(Beyond Pesticides, June 7, 2018) Health Canada is proposing to phase out a number of uses of neonicotinoids in order to mitigate risks to pollinators. The agency has completed its review of clothianidin and thiamethoxam — two neonicotinoids that have been linked to pollinator decline and finds risks of concern for bees. However, these measures do not go as far as those recently made in the European Union, but further than label restrictions issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Health Canada concluded its Pollinator Re-evaluation for clothianidin and thiamethoxam after examining hundreds of laboratory and outdoor field studies that examined the possible effects on bees from wide-ranging situations. The agency finds that uses of these neonicotinoids have “varying degrees of effects on bees,” and that some uses “may pose a risk of concern to bees.” However, instead of a complete ban of the neonicotinoids, the agency is proposing mitigation measures to minimize potential exposure to bees, which includes the phase-out of many uses and certain additional product label statements.
Clothianidin will see a phase-out of the following uses:
- Foliar application to orchard trees and strawberries, and
- Foliar application to municipal, industrial and residential turf sites.
There will also be a reduction in the maximum number of foliar applications to cucurbit vegetables — to one per season. Seeds coated with clothianidin will be required to have additional label statements that would address dust off during planting of cereal crops.
For thiamethoxam the following uses are to be phased out:
- Foliar and soil application to ornamental crops that will result in pollinator exposure,
- Soil application to berry crops, cucurbit crops, and fruiting vegetables, and
- Foliar application to orchard trees.
Foliar applications to legumes, outdoor fruiting vegetables, and berry crops will have prohibition restrictions before and/or during bloom. Additional label statements will also be required for cereal and legume seeds coated with thiamethoxam.
As part of the re-evaluation, the agency looked at situations where honey bees come into contact with the neonicotinoids while visiting flowers, consuming pollen and nectar, and exposure to water and dust, as well as how developing bees and the whole colony are affected. Other species of bees, like bumble bees and solitary bees, were also considered. The proposed decisions for each of the neonicotinoids are subject to a 90-day public comment period, and comments may submit to Health Canada.
Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborate on their pollinator assessments, which are based on the jointly developed harmonized Guidance for Assessing Pesticide Risks to Bees. EPA recently ended its public comment period for the ecological impacts of the neonicotinoids, with the separate pollinator assessments released last year. EPA’s risk assessments find deadly impacts to birds from neonicotinoid-treated seeds, poisoned insect prey, and contaminated grasses. Researchers have found that tiny amounts of neonicotinoids are enough to cause migrating songbirds to lose their sense of direction. A recent study by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researchers found neonicotinoids widespread in the Great Lakes at levels that harm aquatic insects, and potentially the aquatic food web—the foundation of healthy aquatic ecosystems.
The Beyond Pesticides report Poisoned Waterways documents the persistence of neonicotinoids in U.S. waterbodies and the danger they cause to aquatic organisms, resulting in complex cascading impacts on the aquatic food web. The report also highlights current regulatory failures of EPA aquatic standards, which continue to underestimate risks to sensitive species, due to a reliance on test protocols that do not reflect real-world exposures or susceptibilities.
In 2016, Health Canada released its aquatic assessment of imidacloprid which found that the pesticide was building up in the surface and groundwater water and causing widespread death among aquatic insects. Its interim recommendation then was to ban imidacloprid from most agricultural and outdoor uses entirely, however, a final decision has been delayed.
Lisa Gue, an environmental health policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, says Health Canada’s results were not as complete as European work, but she remains pleased the agency is still moving to phase out the pesticide’s use. “Canada’s decisions are coming in much less protective than in the European Union,” Ms. Gue said.
The European Food Safety Authority in February confirmed its findings that most uses of neonicotinoids pose a risk to wild bees and honey bees. In April, the European Union member states voted in favor of a total ban on the use of neonicotinoids by the end of 2018, except when used inside closed greenhouses. This was an extension on an initial ban issued in 2013.
The loss of bees represents a significant issue for food sources, since about one-third of food crops require pollinators for production. Numerous scientific studies implicate neonicotinoid pesticides as key contributors to the global decline of pollinator populations. EPA’s own scientists have found that neonicotinoids pose far-reaching risks not only to bees but to birds and aquatic invertebrates.
Given the historic move in Europe, and this proposal in Canada. U.S. regulators must also take action to protect sensitive species from toxic neonicotinoids. Help push EPA to take substantive action on neonicotinoids by urging your U.S. Representative to support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act. With managed honey bee losses remaining at unsustainable levels and many wild pollinators at risk of extinction, for the future of food and our environment it is urgent that the U.S. finally protect pollinators.