In the United States, there have already been some efforts to place limits on pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are believed to the have deadly effects on honeybees and other pollinators, with honeybees specifically having large declines in the last ten years due to a number of likely reasons that include neonicotinoids. Some states have passed bans on the production and distribution of these pesticides, and some companies like Scotts Miracle-Gro intend to phase out neonicotinoids in favor of safer alternatives—Europe is even said to have placed a moratorium on these pesticides altogether. Coming out of Toronto, Canada, efforts are revealing themselves to get neonics off the Canadian market and away from honeybees in the form of a lawsuit.
As Toronto news outlets report, several Canadian environmental groups—The David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ontario Nature, and the Wilderness Committee—have “launched a court challenge to federal permits for two common pesticides that some say are behind large die-offs in bee populations.” Both of these challenged pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, are well known neonicotinoids and are still widely-used throughout Canada and the United States. The groups bringing the lawsuit, as per their argument, have stated that Canada’s federal pesticide regulatory process has allowed these pesticides to be used despite its uncertainty about their risks.
“The (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) does not have reasonable certainty about the risks of these products, which they’re required to have,” said Charles Hatt, the groups’ lawyer. Hatt has also said the agency has a history with the two challenged pesticides dating back a decade. “What you see is that for a number of years, the [agency] has noted concerns about risks to pollinators, to bees, from chronic toxicity and needing field studies to determine the nature of the risk. Then they request that information from the proponent, and they either get something they deem inadequate or get nothing at all…But they continue to register and re-register the product.” Hatt clarified that Canada has had a “situation for years” with the agency consistently allowing these pesticide registrations without the scientific background critical for determining these pesticides’ risks.
Given neonicotinoids’ implication in the general decline of honeybees, the Canadian Honey Council reported that in 2013-14, Canadian beekeepers lost on average about 25 percent of their colonies, with Ontario specifically losing around 58 percent. Even populations of wild bees are declining hastily, with an American study indicating numbers falling by about 23 percent between 2008 and 2013. Such rates are largely attributed to colony collapse disorder, though the University of Guelph’s Honeybee Research Centre sees it more as a combination of disease, parasites, pesticides, and habitat destruction.
While the public will have to wait and see what the outcome will be for this lawsuit, given the pros and cons of banning neonicotinoid pesticides (which could cost Ontario farmers and others around $630 million a year), the case itself will prove crucial as an example in the years going forward when it comes to preserving honeybees and other pollinators.