Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systemic chemical insecticides that are found in all tissues of treated plants, including pollen and nectar. They are widely used in modern, intensive agriculture.

In the agriculture sector, neonics are marketed as a way to protect crops from harmful insects. But studies show that these pesticides are also likely to harm “non-target organisms” like native bees, which are responsible for pollinating one third of the world’s crops and 90 per cent of all wild plants. Neonics are one of the largest threats to colony size and health in Canada. Research suggests neonics have played a role in mass bee die-offs, and that the pesticides harm bees’ metabolic, immune, and reproductive functions, and negatively affect bees’ foraging and homing behaviour.

Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is currently re-evaluating the use of neonicotinoids and their effects on pollinators, and is conducting a special review into their effects on aquatic invertebrates. In August 2018, the PMRA proposed to eventually phase out outdoor uses of two widely-used neonicotinoid pesticides, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin, due to the risks they pose to aquatic invertebrates and the fish, birds, and other animals that rely on them as a food source. However, the same day, despite recognizing the dangerous risks Thiamethoxam poses to the environment, the PMRA extended Thiamethoxam’s registrations to December 2020 and proposed granting additional three-year registrations.

Why is Ecojustice involved?

For years, the PMRA has maintained registrations for Thiamethoxam, a widely-used neonicotinoid pesticide, while failing to ensure it had the scientific information necessary to determine the pesticide’s risks to pollinators. The PMRA has also skirted its legal requirement to consult the public on Thiamethoxam’s environmental risks.

To help protect pollinators from neonics, in early July 2016, Ecojustice lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf of Wilderness Committee, Ontario Nature, David Suzuki Foundation and Friends of the Earth that argues that the way Canada currently regulates harmful neonic pesticides, like Thiamethoxam, is not only sub-standard — it is unlawful. We are asking the court to rule that the PMRA’s “approve first, study the science later” approach is unlawful and that the practice of granting approvals without science cannot continue.

What would a win mean?

If successful, this case could pave the way for more rigorous reviews of toxic pesticides in Canada, particularly those with the potential to harm pollinators, like Thiamethoxam.

The Pest Control Products Act already has requirements that protect the environment. We want those met going forward – for neonicotinoids and every other pesticide. No pesticide should be used in Canada unless and until it meets the Act’s registration standards for protection of human health and the environment.