The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides' 2017 assessment of neonics reveals new risks to biodiversity and ecosystems
**OTTAWA **— Neonicotinoid pesticides pose severe threats to ecosystems worldwide, according to new information contained in an update to the world's most comprehensive scientific review of the ecological impacts of systemic pesticides.
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The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) released the second edition of its Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Effects of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems today in Ottawa. It synthesizes more than 500 studies since 2014, including some industry-sponsored studies. The review also considered fipronil, a closely related systemic pesticide used in Europe.
The updated assessment confirms that neonics have major impacts and represent a worldwide threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services. First introduced in the 1990s, neonics are now the most widely used insecticides in the world. Agricultural applications include seed treatments, soil treatments and foliar sprays. Neonics are also used on trees, in animal insect treatments, and in domestic and commercial turf products.
"Today's findings reiterate the need to stop massive uses of systemic pesticides, including most urgently their prophylactic use in seed treatment," said Jean-Marc Bonmatin, TFSP vice-chair and research scientist at France's National Centre for Scientific Research. "The use of these pesticides runs contrary to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. It provides no real benefit to farmers, decreases soil quality, hurts biodiversity and contaminates water, air and food. There is no longer any reason to continue down this path of destruction."
The report is composed of three papers reviewing new data on the mode of action, metabolism, toxicity and environmental contamination of neonicotinoids and fipronil; the lethal and sublethal effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on organisms and their impacts on ecosystems; and the efficacy of neonicotinoids and fipronil in agriculture and alternative approaches to pest control.
"Only a tiny fraction of pesticide use serves its purpose to fight pests. Most simply contaminate the environment with extensive damage to non-target organisms," said Faisal Moola, director-general with the David Suzuki Foundation. "The Canadian government must accelerate its proposed phase-out of the neonic imidacloprid, and end the use of all other neonics without further delay. Our natural ecosystems and food sources depend on it."
In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on certain uses of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops, and is now considering a proposal to extend this moratorium. France's new biodiversity law includes a provision to ban all neonics starting in September 2018.
Clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are the most widely used neonics in Canada. Clothianidin has been among the top 10 insecticides sold in Canada over the past decade.
The PMRA has proposed a three- to five-year phase-out of imidacloprid for agricultural and most other outdoor uses. Its target date for issuing the final decision is December 2018. The PMRA has also initiated special reviews of risks to aquatic insects from clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
"Overall, the global experiment with neonics is emerging as a clear example of pest-control failure," Bonmatin said. "Governments around the world must follow the lead of countries like France to ban neonics and move toward sustainable, integrated pest management models, without delay."
The TFSP's 2017 update will be published in a forthcoming edition of the scientific journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.
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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
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The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (tfsp.info), an international group of independent scientists convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the response of the scientific community to global concern about the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on biodiversity and ecosystems. In 2015, the TFSP produced the world's first comprehensive scientific assessment of the ecological effects of neonicotinoids: The Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Effects of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (WIA). This landmark review considered more than 1,100 peer-reviewed studies as well as data from manufacturers. It identified clear evidence of harm to honeybees as well as to a large number of other beneficial species, including aquatic insects at the basis of the food chain, soil arthropods such as earthworms and common birds (by cascade effects).
Neonicotinoid pesticides ("neonics") are nicotine‐based insecticides that target the central nervous system of insect pests. They are systemic pesticides, meaning they are absorbed by the plant and integrated into all plant tissues — roots, stems, leaves, flowers — as well as pollen and nectar. Neonics are toxic even at very low doses. They are water soluble and very persistent (i.e., do not readily degrade) in soil, resulting in sustained and chronic exposure in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Extensive and routine application of neonics in agriculture is causing large-scale environmental contamination and significant impacts to biodiversity, representing a major threat to ecosystems.
The David Suzuki Foundation (davidsuzuki.org) is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, collaborating with all people in Canada, including government and business, to conserve the environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through evidence-based research, public engagement and policy work. The Foundation operates in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.