Neonics to be phased out – maybe

Health Canada announces action on controversial nicotine-based pesticides

The National Farmers Union-Ontario Grey County Local 344 welcomes, with caution, the federal government’s plan to phase out two of the three nicotine-based pesticides — called neonicotinoids, also known as neonics — that are currently approved for use in Canada. Health Canada confirmed the plans August 15th.

The Ministry’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) says it will phase out, in three to five years, the outdoor use of thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta AG, and clothianidin, produced by Bayer AG. Health Canada plans to make a final decision by the end of this year on whether to phase out a third neonicotinoid, Bayer’s imidacloprid.

Neonics have long been linked to honey bee die-offs which Ontario’s bee keepers say have cost them millions of dollars and are now suspected of killing aquatic invertebrates as well.

However, the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) called for “Caution and vigilance.”  “While at first glance the announcement appears to be great news for the health of bees and other organisms devastated by the current practice of overuse of neonics on field crops and in foliar sprays, caution and vigilance are needed,” the Association said. 

The phase out is contingent on the results of a 90 day public consultation process which allows for pesticide companies and others who may be opposed to the phase-out to present evidence and arguments as to why it should not go into effect. The PMRA also further qualified its announcement saying neonics will be phased out in 2021 for any products that have an existing alternative, and in 2023 for those that do not.

“We applaud action by Health Canada and the PRMA to take action on neonicotinoids, but with all the evidence gathered about their harmful effects on bees and now aquatic insects, surely neonic use should be phased out immediately,” said Leslie Moskovits, NFU-O Grey County Local 344’s vice-president.

A task force at the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year updated a comprehensive review of more than 1,100 peer-reviewed research studies on neonicotinoids and concluded there was no doubt they harm bees. PMRA testing has now found that the buildup of the chemicals in groundwater is approaching levels dangerous to aquatic invertebrates like midges and mayflies, important sources of food for fish and birds.

The evidence for the toxicity to aquatic invertebrates is proof of the persistence and prevalence of neonics in our environment, the OBA said in a recent statement.

Bee farmers in North America and Europe started reporting unusually high losses of bees more than a decade ago, and eventually researchers began linking those deaths to neonicotinoids.

Health Canada: “Backgrounder: Neonicotinoid Pesticides and the Proposed Special Review Decisions for Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam

Ontario Beekeepers’ Association: “Health Canada announces proposed decision to phase out clothianidin and & Thiamethoxam”