OTTAWA—Health Canada will restrict some uses of neonicotinoid pesticides because of their impact on honeybees and other pollinators, but the federal government isn’t ready to impose further limits that have been called for by some environmentalists and beekeepers.
In a decision announced Thursday, Canada will outlaw certain uses of three neonicotinoids starting in 2021 and 2022. These pesticides won’t be allowed for spraying on fruit trees, flowers and other plants that bees find attractive, and they won’t be allowed for use on certain plants before and during bloom season, the department said.
But other uses will still be allowed, including when the chemicals are coated on canola and cereal seeds and before they are planted, and when used on greenhouse vegetables.
The goal is to stamp out the presence of these neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in pollen and nectar that bees and other pollinators use for food, said Scott Kirby, director general of Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).
Kirby noted that further restrictions may be imposed, because Health Canada is still reviewing preliminary decisions to phase out most outdoor uses of these neonicotinoids because of their impact on aquatic insects. The final decision on an outdoor phaseout — proposed to take place over three to five years — is expected next January, Kirby said.
“There may be additional restrictions over and above what we’ve decided here,” he said, referring to the pesticides’ impact on aquatic insects.
“(Today’s decision) is strictly about the risk to pollinators, and for this assessment, not all uses posed an unacceptable risk to pollinators, therefore only a subset of the uses are being cancelled.”
Beekeepers and environmental groups have complained about neonicotinoids for years, blaming them for contributing to honeybee die-offs that have been observed in some parts of the country. On Thursday, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association joined a cohort of environmental groups to denounce Thursday’s restrictions as inadequate, pointing out the outdoor use of these three neonicotinoids is banned in Europe because of their impacts on bees.
“We fail to understand why pesticides that the PMRA itself has identified as a risk to the environment and the European Union has banned on the basis of risks to bees would be considered acceptable in Canada,” said Andre Flys of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, in a joint press release.
“We must improve pesticide regulation and pollinator protection in Canada, or our bees and ecosystems will suffer the consequences.”
The PMRA launched its review of these pesticides in 2012, and has previously concluded that high volumes of certain neonicotinoids in the environment are “not sustainable” and harmful to aquatic insects that are important food sources for fish, birds and other animals. It has also ruled that dust blown up when seeds treated with neonicotinoids — which is still allowed after Thursday’s restrictions — has contributed to bee deaths, and has worked with industry to make sure they use dust-reducing lubricant on planting machines.
Ontario, meanwhile, passed restrictions under its previous Liberal government in 2015 to reduce the acres of crops with neonicotinoid treated seeds by 80 per cent over two years.
The latest survey from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturalists reported bee colony losses of 32.6 per cent over the winter of 2018 — the highest level since 2009.
Health Canada says no single factor has been identified to explain these bee declines, but that loss of habitat, viruses, pest infestations and pesticide exposure may all be to blame.
“When it comes to regulating pest control products, protecting the health and safety of Canadians and their environment is a priority,” Kirby said.
“Health Canada will continue to follow the evidence on neonicotinoid use and will act when necessary.”
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga