by SUSAN MANN
The way farmers are currently using neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seeds are impacting bees and other pollinators, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has concluded. But the agency is trying to find a way to continue allowing farmers to use the insecticides while protecting the environment.
On Friday, PMRA released a consultation document outlining four protective measures for the 2014 planting season. They are:
• Require the use of safer, dust-reducing seed flow lubricants.
• Require adherence to safer seed planting practices.
• New pesticide and seed package labels with enhanced warnings.
• Companies must justify the continued need for neonicotinoid treatment on up to 100 per cent of the corn seed and 50 per cent of the soybean seed.
People have until Dec. 12 to comment on the proposals.
Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, says the PMRA’s proposal is a start but “definitely doesn’t go far enough.” But CropLife Canada’s vice president, chemistry, Pierre Petelle, says they support the PMRA’s focus on reducing dust. “We’ve been an active participant in pursuing that goal.”
CropLife Canada is a trade association representing the manufacturers, develops and distributors of pest control and plant biotechnology products. The group also supports the agency’s proposals on product label changes “to help ensure that growers are aware of the products that they’re using and understand ways they can help minimize dust and potential exposure for bees,” he says.
John Cowan, vice president strategic development for Grain Farmers of Ontario, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The beekeepers association will continue pressing the Ontario government to ban neonicotinoid insecticides on field crops. So far, the association has 35,000 signatures on its petition calling for a ban. The association is going to keep the petition going but “we are thinking of how we should present it,” Davidson explains.
He says the most troubling aspect of the PMRA’s proposal is the agency is still saying “100 per cent of the corn acres needed this treatment, which is just not true.” Similarly 50 per cent of the soybean acres don’t need the treatment either.
On the one hand, PMRA is admitting there’s a problem with neonicotinoid insecticides but “they’re not really willing to do anything about it,” he says. And that’s “very frustrating to a beekeeper.”
In addition, controlling dust won’t eliminate the bee deaths because the bees are being exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides through foraging for water in puddles and from pollen along with through the dust. “There are just too many routes of exposure.”
Requiring people to follow safer seed planting practices was tried last year, Davidson says. “This year was worse than last year” for bee deaths.
Petelle agrees bee deaths won’t be eliminated by the control of dust from neonicotinoid insecticides but he says it’s because bees are dying from many other factors rather than just the insecticides.
He also contradicts Davidson’s statements about bees being exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides through pollen. Studies required to register pesticide products in Canada call for companies to submit data on residues in pollen and nectar and “the data to date show very clearly that those are not routes of exposure that are of concern for bees,” Petelle says.
The beekeepers may be saying bees are being exposed to neonicotinoid products through pollen, “but the science says otherwise,” he notes.
The PMRA’s document says in the spring of 2012, the agency received a significant number of pollinator mortality reports, mainly from Ontario and Quebec corn-growing regions. “Areas of high corn production correlated well with the locations of bee mortalities,” the document says.
PMRA concluded the majority of pollinator mortalities were the result of exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides, likely through exposure to contaminated dust generated during treated corn seed planting. The agency also said the unusually dry and warm weather conditions last spring was a contributing factor. Best management practices were implemented to reduce pollinator exposure.
But this spring there was more “typical weather patterns” and the agency says it continued to receive a significant number of pollinator mortality reports from corn and soybean growing regions of Ontario, Quebec and some from Manitoba too. The agency concluded “the current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable,” the document says.
While it’s calling for additional protection measures for the 2014 growing season, PMRA is continuing to work with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provincial governments, growers, beekeepers and industry to determine if there are other options that would protect the environment and allow the continued use of the seed treatments for corn and soybeans.
“Bee health is a complex issue that goes beyond the incidents in 2012 and 2013” and may involve other factors, such as parasites, disease and climate, the document says. CropLife Canada is disappointed the federal government hasn’t launched an initiative to address “some of these other factors of bee health,” Petelle says, noting there has been a lot focus on pesticides but very little focus on other well-known factors affecting bee health.
Despite the release of the PMRA’s proposals, the Bee Health Working Group in Ontario will continue working to support the development and implementation of strategies to mitigate the risks to honeybees from exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides, says Mark Cripps, spokesperson for Premier and Agriculture Minister Kathleen Wynne.
PMRA is a member of the bee health working group in Ontario so the agency “will continue to inform the recommendations developed by group,” he says, noting the Ontario agriculture minister is pleased the PMRA is taking its role in pesticide management in Canada seriously.
The PMRA is also still working on re-evaluating all uses of neonicotinoid insecticides in cooperation with the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency. BF