by SUSAN MANN
The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency is re-evaluating a group of insecticides used by farmers to protect seeds and crops from insects because they may be linked to bee deaths.
The products being reviewed are clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid and they are a group of neonicotinoid insecticides. That’s a class of insecticides that act on the central nervous system of insects.
Clothianidin is the active ingredient in Bayer CropScience’s Titan and in Poncho. Clothianidin is also in Valent’s Arena 50 WDG and Clutch 50 WDG. Thiamethoxam is one of the active ingredients in Syngenta’s CruiserMaxx. Imidacloprid is one of the active ingredients in Bayer’s Concept. The products are registered in Canada for use as seed treatments, foliar sprays, in-furrow applications and in greenhouses to control insects in fruits, vegetables and cash crops.
The re-evaluation covers these active ingredients and their associated products registered in Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) says in a notice on Health Canada’s website announcing the re-evaluation. Created in 1995, the PMRA is part of Health Canada and is responsible for pesticide regulation in the country.
Imidacloprid was already being re-evaluated when the agency announced the review of the other two, PMRA says.
Gary Holub, Health Canada media relations officer, says by email farmers can continue using the pesticides as directed by the label during the re-evaluation. However, Holub says during the review the department will act immediately, if necessary, to further protect bees.
John Van Alten, Ontario Beekeepers’ Association president, says clothianidin has been implicated in the acute poisoning of honeybees in Ontario this year and last year in Quebec. More than 100 incidents of acute poisoning symptoms across Ontario were reported to PMRA, and the provincial environment and agriculture ministries. They occurred mostly in southwestern Ontario.
Van Alten says an individual bee kill incident refers to a bee yard, which could contain up to 40 colonies. One colony could contain as many as 40,000 bees. Typically, not every bee in the colony was killed, just mostly the flying bees which were out gathering pollen and nectar.
The number of bee deaths would involve several thousand colonies of bees, he says.
The majority of dead honeybee samples tested by PMRA came back positive for clothianidin, Van Alten says. “We want to work with the chemical companies to find a solution but given that we’re seeing such high levels of bee kill we think this re-investigation by PMRA is justified.”
Both cash crop farmers and beekeepers recognize the important role each plays in the agricultural industry and want the review to be science based.
Henry Van Ankum, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario, says bees are helpful to crops growing in fields.
Van Ankum says they’re “not looking to use products that are harmful to bees or guys working in other commodities” and they’d like to get to the bottom of the potential link between bee deaths and the pesticides.
In corn the insecticides are used to protect sees from insects, worms and other soil-borne pests that attack before germination, he says. The protection gives the plants a more vigorous start.
Van Alten says they want any action PMRA may take on the neonicotinoid insecticides to be based on science and not on politics. “What I’d like to see is rational heads getting together and that we can work with our partners in agriculture and come to a solution. These are important chemicals for farmers.”
Still the beekeepers’ association is aware of a problem happening especially around corn seeding this spring.
Nadine Sisk, executive director of communications of CropLife Canada, says the products have been in use for about a decade. CropLife Canada is a trade association representing manufacturers, developers and distributors of pest control products and plant biotechnology used in agriculture, urban and public health settings.
Van Ankum says the products are valuable to farmers and he hopes PMRA doesn’t jump to any conclusions as it does its review. Canada’s regulatory system is sound and he fully expects PMRA to do a good, science-based evaluation.
Health Canada’s review is being done in co-operation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, will help it address “issues related to the role that exposure to certain neonicotinoid pesticides may play in these declines.”
Van Ankum says it’s easy to point the finger at a crop protection product when there could be a combination of factors that contributed to the bee deaths, including 2012’s odd spring, with extremely warm temperatures early in the season. BF