Health Canada proposes banning neonics in five years

Nearly every canola seed and corn seed in Canada, and a portion of soybean acres, are coated with a neonicotinoid prior to planting. | File photo

Canada has more than 20 million acres of canola, and neonicotinoid insecticides are coated on nearly every seed before they go in the ground.

That practice may soon end because Health Canada has proposed to ban all outdoor uses of neonicotinoids – including seed treatments on canola.

“Following special reviews for two neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has found that these substances are being measured at levels that are harmful to aquatic insects,” Health Canada said this morning.

“These aquatic insects, which are a source of food for fish, birds and other animals, are an important part of the ecosystem. Based on these findings, Health Canada is proposing to phase out all outdoor agricultural and turf uses for clothianidin, and all outdoor agricultural and ornamental uses for thiamethoxam in the next three to five years.”

The proposed phase-out will happen over three to five years. The decision is a proposal and will be subject to a 90 day consultation period, in which interested parties and industry reps can comment.

If Health Canada does proceed with the phase-out, Canada would become the first country in the world to ban neonicotinoid insecticides because of a risk to aquatic insects. Health Canada scientists say that neonicotinoids are moving from agricultural land and accumulating in ponds, creeks and other water bodies at unacceptably high concentrations.

The phase-out applies to seed treatments on canola, corn, soybeans and other crops.

Nearly every canola seed and corn seed in Canada, and a portion of soybean acres, are coated with a neonicotinoid prior to planting.

Canola growers rely on clothianidin, a Bayer product, and thiamethoxam, a Syngenta insecticide, to control flea beetles early in the growing season. Many agronomists and canola experts believe that without seed treatments, farmers would have to spray more insecticides over the crop to kill flea beetles.

Those chemistries are older and can be hazardous to a wide range of insects. Farmers have argued that option is much more harmful to beneficial insects and the environment than neonicotinoid seed treatments.

In a technical briefing with media, a Health Canada representative said it doesn’t consider the risk of alternative products when evaluating a specific insecticide.

“The alternative pesticides are registered; therefore they have undergone a thorough risk assessment by the agency,” said Scott Kirby, director general of the environmental assessment directorate at the PMRA. “We don’t do a comparative risk assessment of alternative chemistries. If they are registered they are considered (acceptable) to use.”

The decision means that all three of the major neonicotinoid insecticides could soon be banned in Canada. In the fall of 2016, Health Canada recommended a phase-out of imidacloprid, a Bayer product. It is used as a seed treatment on wheat and used extensively on fruit and vegetable crops in Ontario.


About the author


Stories from our other publications