Dead bees in a French beekeeping farm. Credit: Raymond Roig

Health Canada’s plan to consider reining in neonicotinoid pesticides

It seems a head of steam is developing about Health Canada’s interest in banning one of several neonicotinoid pesticides that it now believes is harmful to insects and the ecosystem.

In late November Health Canada issued a draft risk assessment that found imidacloprid is having an unexpectedly harsh impact on waterborne insects and has contaminated waterways.

Health Canada has also announced a “special review” of two other neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which are also in widespread use by farmers. It was greeted favourably by the public and environmental groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, which has  long raised concerns about the negative effects of the pesticides on animals, particularly honey bees. The Canadian Wildlife Federation has also weighed in, with this statement.

While you would think that farmers would react negatively to the potential loss of effective insecticides – despite the danger they pose to non-target species – the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which had long been opposed to efforts to curb their use – has weighed in saying it accepts Health Canada’s decision. Here’s a piece from the venerable Western Producer that covers the issue.

Amanda and I can tell you personally about the effects of the misuse of neonicotinoid pesticides. Last year we suffered a major poisoning of our hives after a local farmer improperly used Clutch 50, a clothianidin application, to treat overbearing strawberries.

In our case, it was a toxic poisoning – not a case of hives dwindling because of sub-lethal effects but rather the wholesale death of colonies immediately. We lost four immediately, and another 18 in the same area never made it through winter. We had to destroy all the comb and honey, and sterilize the remaining equipment.

The farmer, who had assured us he didn’t generally use pesticides and that if he did he would let us know in advance, had either not read or ignored the label requirements that said not to apply to flowers in bloom and that it was lethal to bees. It resulted in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and the provincial environment ministry issuing a ban to B.C. strawberry growers on the use of the pesticide in the 2016 season.

I’ll write more on this particular case later – the federal government investigated and tested and their results clearly show a violation of the rules, for which an investigation is still ongoing.

But for now, I am pleased to see that Health Canada is taking a second look at whether to rein in the use of this class of pesticides.

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