Farm groups call proposed neonic ban "very concerning" and "disappointing"

Agriculture industry and farm groups are voicing strong concerns about Health Canada’s proposed ban of two neonicotinoid (neonic) crop protection products announced on Wednesday.

Citing risk to aquatic insects, such as mayflies and midges, not bees, the federal health department’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is looking to phase out all agricultural uses of thiamethoxam (eg. Cruiser Maxx) and clothianidin (eg. Poncho 600 FS) over a three-to0-five year span.

Both these neonics are primarily used as seed treatments to protect seed and young plants from insect pests which might otherwise be controlled through foliar spraying.

“The announcement is very concerning for our industry, because these products are really important for farmers to protect their crops from a devastating insect — flea beetles,” says Brian Innes, vice president of public affairs for the Canola Council of Canada, in the interview below.

The PMRA says surface water monitoring shows neonics being detected in some water bodies at “levels that cause harm to aquatic insects,” but spokesperson Scott Kirby on Wednesday admitted the data is less “robust” in parts of the country than others.

The president of Grain Growers of Canada says they’re reviewing the proposal, but are worried the PMRA is jumping to conclusions.

“Grain farmers are concerned that the PMRA re-evaluation process is focused on publishing proposed decisions as fast as possible,” notes Jeff Nielsen. “It appears that this speed limits their ability to ensure all relevant information is available and prevents them from engaging farmers so that we can fully understand the issues they raise, which would allow us to provide the PMRA with the information required to refine these decisions.”

CropLife Canada president Pierre Petelle calls the proposal “especially disappointing and confusing,” noting the PMRA recently approved the continued registration of both these products when assessing their impact on pollinator insects, including honeybees.

“The proposed cancellation of all agricultural uses of clothianidin and thiamethoxam would leave growers without this family of safe and efficient pest control products that they rely on to protect their crops from potentially devastating insect pressures,” he says.

For canola, which accounts for more than 22 million acres in Canada, Innes refers to the experience of growers in Europe.

“We don’t have viable alternatives that can do the same thing these products do, so when we look at what’s happened in the United Kingdom, for example, when they have not had access to these products, there have been dramatic reductions in yield, increased risk for producers, as well as less canola grown because of the fact it’s no longer profitable,” he says.

The announcement on Wednesday started a 90 day consultation period, with a final decision from the PMRA expected before the end of 2019.

Innes says the Canola Council is confident the PMRA will still adjust its position if evidence brought forward during the consultation period suggests the proposal should be changed.

“We want to make sure we’re reviewing this and supporting the PMRA to give them the information that they need,” he says.

CropLife will also be working with its members and other impacted groups to “review in detail the data that led to the PMRA’s proposed special review decisions,” says Petelle. “We will correct any misinterpretation of the data and provide comments to address any information gaps identified.”

Related:

Listen to the Canola Council’s Brian Innes discuss Health Canada’s proposed decision for thiamethoxam and clothianidin, the potential impact, and the effort to fill in gaps in surface water data (originally heard on RealAg Radio on August 16th):

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