After two years of grower frustration, the release of a “Re-evaluation Note on the Value Assessment of Corn and Soybean Seed Treatment Use of the active ingredients Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam” produced by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency under Health Canada, has provided additional information to support farmer claims around the need for neonicotinoid seed treatments. This occurred as farmers struggle to implement provincial regulations forced upon them without consultation.
The document concluded these seed treatments provide value to corn and soybean growers and when judiciously used as directed represent minimal risk to bees. Although the report was focused on imidacloprid, a seed treatment used on soybeans and other crops (with in-depth documents to be released later in the year on the other two neonicotinoid active ingredients used in corn and soybeans), the analysis supports not only recent peer-reviewed research, but also the research from when these products were originally cleared for use over a decade ago.
As expected, the Ontario government dismissed the Health Canada report outright. The province continues to be entrenched in an ideological approach that defies available expertise. This includes ignoring research produced by provincial staff from the University of Guelph. Research conducted by Dr. Art Schaafsma over the last two years shows if you manage the dust exposure from negative pressure air planters you mitigate the risk to bees. His research also shows the movement of the active ingredient away from the seed once in the ground is minimal and in line with federal government analysis.
Separate research conducted by Dr. Cynthia Scott Dupree from the University of Guelph shows that bees pollinating desired plants like canola are not exposed to neonicotinoids at levels that represent undue risk. This actual field research is in complete contrast to the video that growers are required to watch as part of the provincial seed treatment integrated pest management (IPM) course. This video advocates the opposite in a cartoon segment void of research references.
Additionally, research by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reviewed at the recent SouthWest Agricultural Conference showed that grubs and wireworms may not be actually killed by neonicotinoid seed treatments, but rather their movement disoriented, allowing corn and soybean plants to germinate and emerge in safety. Populations of both were similar before and after planting with neonicotinoid seed treatments. Even with this knowledge, the Province of Ontario chose the alarmist word ‘extermination’ in its description of the use of neonicotinoid-seed treatments both as part of the IPM course and in the wording of the law controlling their use. If it was on the shelf of a grocery store, this would be called false advertising prosecutable by the law.
Research and field experience with neonicotinoid-seed treatment use is why many beekeepers not only within Ontario but especially in Western Canada are lobbying to keep these products available. They represent a safer path to bee health, especially in preferred habitat crops like canola.
The Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) dismissed the PMRA report outright, based on the methodology used. The organization has commissioned its own analysis of the PMRA report. You will be able to push me over with a feather if the OBA analysis provides anything but a scathing condemnation of the PMRA. It is interesting that at the meetings I attend commercial beekeepers are speaking out against the actions of the OBA.
For farmers across Ontario, it is important to remember that this is not about science or risk measurement. This is about ideology guised under the selective use of the precautionary principle, which, simply stated, is that a substance should be banned if there is any risk measured above zero from its use. If the government used this principle with pharmaceutical drugs, birth control, alcohol, gasoline, coffee, household cleaners or, yes, even windmills, use would be restricted or banned. The risks to all of these things to human health and the environment have been measured and in almost all cases are higher. Think about that.
If this is not about ideology, then it is time for the Ontario government to actually sit down with farmers to constructively solve the implementation mess these regulations have created. Farmers will always do the right thing. The level of anger these regulations have created is not out of ignorance but out of the knowledge that these regulations create more issues from an environmental perspective than they solve and will hurt more bees than they save. As stated by the premier on June 12, 2014 the Liberals became the government for all residents of Ontario. It is time they act accordingly and finally sit down and listen to what farmers have to say. The bees will thank them.
Stephen Denys is vice-president of sales and marketing for PRIDE Seeds, a past president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and a cash crop farmer near Chatham, Ont.