Health Canada Proposes Too-long Phase-out of Neonics Harming Birds and Bees

Andrea Lesperance, Student-at-Law.

This blog post was written by Andrea Lesperance, a Student-at-Law for Nature Canada.

Health Canada has announced positive but still insufficient action to protect birds, bees and invertebrates from neonicotinoids (neonics) – synthetic nicotine analogues used as insecticides.

On August 15, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada announced Proposed Decisions for Consultation on two neonics: Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam. The Special Reviews of these two neonics were initiated based on concerns that they pose risks to aquatic invertebrates. PMRA was “unable to conclude that the risks to aquatic invertebrates was acceptable” from outdoor agricultural uses of Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam. As a result, PMRA proposed cancellation of all outdoor uses of these two neonics on food and feed crops, including seed treatments.

This cancellation would take place over a phase-out period of 3 to 5 years—which Nature Canada says is  too long. Further, Clothianidin poses risk to aquatic invertebrates via use on turf and so this use will also be phased-out.  In Canada, neonics are used to control insects on agricultural crops, turf, and ornamental plants. However, neonics are harmful to invertebrates, pollinators and birds.  Environmental groups including Nature Canada are calling for an immediate ban on neonics.

Earlier this year, PMRA found that the application of pesticides containing the neonic Imidacloprid adversely affects the survival of bee colonies or solitary bee species. Thus, Health Canada proposed phase-out of uses of the neonic on blooming crops.

While the proposed phase-out of Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam is intended to protect aquatic invertebrates, the decision has positive implications for pollinators and birds! Aquatic insects are an important food source for fish, birds and other animals. For more information on the impacts of neonics on bees, birds and other wildlife, see our blog Save the Bees, the Birds and the Planet from Neonics.

Aquatic insects are particularly important for aerial insectivores; species that feed on insects while on the wing. Aerial insectivores are the most rapidly declining group of birds in Canada. The threatened Chimney Swift, Common Nighthawk and Eastern Whip-poor-will stand to benefit as a result of the neonic ban.

Swallows such as Purple Martins are aerial insectivores which would also benefit from a ban on neonics. Purple Martins are the largest member of the swallow family and they are currently experiencing a decline of about 4.5% per year in Ontario. Learn more about Nature Canada’s Save our Swallows initiative here and here. You can also learn more about Nature Canada’s Purple Martin Project here.

Nature Canada and our supporters welcome Health Canada and PMRA’s decision to cancel neonic use but urge them to take immediate action on this issue rather than implement a 3 to 5 year phase out! In fact, 19, 400 people signed our petition asking Minister of Health Petittpas Taylor to entirely ban neonics without delay. An immediate neonic ban would be in line with actions taken by the European Union, which voted to ban Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam by the end of 2018.

One approach for Health Canada to take action on neonics is to refuse their re-registration when the current approval expires. Registrations for all 135 pesticides containing neonics approved for use in Canada are set to expire before 2023. Approximately 30 of these registrations will expire by the end of 2019. In our view, there is no reason why PMRA should re-register these neonics once they expire, considering the planned phase out.

Nature Canada will be submitting comments on the proposed re-evaluation decisions and our neonic petition to Health Canada and PMRA later this month. Stay tuned for updates!

UPDATE, August 29, 2018:  This week, Nature Canada, along with the signatures of 20,000 supporters, submitted a petition to ban Neonics and commentary to the Minister of Health and Pest Management Regulatory Agency expressing concern about the long phase out of Neonic. We will also submit our petition and concerns shortly about the slow phase out of Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam.


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