Neonic-treated canola not an ‘unacceptable risk’ for pollinators

Already facing federally mandated phase-outs from many major on-farm uses in Canada over risks to aquatic insects, neonicotinoids aren’t expected to pose “unacceptable risks” to pollinators when used on canola seed or hothouse vegetables in the meantime.

Health Canada said as much Thursday as it released its final re-evaluation decisions for three neonic pesticides — re-evaluations dealing specifically with the products’ potential impacts on bees and other pollinators.

The department’s assessments of the three neonics — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — show “varying effects on bees and other pollinators from exposure to each of these pesticides.”

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For those reasons, Health Canada said, its final decision calls for outright cancellation of some uses of the three neonics, mainly affecting the horticulture and tree fruit sectors.

For some other uses, the department plans to change conditions of use, such as “restricting the timing of application” and adding new “label statements” for uses such as cereal seed treatments.

Uses such as canola seed treatments and on greenhouse vegetables “are not expected to pose unacceptable risks to bees and other pollinators,” the agency said Thursday.

Crop protection industry group CropLife Canada hailed much of Health Canada’s announcement Thursday, saying it “affirm(s) the safety of neonics as a seed treatment and for many other uses.”

The department’s decision “confirms that in the vast majority of cases, neonics can be used effectively by farmers without unnecessary risk to pollinators,” CropLife CEO Pierre Petelle said in a statement via email.

Grain Farmers of Ontario CEO Barry Senft, in a separate statement, noted growers in that province “take several steps to protect pollinators on their farms and (Health Canada’s) decision shows that these efforts are working, as is the regulatory system that works to protect human health and the environment.”

Health Canada has been re-evaluating the three neonics since 2012 to” address growing concerns around bee health” and issued proposed decisions for clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam in December 2017, May 2018 and December 2017, respectively.

Neonic seed treatments, Petelle said, “represent an incredible innovation that has improved agricultural sustainability and limited exposure to non-target organisms due to the very precise application of the product on the seed.”

However, he warned, the planned new restrictions and cancellations Health Canada announced Thursday will leave many growers, particularly in the hort sector, “severely impacted.”

In many cases, he said, for those growers, “there are no viable alternatives… to control certain insect pests and removing neonics for growing certain horticulture crops like apples and cherries may jeopardize the viability of certain types of fruit and vegetable production in Canada.”

The decisions

For clothianidin, Health Canada’s final pollinator decision will cancel foliar application on orchard trees and strawberries and on municipal, industrial and residential turf sites. It also limits the number of foliar applications on cucurbit vegetables to one per season.

Also, “additional label statements” will be required for clothianidin seed treatment of cereal crops.

For imidacloprid, the final pollinator decision will cancel foliar application to pome fruit, stone fruit, certain tree nuts with “high pollinator attractiveness,” lavender and rosemary. It will also cancel soil application on legume, fruiting, and cucurbit vegetables when grown outdoors; herbs harvested after bloom; small fruit and berries (caneberry; bushberry; low-growing berry; berry and small fruit vine excluding grapes); and ornamentals that are “attractive to pollinators and planted outside.”

The department would also prohibit foliar spraying of imidacloprid before or during bloom on fruiting vegetables, herbs that are harvested after bloom, legume vegetables (broad beans, fava beans andVicia faba), berry crops (with renovation after harvest for woody berries), and tree nuts apart from those with high pollinator attractiveness.

Also, additional label statements will be required for imidacloprid seed treatment of cereal and legume crops.

For thiamethoxam, Health Canada proposes to cancel foliar and soil application on ornamental crops “that will result in pollinator exposure” — in other words, crops that are planted outdoors and attractive to pollinators. It will also cancel soil application for berry crops, cucurbit crops and fruiting vegetables, and foliar application to orchard trees.

Health Canada will also prohibit spraying of thiamethoxam before or during bloom in foliar application on legume and outdoor fruiting vegetables, and on berry crops, with “renovation required” for woody berries. Foliar application on sweet potato and potato would not be allowed during bloom.

Also, “additional label statements” for thiamethoxam will be required for seed treatments of cereal and legume crops.

Risks ‘not imminent’

Health Canada proposes to put all the above risk mitigation measures in place over a 24-month period. “The risks identified (to pollinators) are not considered imminent because they are not expected to cause irreversible harm over this period,” the department said.

Members of the public have 60 days from the final decisions’ publication date to file any notices of objection, Health Canada said.

The department also noted Thursday it already put risk mitigation measures in place in 2014 to help protect bees and other pollinators from exposure to neonic-laden dust kicked up during planting of treated seeds.

With the risk mitigation measures in place from 2014 onward, Health Canada said Thursday, the number of bee incidents in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were 70-80 per cent lower than in 2013. Further decline was seen in the number of incidents reported during planting in 2017 and 2018.

Health Canada on Thursday also granted that “other factors” such as favourable weather conditions might have also contributed to the reduction in bee “incidents” and bee deaths in the crop years since 2014.

Phase-outs still proposed

All this said, the agency’s final pollinator re-evaluation decisions have no bearing on Health Canada’s separate ongoing evaluations of the “potential risks to aquatic insects” from the use of neonics.

Final decisions on those evaluations are expected at the end of this year, Health Canada said Thursday — but the department also reiterated that current research shows neonics are “detected frequently in waterbodies at levels that could be harmful to certain aquatic organisms.”

Health Canada in 2016 proposed a phase-out of most uses of imidacloprid over three to five years after a routine re-evaluation by its Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) found imidacloprid showing up at levels harmful to certain aquatic insect populations such as mayflies and midges — a “critical food source” for fish, birds and other animals.

Special reviews for both clothianidin and thiamethoxam were announced in the wake of those findings on imidacloprid. Those reviews, released last summer, found both pesticides being measured at levels harmful to aquatic insects.

As a result, Health Canada also proposed last summer to cancel all outdoor (that is, non-greenhouse) agricultural and turf uses for clothianidin, and all outdoor agricultural and ornamental uses for thiamethoxam, over three to five years, depending on availability of alternatives.

In Canada, clothianidin is marketed by Bayer as insecticides and seed treatments under brand names including Poncho, Prosper, Titan and Sepresto and by Nufarm as NipsIt.

Thiamethoxam products include Cruiser and Helix, marketed by Syngenta, while imidacloprid is sold mainly by Bayer under brands such as Admire, Gaucho, Concept and Intercept. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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