Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has quietly issued new rules for the use of neonicotinoid insecticides blamed for an unusual die-off of bees in Ontario in 2012.
The consumer product safety bulletin, issued Feb. 4 on Health Canada’s site but apparently nowhere else, advises farmers and users of seeds coated with neonicotinoids to use more caution, especially around wild and managed pollinators. But it also says the insecticide industry needs to find ways to reduce dust produced during seeding that has been found to have high concentrations of the family of a neuro-active insecticides. The bulletin includes short-term recommendations for the 2013 planting season.
It comes as PMRA is in the middle of a review of three neonicotinoids that many scientists and agencies believe may be linked to a decline in bee populations around the world. (See this interesting blog post by Robynne Boyd at the prestigious Scientific American) Last June the PMRA announced the re-evaluation of the use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam in pesticides due to unresolved issues relating to the effect they may have on pollinators. Bayer AG makes imidacloprid. Syngenta owns the rights to thiamethoxam. Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer AG developed clothianidin.
The three neonitcotinoids are widely used in agriculture, gardening, lawn care and flea and tick applications for pets. They go by brand names such as Gaucho, Poncho, Sombrero, Cruiser, Endigo, Helix, Grapple, Concept, Stress Shield, Admire, Genesis and Alias.
In British Columbia imidacloprid is approved by the province for use primarily to control aphids in blueberries, potatoes and greenhouse lettuce. Thiamethoxam is used here to treat blueberries, pome and stone fruits (apples, cherries, peaches and apricots), cranberries and eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Clothianidin is used in B.C. on pome and stone fruits, potatoes and grapes. The only neonicotinoid that appears to be approved for use on sweet corn in B.C. is acetamiprid, which was developed by Aventis CropScience.
In January the European Food Safety Authority concluded, in looking at clothianidin, that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptable risk to bees and it called into question research sponsored by the producers of the pesticides and concluded the following:
“A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen.”
There’s also been some research suggesting that bees suffering from nosema – which appears to be on the rise in Canada – can be further weakened by exposure to at least one neonicotinoid.
Canada’s PMRA stepped more fully into the debate over neonicotinoids after a number of Ontario and Quebec beekeepers suffered significant losses last spring following seeding of treated seeds by nearby corn farmers.
The PMRA said that between April and June it “received an unusually high number of incident reports of bee losses from across southern Ontario, involving 40 beekeepers and over 200 beeyards, as well as one report from Quebec involving eight beeyards.”
It immediately announced it was re-evaluating the use of the neonicotinoids as a class.
PMRA analyzed samples of the bees, and detected the insecticides ” in approximately 70% of the dead bee samples analysed. On a beeyard basis, these residues were detected in approximately 80% of the Ontario beeyards where dead bee samples were collected and analysed (57 out of 70 yards), and in all Quebec beeyards where dead bee samples were collected (1 yard).”
In its February bulletin the PMRA says farmers in the short term need to find ways to reduce the amount of dust produced during seeding. It recommends not seeding in windy conditions, and also switching to morning applications when bees are less active. It has also ordered manufacturers include clear warnings on labels that the insecticides may pose a hazard to pollinators. The new labels, which will be used starting 2014, include this description:
Name of active ingredient(s)] is toxic to bees. Dust generated during planting of treated seed may be harmful to bees and other pollinators. To help minimize the dust generated during planting, refer to the “Best Management Practices for Seed-Applied Insecticides” available at Crop Life (or 613-230-9881).
CropLife Canada is the trade organization representing pest control products producers, manufacturers, developers and others involved in plant science technologies.
Over the long term, however, the PMRA says the industry has to develop technical improvements and stewardship. Insecticide producers are also looking at ways to get away from the use of talc and graphite as seed lubricants for dispensing machines. Dust produced by those methods now contain high levels of neoncotinoids rubbed off the seeds.
And the PMRA also says farmers should switch from vacuum seed applicators to mechanical or positive-pressure applicators when using neoncotinoid-treated seeds in order to reduce the blowing of dust.
I checked the federal PMRA public registry website to see how widespread is the desire to use neonicotinoids in Canada. Of the 1589 current applications for pesticides, fungicides and insecticides of all types, more than 300 are for products that include imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
Since 2005 PMRA has received 324 applications to register or amend the registration of imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin. (There are no applications for acetamiprid, but five products are currently registered for use.)
Of the 149 applications that contain imidacloprid as an active ingredient at least 41 were new applications since 2005. Eighteen are pending approval. There are 51 products registered using imidacloprid.
Of the 49 that contain clothianidin, 14 were new applications submitted since 2005, of which six were made since 2010. Three are still pending. There are12 products registered using clothianidin.
There are 126 applications for products that contain thiamethoxam. There were 21 new applications made since 2005, 11 of them since 2010. All 11 are still pending. There are 24 products registered using thiametoxam.