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Ontario proposes strict limits on neonic use

By Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/28/2014 11:02:00 AM

Environmental advocates have applauded Ontario’s decision to reduce neonicotinoid use in acreage devoted to corn and soybean by 80% by 2017. Growers who rely on neonicotinoid-treated seed say it’s a decision with no foundation in science that will devastate their industry.

The November 21, 2014 issue of EcoLog News reported on a campaign by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and others that was calling on the Ontario government to ban the pesticides, known popularly as neonics, outright. Neonics are commonly used as a seed treatment, relieving farmers of the burden of periodically applying pesticides that many argue are more harmful to the environment. Some studies have implicated neonics in honey bee mortality. Over the 2013-2014 winter season, Ontario experienced a 58% honey bee mortality rate, well above the 15% normal rate.

Even though Ontario’s plan falls short of a ban, Gideon Forman, CAPE executive director, is ecstatic.

“It’s a huge step. Eighty percent reduction in essentially two years is massive. It’s really the most significant legislation having to do with neonics in North America,” Forman told EcoLog News.

According to the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which represents the province’s corn, soybean and wheat farmers, it’s effectively a ban, and that’s devastating news.

“A reduction at this level puts our farmers at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the country and the rest of the North America,” said CEO Barry Senft in a release. “It will mean smaller margins for grain farmers and could signal the transition away from family farms to large multinational farming operations that can sustain lower margins.”

However, at this stage, it is neither a ban nor an 80% reduction. It is a discussion paper only — Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario. It puts forward the proposition that neonic-treated seeds are often planted in soils where they are not needed. The discussion paper calls on growers to follow integrated pest management practices and to conduct a credible risk assessment as preliminary steps to approval to use neonic-treated seeds. The objective is to limit the use of seeds treated with three specific neonics only to those circumstances where treated seeds are needed.

In that same release from the Grain Farmers of Ontario, Chair Henry Van Ankum called the approach “unfounded, impractical, and unrealistic,” and said “the government does not know how to implement it.” The organization argues that new best practices, implemented this planting season at the behest of Health Canada, have addressed the problem, reducing bee deaths by 70%.

That’s not where the focus ought to be, says Forman.

“Over time we need to move away from toxic chemicals in agriculture,” he says. The trend is toward less toxic and organic solutions. That’s the response he expects from pesticide companies as they adapt to regulations limiting neonic use. He uses industry’s response to bans on cosmetic pesticides, as happened in Ontario in 2008, as an example.

“When government legislates a ban on toxic lawn pesticides, industry comes up with non-toxic products,” he says. “We think [industry is] going to innovate this time as well.”

Comments on the Pollinator Health discussion paper will be accepted until January 25, 2015.

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