Environment commissioner criticizes neonic registrations

Ottawa | Reuters — Canada’s official environmental watchdog on Tuesday expressed concern that authorities were allowing the long-term use of pesticides linked to bee deaths despite not having enough information about the products.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) can grant a five-year provisional license to some products to give manufacturers time to provide more information.

Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand said nine products had been remained conditionally registered for more than a decade, even though the agency had not gathered the data it required. Eight of the nine belong to the neonicotinoids class, which many bee keepers blame for devastating their hives.

“These products continue to be used extensively in Canada despite widespread concern they may pose a threat to bees, other pollinators and broader ecosystems,” she said.

Pesticide use is a sensitive issue in Canada, where last July Ontario’s provincial government became the first in North America to curb use of seed treated with neonicotinoids, which are used to kill insects that harm crops. Quebec last fall announced plans for similar curbs.

Gelfand said the prolonged use of products with conditional registrations means “users may come to depend on a product that is ultimately shown to be unsafe.”

In some cases, firms had not provided the required data for neonicotinoid pesticides. Even so, the agency continued to allow the products to be conditionally registered.

In a written response, the PMRA said it would gather the information more quickly in the cases of products which had been granted conditional registrations.

The PMRA announced last week it would stop issuing conditional registrations on June 1.

Earlier this month, the agency said available science suggested multiple factors could be responsible for bee deaths, including loss of habitat and food sources, diseases, viruses and pests, and pesticide exposure.

Separately, the agency concluded there was no risk to bees from the insecticide imidacloprid when it was used to coat seeds. But it found bees could be endangered when the pesticide was used to treat soils or applied to plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said this month that its own preliminary risk assessment of imidacloprid found that chemical residues of more than 25 parts per billion would likely harm bees and their hives and result in the bees producing less honey.

Gelfand also found the agency had moved slowly to remove dangerous pesticides. It took the agency up to 11 years to remove some products deemed harmful.

“Conditional registration of commercially available pesticides must be subject to timely and robust review, something the PMRA is simply not doing,” federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May said in a release Tuesday.

“That so many neonicotinoids, for example, remain on the market and actively used across Canada having never undergone a proper assessment is simply unacceptable.”

“The audit findings confirm our worst fear, that PMRA delivers on industry interests and not those of people and the environment,” John Bennett, a senior policy advisor to the Canadian arm of environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth, said in a separate release Tuesday.

The organization’s CEO Beatrice Olivastri, in the same release, said the federal government should replace the PMRA with a new agency that has “the money and scientists to do the real job to prevent unacceptable risks to people and the environment from the use of pesticides.”

David Ljunggren is a Reuters political correspondent based in Ottawa. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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