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Neonicotinoids – Past, Present and Future (PCN Spring 2017) MAR 28 2017 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Neonicotinoids are one of the most widely used insecticides in the world. The class of insecticides, to which imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin belong, was welcomed by all sectors of agriculture as this new technology was much less toxic than earlier pesticides such as Lindane and others. Neonics offered a cost-effective alternative that provided the control or suppression needed to ensure producers could continue to produce crops.

From 2012 to 2013, Eastern Canada went through a period of tension between grain producers and their respective government ministries. Neonicotinoids were targeted as the culprit for colony collapse disorder in Ontario and Quebec apiaries. After years of court litigation and with cooperation between equipment manufacturers and re-designed polymer coatings for seed treatments, farmers were deemed to have mitigated any risks to beekeepers and pollinators.

This past November, the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), an arm of Health Canada, released a re-evaluation decision regarding imidacloprid, and the proposed intention to phase out imidacloprid over three to five years. This decision was not based on the risk of neonics to bees, but rather that there is a risk to aquatic invertebrates given the two data sets that were used to model the risk across Canada. The Canadian agricultural sector was also notified that a re-evalution of thiamethoxam and clothianidin were forthcoming.

Stakeholders and the public were given 120 days to provide submissions. It is believed that tens of thousands of submissions were received, although that is not confirmed. Many national, provincial and even municipal organizations provided submissions on behalf of producers. APG, along with Pulse Canada and our provincial partners from Saskatchewan to Ontario, worked collaboratively along with other cropping counterparts, to best communicate the impact that removing neonicotinoids will have on control of insect pests.

Many of our insect pests controlled or suppressed by these seed treatments no longer have any viable alternatives and producers are losing functional groups from which to choose in order to rotate their mode of action when targeting insect pests.

Through integrated pest management, using crop rotation, rotating herbicide, fungicide and insecticide functional groups ensures that insects and weeds do not develop resistance. This may be the largest threat to crop, vegetable and other agricultural production in Canada, should the phaseout decision be made.

This will result in a competitive disadvantage to our trading partners including the United States, where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presently will not be removing neonicotinoids as a tool for their agricultural producers. The EPA has deemed that there is perhaps a risk to aquatic invertebrates as the PMRA has suggested, however, the EPA also looks at cost-benefit of the pesticide in question, and has decided the risk to be minimal and the loss of this invaluable tool to be too costly.

Presently, producer groups, boards, associations and organizations across the country are working through an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Round Table facilitated process, and have agreed to look at additional water monitoring in order to provide more robust data on which to base this decision.

The 2017 growing season will offer some time to coordinate and cooperate with the PMRA and Health Canada to obtain the comprehensive data they need to make decisions. It may also afford producer groups more time to look at further practices that can mitigate the risk to our waterways, communicate the importance of alternatives and find a solution that works for all.

Unfortunately, the task of communicating to our urban friends and relatives regarding the role of sound scientific process in the post-truth social media era will be a difficult one. It will take hard work to change the frequency from bees to aquatic invertebrates. This is a time for technical experts to augment the robustness and quality of their data, for agricultural producers to discuss this issue with their MLAs, MPs and urban counterparts.

Our industry is a technology-based, scientific process. Let’s not let social media determine the license to operate. The industry needs to ensure that the complex scientific process, sound science and due diligence is exercised when determining the future of our industry, livelihoods and food security.