The federal government was supposed to decide the fate of neonicotinoid insecticides this fall.
The decision could still happen in the autumn, but it may be pushed back to a later date.
A Health Canada spokesperson said in an email that COVID-19 has complicated its reviews and evaluations of the neonicotinoids.
“The response to COVID-19 continues to have an impact on Health Canada. The department is assessing how much this will affect the overall timelines for the release of the neonicotinoid decision. Updated timelines will be provided on the Health Canada website later in September.”
Health Canada has been studying the safety of the insecticides and the potential impact on aquatic insects for about four years.
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 phasing 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. If neonics are harming aquatic insects such as midges and mayflies, it could pose a threat to birds and other animals that rely on the insects for food.
“Therefore, Health Canada proposed to phase out all the agricultural and a majority of other outdoor uses of imidacloprid, as well as all outdoor uses of clothianidin and thiamethoxam to protect the environment,” the department website says.
The phase-out period was pegged at three to five years.
Since 2018, Health Canada scientists have been reviewing water monitoring data on the amount of neonics found in water bodies from across the Prairies, Ontario and other parts of Canada.
In January, Health Canada said it was looking carefully at all the data to ensure the final decision was based on the latest scientific knowledge.
“These new data are of high quality and provide a much clearer picture of the levels of neonicotinoid pesticides being detected across Canada. The information and data provided by the various working groups of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Neonicotinoids has proven to be crucial in Health Canada’s assessments,” the department’s website says.
“(The) final decisions related to … imidacloprid and the aquatic special reviews of clothianidin and thiamethoxam are expected to be published in the fall of 2020.”