How neonicotinoid pesticides are poisoning Canada's agriculture

Agriculture in Canada is heading down a dangerous path, promoted by Health Canada's willingness to continue to approve the use of neonicotinoids despite the harm done by these chemicals. On July 24, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) registered a "seed protectant" with the neonicotinoid clothianidin, manufactured by Valent Canada, Inc. for commercial use on wheat.  

Members of the public have the opportunity to file a notice of objection when a pesticide is registered for a major new use. However, PMRA has already received five notices of objection to previous registration decisions on clothianidin to which it has not yet responded.

A survey conducted by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists found that of 100,000 Ontario honeybee colonies wintered in fall 2013, over 58,000 were dead or unproductive in spring 2014. Even taking a conservative estimate of 20,000 bees per hive, this means that over a billion bees died in Ontario this past winter. This shortage of honeybees may be affecting production of pollinator-dependent crops such as blueberries and cherries. The survey notes that pesticide exposure and colony damage incidents during the past five years are raising beekeepers' concerns about neonicotinoids.

Treating seeds with nerve poisons

Meanwhile, neonicotinoid usage is soaring. According to Health Canada's Pest Control Sales Reports, sales went from just over 100,000 kg in 2008 to nearly 300,000 kg in 2010. Two neonicotinoids, thiamethoxam and clothianidin, vaulted into the top 10 list of insecticides -- even though only small amounts of these compounds are applied per hectare because of their high toxicity.

Pesticide-coated seeds accounted for most of the increased sales. Neonicotinoid use has grown to the extent that it is difficult for Canadian farmers to buy seeds for major crops such as corn and soybeans (and soon, wheat) that aren't treated with these nerve poisons. 

This means ever-increasing levels in our food. In a study published in 2014, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from neighbourhood grocery stores in Boston. They found that "all fruit and vegetable samples (except nectarine and tomato) and 90 per cent of honey samples were detected positive for at least one neonicotinoid; 72 per cent of fruits, 45 per cent of vegetables, and 50 per cent of honey samples contained at least two different neonicotinoids." 

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