Health Canada will make a decision on neonicotinoid insecticides in about six months.
Federal scientists have been studying neonics and their potential impact on aquatic insects for several years. The final judgment was scheduled for this fall but it won’t happen until the spring.
“Due to the vast amount of new information received, and the measures taken related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific reviews have encountered delays,” Health Canada said on its website in late September.
“Health Canada is now expecting to publish these decisions (aquatic special reviews of clothianidin and thiamethoxam, and the general re-evaluation of imidacloprid) in spring 2021.”
From Quebec to Alberta, neonicotinoid insecticides are used on tens of millions of acres. 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 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. 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.
That decision was unpopular with many farmers and farm groups, who said it was based on water quality models rather than actual data on the amount of neonics in wetlands, creeks and rivers.
Since 2018, Health Canada has been reviewing water monitoring data from across the Prairies, Ontario and other parts of Canada.
The Canadian Canola Growers Association and Alberta Agriculture conducted separate studies on water adjacent to farmland in Western Canada.
Both groups found tiny amounts of the neonics in wetlands and other water bodies at levels that are safe for midges and mayflies.
“We’ve characterized this as not indicating a high level of risk to aquatic invertebrates in Alberta,” said Shaun Cook, an agri-environmental specialist with Alberta Agriculture, in the winter of 2019.
“We recognize the use of neonics is ubiquitous in agriculture areas, but we very infrequently find them (in water).”
Health Canada scientists are using the Alberta data and results from other studies to make a final decision on the environmental safety of neonics.