Health Canada continues to assess neonic herbicides

There is debate over how much damage would be incurred by corn and soybean producers if neonics are banned

honey bee pollinating a flower

Health Canada is seeking more information from farmers and technical experts before it completes its assessment of neonicotinoid pesticides.

A TV network received a leaked version of the report, which environmental groups said proved neonic pesticides should be banned. In an emailed response, the department said the draft report, which has been shared with agriculture and other groups, “is based on the information that the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency had available at the time, but the report is not complete.

“In order to fully assess the value of neonicotinoid seed treatments to the corn and soybean industry and growers, more real-world information on typical pest populations relative to economic thresholds is needed. Health Canada will assess this additional information received from technical experts for inclusion into a public consultation document.”

Meanwhile, Health Canada will continue its review considering information from “provincial governments, Canadian grower associations and registrants as well as recently published reports by the Conference Board of Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.”

John Bennett of the Sierra Canadian Foundation said in a statement that the PMRA report showed neonics provide “a very tiny benefit to a very few farmers. Corn growers in some parts of Ontario may be seeing an economic benefit of only 3.6 per cent while soy planters see almost no benefit (0.4 per cent). These numbers are orders of magnitude lower than the doomsday predictions of the agrochemical industry.

“Banning neonicotinoid pesticides will have almost no impact on corn and soy production, and the vast majority of farmers will actually make more money not using them,” he said.

Both the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Grain Growers of Ontario, which represent most of the province’s crop growers, say the ban would cost their members millions and make them uncompetitive with farmers in other parts of Canada and the United States.

A recent economic assessment of the impact of Ontario’s neonic reduction policy said it will slash the income of the province’s corn and soybean farmers by more than $800 million annually without protecting bees any better than efforts already undertaken by farm groups.

The report done for Croplife Canada by RIAS Inc. of Ottawa reaches similar conclusions as an earlier Conference Board of Canada assessment of Ontario’s plan to chop neonic use by 80 per cent, a policy that has been attacked by most of the province’s farm organizations as well as several national ones.

Pierre Patelle, Croplife’s vice-president of chemistry, says the PMRA report has been made available to gain comment from technical experts. “It will be revised after the agency consults with them. To this point, it mainly has information by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, which is behind the neonics policy.”

He said neonics protect the seed while it is germinating, and stays in the plant to protect it from insects that would attack it. “An insect that bites the plant will ingest the insecticide. A bee or a butterfly that just lands on the plant is not affected by the pesticide at all. Studies of the pollen from these plants show the levels of neonics are infinitesimally small.”

RIAS said the Ontario policy reduces corn production by more than 2.6 million tonnes per year and soybean output by more than one million tonnes. “The proposed regulations are expected to reduce GDP in the corn and soybean sector by $345 million per year, and inflict further reductions in GDP on the Ontario economy of over $265 million per year. In total, the regulations are expected to cost Ontarians about $660 million per year.”

In addition to the financial losses, “professional agrologists find that the field testing requirements prescribed by the regulations are unworkable, and will not yield reliable estimates of the threat of pests to corn and soybean production in Ontario.”

Health Canada said it and EPA “are working together on the overall pesticide re-evaluation process for three neonicotinoid pesticides (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin). An interim progress report on this is expected in late 2015, with a targeted assessment completion date of 2017.

In the meantime, PMRA has implemented a mitigation strategy including Best Management Practices for the 2014 growing season to reduce honeybee exposure to dust generated during planting of treated corn and soybean seed.

Health Canada said it will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the mitigation measures already implemented, review emerging data and continue monitoring.

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