First report on neonic-treated seed sales measures widespread use
Looking for information about Canadian pesticide use and sales is frustrating. But in a leap forward for transparency, Ontario has published its first report on sales of corn and soybean seed treated with neonicotinoid insecticides ("neonics"), as required by the recently-amended provincial pesticide regulation.
Parts of Europe have banned neonics to protect pollinators. In 2015, Ontario introduced North America's first regulatory restrictions on them. Its more modest approach addresses neonic-treated corn and soybean seed, implicated in catastrophic bee die offs during planting in Ontario and Quebec. The Ontario government has pledged to reduce these uses of neonics by 80 per cent.
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Tracking progress towards the 80 per cent reduction goal needs timely reporting on sales of treated seeds. Federal regulations require pesticide manufacturers to report on product sales each year. Health Canada summarizes this data in annual pesticide sales reports. But the Health Canada reports don't capture sales of neonic-treated seeds. Furthermore, they are not very detailed and only list whether total sales of each pesticide's active ingredient is more or less than 50,000 kilograms. And the most recent edition reports pesticide sales in 2014.
Ontario's report on seed sales fills an important gap. It shows that in 2016, 54 per cent of soybean seed and 76 per cent of corn seed sold in the province (by mass) were neonic-treated. This represents a modest reduction from pre-regulation levels. The total number of acres planted with treated corn and soybean seeds declined by 24 per cent. It's a good start. But more than three million acres in Ontario are still planted with neonic-treated corn and soybean seed, and that's unacceptable.
The province is phasing in the new regulation. Full implementation should drive deeper reductions in the use of neonic-treated seeds. Further action may be necessary to meet the 80 per cent reduction target. In 2016, farmers could buy neonic-treated seed for half an area planted with corn or soybeans with few restrictions. They could use treated seed for more than half if a pest assessment showed a relevant insect threat. Starting in 2017, treated seeds can only be used if justified by a pest assessment.
Meanwhile, Health Canada recently proposed a ban on agricultural use of one neonic (imidacloprid), citing concerns that it poses an unacceptable risk to aquatic biodiversity in Canadian lakes and rivers. Federal reviews of two other neonics are underway with results expected later in 2017.
A Canada-wide ban on neonics is an appropriate extension of Ontario's early action on treated seeds. We're starting to turn a corner away from the indiscriminate use of these chemicals. But we need to pick up the pace.