National Farmers' Union joins fight to protect bees.

One of the country’s major farm groups is calling for a five-year ban on a popular seed treatment over concerns the pesticide is killing the country’s bees.

The five-year ban, the National Farmers Union said, “would provide time to study the impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on pollinators and broader agricultural and natural ecosystems.” It would also be a chance to “fully explore alternatives, including non-chemical alternatives,” the union said in a release Tuesday.

The National Farmers’ Union called for the precautionary ban in a written submission dated Dec. 10 to the Health Canada Pest Management Agency (PMRA). The union is also seeking publicly funded, independent third-party research on the issue.

The eight-page submission was in response to the PMRAs call for public comment. In September, the agency determined current use of neonicotinoid pesticides – a popular seed treatment used on corn, soybean and canola seeds – was harming the country’s bees. The deadline for comments was Dec. 12.

The PMRA is responsible for monitoring and regulating the use of pesticides in Canada.

The agency has drafted a series of recommendations including reducing dust, enforcing planting best practices, tougher labeling rules and collecting better data. These suggestions, the agency says, are designed to mitigate the risk the pesticides pose to bees.

The NFU disagrees. “The proposed measures…are not precautionary, but rather embody a risk management approach that seeks to accommodate the users and sellers of these insecticides ensuring neither adequate protection of bees and native pollinators nor our natural and agricultural ecosystems,” the union’s submission reads.

“The proposed measures have serious shortcomings,” it added.

It’s not the first time the PMRA has been asked to ban the controversial seed treatment. The Ontario Beekeepers Association, the Federation Des Apiculuteurs de Quebec, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club of Canada all want the treatment pulled, at least temporarily, from the market.

The European Union already has a two-year moratorium in place for three neonicotinoid pesticides: lothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam. The restrictions took effect Dec. 1, 2013.

That ban could be extended, though, after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said Tuesday imidaclopirid (widely used as a seed treatment) and another neonicotinoid, acetamiprid, may negatively impact brain development in unborn or young children.

The authority’s panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues “found that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory,” the agency said in a release.

The panel also “concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure to acetamiprid and imidacloprid may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced,” the release added.

The findings come after European researchers tested the chemicals on rats. The study, carried out within within the EU and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessment frameworks, found rats exposed to the pesticides weighed less, had reduced motor activity and had changes in the size and structure of their brains.

The complete study, along with a FAQ sheet and press release, can be found on EFSA’s website.

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