OTTAWA — The U.S. will have a huge advantage over Canadian farmers if neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds are banned in Canada, the federal standing committee on agriculture and agri-food was told last month.
The committee met over two days to discuss Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s (PMRA) decision to phase out the neonic, imidacloprid, over the next three to five years. The agency argues that the neonic-treated seed is harmful to aquatic insects such as mayflies and midges. A final decision is expected in December.
Here are some of the excerpts from the eight hours of committee meetings:
Scott Kirby, director general, environmental assessment directorate, Pest Management Regulatory Agency on real-world data:
“We have no real-world data in terms of impacts actually in the environment. We virtually never do. That’s not something we normally receive. The information that we have is what we’re basing our assessment on.
“I just want to make sure we understand that the onus is on the registrant to provide us with the information to demonstrate that the risks are acceptable.”
Lisa Gue, senior researcher for the David Suzuki Foundation on supporting a ban:
“Just a few months before the PMRA issued its proposed decision on imidacloprid, France adopted legislation to ban all neonicotinoids by September 2018. We recommend that Canada match the French timeline.”
Craig Hunter, pesticides expert for the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association:
“We have great concern that the 2015-2016 monitoring data, which was not included in making (the PMRA) decision, shows very different — in fact, lower — residue numbers in those same locations. This has not been taken into account.
“Every other country in the world that continues to use this — like the giant who lives south of us — will continue to use it, continue to have a cost of production advantage over us, and will be able to flood our market with cheaper product.”
Rod Scarlett, executive director of Canadian Honey Council, on how well honeybees are doing:
“Contrary to many preconceived notions, the numbers of managed bee colonies in Canada have been steadily increasing despite the pressures of pests, pathogens, reduced or changing habitat, and pesticide exposure. Indeed, the latest Statistics Canada numbers indicate a record number of colonies in Canada in 2016. Those numbers can be a little deceiving, as increased numbers are driven not only by economics but by and through the hard work of beekeepers, often at increased expense.
“What we can comment on and what we do have a concern about is the potential impact that alternative products the farmers will have available to them may have on honeybees. If the alternatives are old chemistries with limited impact assessments done on pollinators, they may prove more harmful to honeybees and other beneficial insects than the current situation.”
MP David Anderson (CON — Cypress Hills-Grasslands, Sask.) on PMRA research:
“It’s interesting that a couple of the studies seem to conclude there might be a problem in the future, but we don’t really know what that is. That science apparently hasn’t been done as well as it could have. I know the discussion around this started around the loss of the bee colonies and that there was a general sense that (neonics) might have something to do with it. Science has basically proven there’s not a direct correlation there right now.
“The Ontario government reacted. I don’t think they reacted to science. They reacted to public pressure. Now I’m concerned that we’re seeing some of the same folks who would have been influencing the Ontario government here, and seeing some of the same reactions…
“There’s a decision that has been made that looks like it’s political, not scientific.
“Science doesn’t indicate that there’s any permanent impact on water species at this point. There doesn’t seem to be much information on that, yet your decision is that you’re still going to ban these chemicals.”
Mark Brock, crop farmer and chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario on alternatives to neonics:
“Today there are no alternatives in the marketplace or in the technology pipeline that provide the same level of protection and safety for our farmer-members. Last year there was an introduction of a similar product into the marketplace, but it’s not available for soybeans, nor does it cover the same array of insects that the three neonics do. It is also being sold at four times the cost of the neonic seed treatment, even though it provides less protection.”
Paul Thiel, vice-president, product development & regulatory science, Bayer CropScience Inc. on why he disagrees with PMRA:
“In their review of the registrant and published data, the PMRA has relied exclusively on laboratory data to generate the threshold values of concern, using the mayfly as the most sensitive representative species. Bayer has submitted 22 mesocosm studies as part of the dossier for the imidacloprid registration. These studies are higher-tier studies that more properly represent the aquatic invertebrate community in a natural setting, as opposed to an artificial laboratory setting. However, each of these studies was rejected by the PMRA for this assessment.”
Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry at CropLife Canada on the 100,000 public comments made on this issue:
“For a typical PMRA re-evaluation, if you get 30 submissions, that’s a lot of interest. It’s the registrants and maybe a few academics. It’s a very technical area.
“A possible 100,000 submissions means that 99,000 of those are activist-based ‘click and send.’
“We’ve looked at those websites, and basically even on this issue, even on this active ingredient, they talk about death to bees and the alarm around dying bees and even human health issues. Things that are clearly out of scope, clearly addressed by PMRA in this document, are being used to scare the public into engaging on this issue.”