Quirks & Quarks

Canada bans neonic pesticides implicated in bee declines

Health Canada's proposed ban will also be good for aquatic insects
Scientists welcome the news that Health Canada has proposed a ban on two main neonicotinoids. (Pixabay / cocoparisienne)

Health Canada's proposal to ban two neonicotinoids

Health Canada announced this week they're proposing a ban on on two neonicotinoid pesticides — clothianidin and thiamethoxam — which would be phased out in the next three to five years. 

Neonicotinoids, otherwise known as neonics, have been the focus of enormous controversy over the last few years with scientists and environmentalists raising serious concerns about their impacts on bees, natural pollinating insects, butterflies, beetles, and aquatic organisms.

The European Union has already banned them, and now Canada looks poised to follow suit.

In April, Health Canada announced their plan to phase out the first of these three main neonics, imidacloprid, so this new ban proposal for the other two main neonics is part of the same review.

Jeremy Kerr, an ecologist from the University of Ottawa, was one of more than 240 scientists who earlier this year signed an open letter calling for restrictions on neonics. He said this new ban is a, "tremendously welcome development and we are always very happy to see decision makers take very serious account of the evidence." 

Insects that could benefit from the neonic ban

In Health Canada's announcement, they stated: "Following special reviews for two neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has found that these substances are being measured at levels that are harmful to aquatic insects."

Kerr said, "The consequence is that if you lose the little things that live in those aquatic ecosystems, then you start to lose the big things that live in those aquatic ecosystems, like fish."'

But going back to Kerr's original concerns about the effects of these pesticides on bees, he said, "We know that neonic pesticides are a real problem for bee populations."

Concerns around the implementation of the ban

In Health Canada's announcement, they stated, "These proposals will be subject to a 90-day consultation period, during which stakeholders and interested parties can submit comments on the proposed decision and provide additional data for consideration. Final special review decisions are expected to be announced at the end of 2019 and will take into consideration any comments or new information received during the consultation period."

Kerr is concerned about potential exceptions to the ban that could be instituted once the ban is implemented. 

"If there are very broad ranging exceptions to the rule around use of neonics, then the possibility exists that harm might be ongoing," said Kerr.

For example, he points to exceptions that are in place in Europe. 

"In the context of Europe, for instance, where this ban is now in effect, there are exceptions around sealed greenhouse applications. So if pests break out in sealed greenhouses, then, you know, you can lose everything that happens in a greenhouse, right? The pests can just destroy the crop. But if the environment is sealed effectively, then neonics should not be able to escape into the environment and that is a reasonable exception if carefully implemented," said Kerr. "I wouldn't object to something like that here."

Where he said he would have a problem is if exceptions allow these pesticides to be used outside greenhouses. "So anything that creates an exception that poses harm is going to undermine the ban and that would be inconsistent with the intent of the policy."