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Neonics endanger biodiversity: study

by Olivia Rutt

WELLINGTON CTY. - A group of scientists is hoping to convince the federal and provincial governments that neonicotinoid insecticides are indeed killing bees and other wildlife.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) released an update to its scientific review on Sept. 20, saying neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) are not only a threat to bees and pollinators, but to biodiversity and ecosystems.

Neonics are neurotoxins that kill insects through attacking the central nervous system. They are generally applied to seeds before they are planted.

“Neonics are toxic even at very low doses,” states a TFSP press release.

In 2015, the Ontario government implemented new regulations restricting the sale and use of neonic-treated seeds. It was phased in over two years and for the 2018 growing season farmers will be required to complete a third party pest assessment and complete training.

Mark Brock, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), said farmers are frustrated with the regulations. GFO sued the provincial government after the regulations were announced in 2015. GFO lost in the initial proceedings and again in an  appeal.

“Every year it’s changing as it gets implemented and you know every year there’s more questions around some of the issues with the regulations,” he said.

Brock said farmers are seeing an economic impact.

“There’s times where a lot of farmers are doing the paper work for pest assessment, and they are able to show that they do need the product, so they are still able to use the tool,” said Brock.

“Some situations where they can’t find the pest and they know they have a problem, they are not allowed to buy the treated seed and it has resulted in some stand loss after planting and after emergence where it caused the replant situation, which causes an economic impact.”

He said he has seen science on both sides.

“I think the difficulty with all this is that we can find science (that) supports the fact the neonics aren’t impacting bees or you can find science that says they are impacting bees. It’s whatever group speaks the loudest,” he said.

“We’re not regulatory of toxicology experts at Grain Farmers but (we) rely on regulators to sift through the science and ensure that the products we use are safe for the environment and people.”

Nigel Raine, who studies bees, pollination and neonics at the University of Guelph, co-authored a comprehensive literature review in March that states there is conflicting evidence about the impacts of neonics on honey bees.  

The report also states the impact of neonics as a seed treatment would be much different than any insecticide spray applications.  

“Pollinators foraging on a crop spray treated during bloom will be exposed to insecticide residues via contact exposure as they manipulate flowers to extract nectar and/or pollen,” stated the report.

“While the impacts of exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides for pollinators has received considerable recent attention around the world, we need to ensure alternative agrochemical options for pest control are subject to similar levels of scrutiny.”

The latest TFSP report will be published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

October 6, 2017

 
 

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