Health Canada restricts pesticides to protect bees

OTTAWA – After several years of study and review, Health Canada is prohibiting or restricting certain uses of three types of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect the health of bees and other pollinators.

The new regulations will be phased in over two to three years, the agency said in a press release on April 11. 

The intention is to minimize the insects’ exposure to the pesticides, though growers will still be allowed to use them under specific conditions.

Health Canada will be cancelling some uses of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam and changing other conditions of use such as restricting the timing of application. 

Other uses such as treatment on canola seeds and greenhouse vegetables are not considered to pose unacceptable risks to bees and other pollinators.

The regulations vary for the three pesticides, but there will be prohibitions of use on certain orchard trees, berries and vegetable crops.

Spraying will be banned before and during blooming of some crops, but only dur-ing actual blooming for others. 

For some crops, only one application will be allowed each season.

To minimize bee exposure to dust during planting of treated seed, additional label statements are proposed for the seed treatment of cereal and legume crops.

Pollinators are organisms that help transfer pollen from one flowering plant to another. This fertilizes plants so that they can produce seeds and fruit.

With over 700 native species in Canada, bees are the most common pollinators. Others include butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, some types of beetles, hummingbirds and certain bats. 

Pollinators are critical to the production of many crops, including tree and berry fruit, canola, alfalfa, squash and melon.

In 2012, Health Canada began re-evaluations of the three neonicotinoids to ad-dress growing concerns around bee health, since large numbers were dying. 

The scientific assessments show varying effects on bees and other pollinators from exposure to each of the pesticides. These re-evaluations considered hundreds of scientific studies, from both manufacturers and published literature. 

In Canada, all pesticides must undergo a rigorous, science-based review before being approved for sale. Health Canada also regularly re-evaluates pesticides to make sure that they continue to meet modern health and safety standards.

Health Canada issued proposed decisions on neonicotinoid pesticides in 2017 and 2018 and consulted the public and stakeholders. 

The agency said it continues to evaluate the potential risks to aquatic insects from the use of neonicotinoids, since current research shows the pesticides are detected frequently in water bodies at levels that could be harmful to certain aquatic organisms. A report on the findings is expected at the end of 2019.

In 2014, Health Canada implemented risk mitigation measures to help protect bees and other pollinators from exposure to neonicotinoid-contaminated dust that oc-curs from planting treated seeds.

With these risk mitigation measures in place, the number of bee incidents in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were 70 to 80% lower than in 2013. The agency continued to see a decline in the number of incidents reported during planting in 2017 and 2018. 

The agency notes that other factors such as weather conditions may have contributed to the reduction in bee deaths.