By Kristen Sivertz, articling student

Finally, we have a reason to celebrate.

The Ontario government has announced it will act to reduce the use of neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides in the province. Neonics are a class of systemic pesticides that attack the nervous system of insects. They are among the most commonly used pesticides in the world. But neonic residue lingers in the environment. This residue contaminates water, soil, plants and pollen, thereby presenting a significant risk to any pollinators that come into contact with them.

A Proposal to Protect Bees & Pollinators
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs released a discussion paper, Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario. It details Ontario’s plan to improve the protection and health of Ontario’s bees, which have suffered massive die-offs in recent years, and other pollinators.

Pesticide exposure is one of the four stressors affecting the health of bees that Ontario intends to address in its Pollinator Health Action Plan. The discussion paper cites the mounting scientific evidence of the link between the use of neonic pesticides and declines in the health and populations of bees and other pollinators. Ontario is proposing to mitigate the harmful effects of these pesticides on bees by restricting the sale and use of neonic-treated seeds.

What are neonicotinoid pesticides used on in Ontario?
Close to 100 per cent of all corn seed and 60 per cent of all soybean seed sold in Ontario is treated with neonic pesticides. Ontario proposes to restrict the use of pesticide-treated corn and soybean seeds under its Pesticides Act.

In particular, Ontario proposes to end the purchase and use of these toxic seeds unless certain conditions are met. Notably, any person who wanted to plant neonic-treated seeds would need to prove the use was necessary. Vendors would also need a licence to sell treated seeds.

Ontario’s Proposal is a Great First Step, But…
Ontario has demonstrated admirable leadership as the first government in North America to propose to regulate the use of neonic-treated seeds. But we’re cautious about the proposal and intend to scrutinize it for weaknesses.

For one thing, while all treated seeds could be regulated under the Pesticides Act as part of this plan, exemptions would be provided for seeds from major crops, including canola. Another weakness of the proposal is that — even if it’s successful — it will address only one aspect of a much larger problem. Seed treatments are only one of many approved uses of neonic pesticides in Canada. Neonic pesticides are also injected into trees to combat invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer.

How is Ecojustice involved?
In September 2013, Ecojustice and the Canadian Environmental Law Association, on behalf of Sierra Club Canada, Wilderness Committee, David Suzuki Foundation and Equiterre, filed a Notice of Objection with the federal Health Minister, Rona Ambrose. The minister has yet to respond. The Objection challenged Health Canada’s decision to renew the conditional registration of pesticide products containing the neonic ingredient clothianidin. These products are registered to be sprayed on the leaves of fruits, potatoes, and turf, but not for treating seeds. And while the groups applaud Ontario’s decision, they are asking for a nationwide ban on all neonic uses.

Health Canada recently concluded that its lack of sufficient information on the impact of neonic pesticides on pollinators supports its continued delay in taking initiative on this issue (Read the Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health). By contrast, Ontario has adopted a precautionary approach. This is good but our bees deserve better. It is time for the federal government to follow Ontario’s lead. It’s time to address the impact of all uses of neonic pesticides across the country.

What Can You Do?
The deadline for submitting public comments on Ontario’s discussion paper, Pollinator Health, is Jan. 25, 2015. Public meetings will also be held online and in person in London, Toronto, and Kingston. Find more information at Ontario’s Environmental Registry.

Close-up photo of bee via ©Shutterstock