By Tom Collins
OTTAWA — One of the most commonly-used neonicotinoids for seed treatments is of no risk to honeybees, said a joint consultation study between Health Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s environmental agency.
All three of the most common neonics — imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin — are used in corn and soybean seeds and are being re-evaluated by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). Health Canada began studying neonics in 2012 and its Jan. 6 report looked specifically at imidacloprid, the least-used neonic in Ontario but similar to the other neonic compounds. Reports on the other two neonics will be released later this year.
“The residue levels in crop pollen and nectar resulting from seed treatment uses are typically below levels expected to pose a risk to bees at both the individual bee and colony levels,” the report said. That conclusion contradicts the province’s position that neonics are a major factor in killing honeybees.
Ontario provincial regulations came into effect last July that require farmers to conduct pest assessments before being allowed to use neonic-treated corn and soybean seeds on more than 50 per cent of their fields in 2016. Farmers will need a pest assessment on all fields that use neonics starting in 2017.
Almost all of the corn seeds in Ontario and 60 per cent of soybean seeds are treated with neonics.
CropLife Canada vice-president Pierre Petelle is hopeful the Health Canada report will persuade the provincial government to make changes to its neonic regulations.
“There is still time for the government of Ontario to take into consideration the extensive work both the U.S. EPA and the PMRA have done here,” he said. “We implore them to take this into account. When you look at the rationale for their action on seed treatments, it was directly linked to pollinator health and it was directly targeted at neonic seed treatments, which the link has been completely debunked in this report, for at least one neonic.”
Bees being threatened by neonics “has been blown to proportions that have been completely out of sync with the actual risk. We see government actions resulting from it on a risk that, according to PMRA, isn’t there.”
Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Mark Brock said while he is pleased the report corroborates what the GFO has been arguing for the past couple of years, he doesn’t expect the provincial government to make any changes to the regulations.
“I’m not sure how much impact this is going to have on the regulations we have to deal with here in Ontario,” he said. “To expect them to just withdraw the regulation because a report comes out from the federal government is very unlikely.”
Brock also said the report won’t have any impact on GFO’s challenge before the courts, as that court case is about the details of the regulation and not the regulation itself.
Although imidacloprid is the most-widely used insecticide in the world, it is the least-used neonic in Ontario and is used in a Bayer soybean seed called Gaucho.
Brock said he expects the next two reports to have similar results based on farmers using similar management practices for all three neonics. “It’s a similar use pattern, just a different active ingredient.”
Petelle said the important point of the study is not the fact that imidacloprid is rarely used in Canada, but if used, won’t harm bees. He said the data for thiamethoxam and clothianidin is even more robust than the data for imidacloprid and the next two reports will have similar conclusions.
The EPA’s report said there was a clear line for when neonics start to harm honeybees. Nectar brought to the hive with more than 25 parts per billion had a negative effect, resulting in fewer honeybees, less honey and a less robust hive, said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, reported the New York Times.
But any level below 25 parts per billion had no effect on bees. The concentration levels in the neonics were below that number when dealing with corn, most vegetables, berries and tobacco.
Jones also said that treating seeds with imidacloprid did not seem to harm bees.
Petelle said the joint report is as comprehensive as one can get.
“Ontario didn’t have any additional information that wasn’t part of these reviews. That’s for sure,” he said.
Health Canada also released an economic value report, which found the national economic benefit of using neonics on corn to be $74.2 to $83.3 million annually.
“The majority of these benefits appeared to be realized in Ontario,” the Health Canada report said.
A CropLife Canada report from 2015 said that restricting the use of neonicotinoids would reduce corn and soybean revenues by about $61,600 per Ontario farmer.