Costco takes stand on insecticides

Costco is saying no to neonics.

The grocery store chain, with more than 600 stores in the United States and Canada, said in May that it wants producers of fruits, vegetables and garden plants to stop using neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides commonly known as neonics.

“Suppliers are encouraged to phase out the use of neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos (an insecticide),” Costco said on its website.

“We seek to partner with suppliers who share our commitment to pollinator health and IPM (integrated pest management).”

Costco is asking suppliers to “phase out” neonics because the insecticides are linked to bee deaths and bee colony losses. A number of scientists claim the insecticides are toxic to bees, while other research suggests that certain uses of neonics are acceptable.

The European Union has banned agricultural uses of neonicotinoids, including seed coatings, because lawmakers across Europe are convinced that neonics are harmful to bees.

In May, Health Canada released its assessment of imidacloprid, a Bayer neonicotinoid, and the associated risks to bees. It concluded that using the insecticide on berries, orchard fruit and some vegetable crops does pose a threat to pollinators.

“Certain uses of products containing imidacloprid result in uptake by plants where it then moves into nectar and/or pollen,” said Scott Kirby, director general of environmental assessment with Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

“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.”

Imidacloprid is commonly used in Canada’s horticulture industry on crops such as apples, berries, sweet corn, field tomatoes and beans.

The Health Canada decision on imidacloprid and pollinators isn’t final because the PMRA is consulting with Canadians on the policy.

However, the Costco announcement means Canadian fruit and vegetable growers who wish to sell to Costco will need to adjust their practices.

“We are also committed to business practices that support the growth and sustainability of our business, as well as the growth and sustainability of bees and other pollinators,” the company said in its pollinator policy.

Kroger, which operates nearly 2,800 grocery stores in the U.S., has also taken a position on neonics.

In late June it released a new policy to phase out neonicotinoids on live garden plants in its stores and garden centres by 2020, reported Friends of the Earth, a global environmental group with approximately two million members and supporters.

The corporate stances on neonics come at a time when Health Canada has proposed a ban on imidacloprid and will soon release an assessment on two other neonicotinoids: thiamethoxam and clothianidin.

The two insecticides are applied as a seed treatment to nearly all of the canola and corn seed in Canada and a portion of all soybean seeds. For the last 18 months Health Canada has been studying thiamethoxam and clothianidin to assess the potential risk to aquatic insects.

The PMRA is reviewing thiamethoxam and clothianidin because in November of 2016 Health Canada concluded imidacloprid is a threat to aquatic insects and recommended that all agricultural uses should be banned.

The PMRA determined that levels of imidacloprid in water bodies near agricultural land are unacceptably high, putting aquatic insects at risk and threatening animals that depend on those insects for food. The type 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.

Health Canada is expected to release its proposed decision on thiamethoxam, clothianidin and the risk to aquatic insects this summer.

It will make a final decision on imidacloprid and the proposed ban in December.

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