What are neonicotinoid pesticides

A specific class of pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics) are harmful to bees and they’re slowly being recognized and banned all over the world. But Canada has been falling behind as other jurisdictions move to phase these pesticides out – until now. In August 2018, Health Canada announced its proposal to finally ban two of the most toxic neonic pesticides in Canada. This was a big step in the right direction.

What’s new

In April 2019, Health Canada completed its re-evaluations of three neonicotinoid pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam where they announced the cancellation of certain uses of all three pesticides. 

At first glance, this sounds like a clear win, but there’s always the fine print. Although these pesticides will be “cancelled” there will be a “phase-out” which allows the harmful pesticides to continue being used as-is for two more years. This is absolutely unacceptable since they’ve been proven to be harmful to pollinators. 

We challenged this in court arguing that a two-year phase-out is unlawful. Unfortunately, we lost the case although the judge reinforced the importance of science-based decision making. The phaseouts will still happen but over an extended period of time, which will sadly make pollinators pay the price. 

2020 was supposed to be a big year for pollinators. But the federal government has delayed making important announcements regarding the use of neonics. A final decision was supposed to be made in the fall of 2020 regarding banning outdoor uses of clothianidin and thiamethoxam to protect the environment. This is now the second time this decision has been delayed by Health Canada who said that new information would need to be reviewed before making a decision. We’re ensuring the information being reviewed is science-based while also submitting new evidence showing the harms of neonics on aquatic invertebrates. Now, Health Canada is pushing that decision off until the spring of 2021.

Our work to ban neonics

In November 2018, we were in court against Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency for failing to fulfil its legal responsibilities by allowing neonics to be used before they knew if they were safe or not. In May 2019, the federal court dismissed the case on the grounds of mootness, related to the timing of the case. The court declined to decide the merits of the case.

For years the Wilderness Committee has been mobilizing the public, bringing attention to the dangers of neonics and pressuring governments to protect our pollinators by banning them. 
The Wilderness Committee gathered 10,910 signatures alone and combined with 14 other environmental organizations almost half a million Canadians signed a petition to ban neonics.

Science is piling up against neonics

In 2012, a Health Canada investigation confirmed a link between unusually high bee deaths and the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on corn crops in Ontario and Quebec. That same year, a beekeeper in Elmwood, Ontario reported the loss of 37 million bees after nearby cornfields were planted with seeds coated in the pesticide. In 2013, near a Target store in Oregon, 55 trees were sprayed with a neonicotinoid pesticide called Safari. Within days, an estimated 50,000 bumblebees were found dead and dying beneath the trees.

In June 2014, international researchers released the findings of a comprehensive four-year scientific study on neonics, which conclusively demonstrated that these pesticides are a serious risk to bees, butterflies, birds and earthworms. The authors of the international study clearly state that "there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action."

After the incident in Oregon, officials have temporarily restricted the use of neonicotinoids in the state. In 2018 the European Union officially banned the neonicotinoid insecticides due to the serious danger they pose to bees... In late 2014, the Ontario provincial government brought in legislation aimed at reducing the number of acres planted with pre-treated neonic seeds for some types of corn and soybeans in the province. While this was a positive step, the law has not been broad enough to reduce the use of neonics by the province's target. 

The Wilderness Committee is joining other bee advocates across the country to push for a complete, nation-wide ban on these bee-killing pesticides – before it’s too late. 

Bees may be small, but the impact they have on our environment – and our daily lives – is immense.

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