Ottawa delays neonic decision to January

Health Canada was supposed to make a final decision on banning neonics in December.

The decision has been pushed back to January.

“Health Canada … proposed to cancel the majority of outdoor uses of all three neonicotinoids (because) of the risks to aquatic insects. Since then several new scientific papers have been published and the department has received additional information and comments from the public, provinces, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s water monitoring working group,” a department spokesperson said today.

“Health Canada is currently reviewing the submitted information and plans to provide a status update in January.”

Neonicotinoid insecticides are used on tens of millions of acres of cropland in Canada. The three main products are imidacloprid, clothianidin, made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam, a Syngenta product. The neonics, as they are commonly known, are applied to almost every corn and canola seed in Canada and a portion of soybean seeds. They are also sprayed on fruit, vegetables and berry crops.

In 2016 Health Canada proposed to phase out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid because the insecticides were accumulating in ponds, creeks and other water bodies near agricultural land. In 2018 Health Canada made the same phase-out recommendation for thiamethoxam and clothianidin.

“Current research shows that these pesticides are detected frequently in water bodies at levels that could be harmful to certain aquatic organisms,” Health Canada said earlier this year. “The department expects to report on its findings at the end of 2019.”

If neonics are harming midges and mayflies, it could pose a threat to birds and other animals that rely on the insects for food.

The crop protection industry and farmers have argued that the amount of neonics accumulating in ponds and creeks is in the parts per billion and there’s little evidence that midges or mayflies are dying off.

Water testing done in 2017 and 2018 suggests that the amount of neonics in water bodies is extremely low. Based on that newer data, some observers believe Health Canada might back away from its neonic ban.

A University of Saskatchewan study, published this September in a prestigious journal, Science, could also affect Health Canada’s final decision.

In a field experiment conducted in Ontario, U of S scientists exposed white-crowned sparrows to imidacloprid, When the wild sparrows consumed seeds coated with the insecticide, the birds lost weight and the exposure halted their migration.

“We saw these effects using doses well within the range of what a bird could realistically consume in the wild — equivalent to eating just a few treated seeds,” said Margaret Eng, a post-doctoral fellow in the university’s Toxicology Centre and lead author of the study.

“Both of these results seem to be associated with the appetite suppression effect of imidacloprid. The dosed birds ate less food, and it’s likely that they delayed their flight because they needed more time to recover and regain their fuel stores.”

CropLife Canada, an association that represents the crop protection industry, said in September that it supports research into product safety, but the U of S study exaggerates the risk to birds.

“It appears that the doses administered in this most recent study are … well above what songbirds might realistically be exposed to under real world conditions,” said Pierre Petelle, CropLife Canada president and chief executive officer.

“Without (realistic exposures), these studies create unnecessary confusion within the industry, for regulators and for the public.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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