Health Canada still on track for phasing out imidacloprid

A final decision is expected by December after a summer consultation

Imidacloprid, a neonic insecticide, has been targeted by Health Canada as an environmental threat to aquatic insects and pollinators.

Cereal, speciality crop and fruit and vegetable growers are gearing up for a final attempt to convince Health Canada that eliminating most agricultural uses of the neonic insecticide imidacloprid is an environmental step backward.

The department said May 31 that an updated pollinator assessment by the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency found that while the risks to human health are acceptable, the insecticide poses environmental threats to aquatic insects and pollinators.

The department plans consultations on these findings ending Aug. 29 before making its final decision in December 2018 to phase out agriculture and most other outdoor uses of imidacloprid over three to five years, starting in 2019.

The decision came despite the department’s acknowledgment that “There has been a 70 per cent to 92 per cent decrease in reported bee deaths or other adverse effects since Health Canada implemented previous actions to protect bees from the dust from the planting of corn and soybean seeds treated with neonicotinoids.”

Imidacloprid is a seed treatment that is used on cereals and crops such as peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. There are also foliar and soil applications that occur in horticultural crops.

Rebecca Lee, executive director of the Canadian Horticultural Council, said, “The loss of imidacloprid use on vegetables, pome fruit, stone fruit, small fruit and berries is extremely discouraging and puts Canadian fruit and vegetable farmers at a serious competitive disadvantage.

“Imidacloprid is of critical importance to our industry, especially given the lack of available alternative products for farmers to turn to for insect pest management,” she said.

The horticultural sector wants to minimize environmental impacts and protect bees and pollinators, she said.

“Our farmers have a unique and important relationship with pollinators, and often work closely with beekeepers who provide the essential pollination that many fruits and vegetables require,” she said.

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, said the phase-out is a concern.

“In some cases, such as wireworm infestation, the only viable alternative available is cultivation,” he said. “Not only will this impose additional costs on farmers, it will have a significant negative environmental impact as increased cultivation will reduce soil organic matter, release carbon that has been sequestered through conservation tillage practices and increase the risk of soil erosion.”

Mac Ross, manager, market access and trade policy with Pulse Canada, said while the latest Health Canada announcement only mentions risk mitigation measures to prevent dust creation during planting of dry peas, dry bean, fababean, lentil and chickpeas, the department’s goal is to phase out imidacloprid.

He said the department will be reminded during the consultation of Pulse Canada’s submission to PMRA of the importance of the neonic insecticide as a tool in sustainable cropping systems. The group also wants “additional information and clarification on the proposed phase-out, with a focus on the data, assumptions and modelling undertaken by the PMRA in assessing the risk of imidacloprid to aquatic invertebrates.”

Paul Thiel, vice-president, product development and regulatory science, Bayer Crop Science, said Canadian farmers depend on neonicotinoid insecticides due to their efficacy, their safety to applicators and their favourable environmental profile, when used according to label instructions.

“These insecticides have helped farmers and homeowners manage destructive insect pests and extensive research has shown that these products are not responsible for localized declines in honeybee colony health that have been reported,” he said.

Bayer will conduct a thorough review of the PMRA review “and provide input into the consultation process. We support regulation that is based on sound, science-based evidence and considers the best management practices adopted by Canadian farmers.”

The pollinator assessment is the latest step in Health Canada’s re-evaluation of imidacloprid. In November 2016, it announced a re-evaluation of the neonic to look at health and environmental risks.

Among the uses to be phased out are foliar application on orchard fruit, some tree nuts, and most small fruit and berries, soil uses on berries, some ornamentals and herbs, and outdoor-grown fruiting vegetables, cucurbits, and legumes. There will be changes to the timing of foliar application on some tree nuts, strawberries, grapes, fruiting vegetables, legumes, potatoes, peanuts, tobacco, hops, and some herbs and additional protective label instructions for cereal and legume seed treatment uses.

The department is still conducting re-evaluations on two other neonics — clothianidin, and thiamethoxam. Thus far, these two products do not pose risks to pollinators and their use will continue on a restricted basis.

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