Health Canada may be softening neonic stance: CropLife

Neonicotinoids may still have a future in Canada.

Health Canada scientists have been studying water monitoring data, from across the country, and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency may not ban all agricultural uses of neonics, a spokesperson for CropLife Canada says.

“I’m optimistic we will retain some uses,” said Maria Trainer, CropLife managing director, science and regulatory affairs, chemistry, who spoke Feb. 14 at Crop Connect 2019, an agricultural conference in Winnipeg.

“I don’t have any inside information. That’s just what my gut says.”

Last summer Health Canada proposed to ban all outdoor uses of thiamethoxam and clothianidin, insecticides used on canola, corn, soybeans, wheat and horticultural crops in Canada. The department recommended a three or five year phase-out because the insecticides were accumulating in water bodies and putting aquatic insects, like midges and mayflies, at risk.

“These aquatic insects, which are a source of food for fish, birds and other animals, are an important part of the ecosystem,” Health Canada said in a statement.

Neonics are the most commonly used insecticides in Canada. They are used as seed treatments on nearly every canola and corn seed, along with a portion of soybean seeds. They’re also popular with fruit and vegetable producers, who often use the products as a foliar spray.

Previously, in the fall of 2016, Health Canada proposed to ban imidacloprid, another neonic, because of the threat to aquatic insects.

The PMRA was planning to announce its final decision on imidacloprid in December, but that’s been pushed back to December 2019.

The delay is a positive sign, said Trainer, who spoke to a packed room of more than 200 growers, agronomists and ag industry reps at Crop Connect 2019.

“If they were going to pull the plug on imidacloprid, my gut says they would’ve published the final decision … in December.”

The delay suggests that PMRA scientists are evaluating water monitoring data, from wetlands, creeks, rivers and other water bodies near agricultural land.

When the PMRA made its initial decision on imidacloprid, CropLife, academics and producer groups complained the agency relied too heavily on computer models —not actual data showing the amount of neonics in water bodies.

To remedy the shortcoming, the PMRA brought together stakeholders, including provincial governments, commodity groups and academics, to establish an environmental working group.

The group set out to find existing water monitoring data and to “co-ordinate water monitoring studies, across Canada, during the 2017 and 2018 growing seasons,” Trainer said.

PMRA officials have looked at the data. It may be altering their thinking on neonics and the related risk to aquatic insects.

“The water monitoring data that the agricultural stakeholders have generated, over the last two years, have been phenomenal. The PMRA said it’s the best set of data they’ve had for water monitoring,” Trainer said.

“The data that I’ve seen indicates there are very low levels and very infrequent detects of any of the neonics, above levels of concern in a lot of water bodies.”

Even if there are extremely low levels in wetlands, creeks and ponds near cropland, it’s unlikely the PMRA will completely reverse its decision.

“I don’t’ believe, for a second, we will continue to have the … use that we have right now,” Trainer said.

“We will lose some uses.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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