Member Perspectives on Neonicotinoid Licensing

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Author: Jenn Kucharczyk

Posted: July 16, 2014

Categories: GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Members / News from Sustain Ontario

Farms at work Native Pollinators beeLast week, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food announced a plan to introduce a licensing system to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, addressing the calls for action in the on-going debate surrounding these pesticides’ connection to high rates of pollinator mortalities, specifically the collapse of honey bee colonies. The proposed licensing system, to be implemented for the 2015 growing season, will ensure that neonicotinoids are used only on an as-needed basis. There has been mixed reception to the announcement: some stakeholder groups are happy to see a commitment to restricting the pesticides’ use, while others feel that an outright ban is necessary and already overdue. Meanwhile, other stakeholders are calling for more Ontario field studies to be completed before any restrictive action is taken.

“Over the coming months I want to first consult with industry, farmers and environmental stakeholders on options that are practical, including the consideration of a license system,” Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs, said in a statement quoted by the CBC.

To date, the Sustain Ontario alliance has only supported the protection and restoration of pollinator habitats, but a number of our members have done significant work in the field of native pollinator health, such as Farms at Work, Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) and Ontario Nature. We’ve collected a series of members’ responses to the recent announcement.

The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) and the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) have both made official statements in support of the restrictions as an encouraging step forward.

“The NFU in Ontario has members who are beekeepers as well as members who farm various field crops, including conventional corn and soybeans. The effect neonicotinoids have on our environment is of importance to everyone,” said Karen Eatwell, NFU-O President. “In our communication with governments, we have called for action to end the widespread prophylactic use of neonicotinoid seed treatments. We have suggested a moratorium on the sale of treated seed while allowing for the possibility of farmers applying to have their seed treated if they can demonstrate the need for neonicotinoid seed treatment.” Read the NFU-O media release.

The Organic Council of Ontario also announced their support for the Ministry’s “balanced approach… to protect both pollinators and growers in Ontario.” OCO has also prepared a sample letter and background information to empower members of the public to reach out to the Ministry so that these decision makers will hear directly from concerned citizens. OCO also shared that they will have several meetings with Minister Leal and OMAF staff over the next few weeks.

In an interview with CBC Windsor Morning, Susan Chan, Native Pollinator Program Manager at Farms at Work, described the licensing as “a fantastic first step” to reduce the environmental loading of neonicotinoids. She cites that the lack of regulation so far has seen neonicotinoids used on 100% of conventionally grown corn in Ontario, when OMAF has stated that only 10-20% of the acreage actually needs it. The licensing system will be a step in reducing the reliance on these pesticides and help to build an exit strategy. As part of Farms at Work’s program, Chan has written a fact sheet on neonicotinoids in Ontario and a letter with recommendations for the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to take action on the issue.

Ontario Nature is calling for stricter measures. In a letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail, Anne Bell, Director of Conservation and Education, writes: “These pesticides merit the same fate as DDT – an outright ban.” Reference is made to an international review of over 800 studies that conclude neonicotinoids have detrimental long term impacts beyond direct pollinator impairment, contaminating soil, water and vegetation for years. Ontario Nature is one of the leaders on pollinator issues for the Environmental Priorities group along with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), another Sustain Ontario member.

CELA has been closely involved with this issue on behalf of their clients, the Sierra Club of Canada, alongside a longstanding interest in and detailed work on pesticides more generally.

“We defer to our client who has clearly and forcefully called for a ban on the neonic pesticides,” says Senior Researcher Kathleen Cooper.   They filed a Notice of Objection under the Pest Control Products Act surrounding four specific clothianidin products (family of pesticides to which Neonics belong) with the federal Health Minister last fall regarding a decision to allow their continued conditional registration. The conditional nature of the registration rests on the need for the registrants to submit a chronic toxicity study in bees, a “critical data gap” that has been outstanding since 2003.  A decision was forthcoming in June, but CELA  has more recently been told it is “coming soon.” Depending on the decision, they will consider further legal action, under their client’s direction. More details are available on CELA’s website.

The Sustain Ontario Alliance has not heard from all of our members on this issue, however, and we are conducting a thorough examination of the issue with our members and Advisory Council.  If you are a member and would like to weigh in but have not received a survey, please contact Carolyn Young.

Learn more about the debate

A June 25th article by Eric Atkins at The Globe and Mail, “Are ‘neonics’ killing bees?” outlines the history of neonicotinoid use in Canada, explaining  some of the debate’s pressure points – including pollinator habitat protection, lack of supply of untreated seed, and farmer income security – and reasons for regulators’ cautious moves towards restrictions. He states:

“The Ontario government has been promoting the planting of seeds that are not coated with neonicotinoids, and seeds that are coated with a fungicide only. The province is spending $1.2-million to study pollinator health and farming practices, and field staff with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food have been analyzing soil conditions to see whether farmers can skip the treatments.”

The power to ban pesticide use lies within Health Canada’s federal jurisdiction, but the province can control or ban their sale.

For more information about the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food stakeholder work on pollinator health, read the Ontario Bee Health Working Group Report, released in March 2014.