, glyphosate, on its own. Also, the discovery of endocrine disrupting chemicals (think Atrazine and the gender bending effects it has on fish and amphibians) suggests that the idea that “only the dose makes the poison” is no longer a valid, toxicological assumption. Nor would it be a valid defense for using synthetic chemicals that may disrupt endocrine functioning at very minute doses.

          • Denise

            Wild bees and butterflies are dying off and disappearing from the landscape. Neonics weaken the bees’ immune systems and reduce their ability fight off disease. Honey bee colonies are dying off in large numbers during the winter. They can’t cope. Very costly for honey producers. Insect activity on the sloughs is hard to find,anymore.
            I have spent every summer in southwestern Manitoba, for the past sixty years, and have witnessed, first hand, the changes. The bees and butterlies are missing in action. You see the odd bumblebee and the odd butterfly, now and then, but not like it used to be.

      • patzagame


      • richard

        Do you really think we are going back to mercury and lindane as seed treatments? DDT and malathion as insecticides?….. Seriously? Do you think when dioxins, PCBs and chlorofluorocarbons were banned that safe replacements were not found? …
        [Neonicotinoids] are finished because they have been abused ok? In case you didn’t know it…. No crop EVER needs to have every seed treated to protect itself from the ten percent risk of infestation…..I know….its hard to believe nature can actually defend herself without intervention…..what a concept?

  • Denise

    “The European Union has banned the use of neonics on agricultural crops.”
    Why is Canada dragging it’s feet? The sooner we get rid of all this crap, the sooner our beneficial insects can recover.
    They must stop poisoning micro-organims in the soil, as well. Without healthy soil, erosion speeds up, especially in drought conditions.
    And what about the birds?

    • Diana Daunheimer

      Why is Canada dragging it’s feet?

      Having the Canada Grains Council, the Canadian Seed Trade Association and CropLife Canada as PMRA members remains the likely reason. Lobby efforts by the corporations that make up these organizations explain why Canada has not implemented appropriate measures to protect environmental and public health from neonics.

      • Rob Bright

        In other words, another example of corporate capture of our regulators where the polluters and their lobbyists basically dictate to the regulators what the rules should be. (I’m so sick an tired of these nonsensical regulatory systems where industry can virtually dictate what the regulations will be. Enough with the foxes guarding the hen houses!)

  • Happy Farmer

    It’s great to see Canada is taking a look at real evidence and not making a knee jerk decision like the EU did. Good old science should make this type of decision, not the emotions or feelings of people. Good old science should make these decisions, not politics catering to minorities.

    • patzagame

      Good old science gets you no upvotes,HF

      • Happy Farmer

        That’s right. But I care more about facts derived from sound scientific analysis than upvotes.


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