One Step On The Way To An Overhaul
Our campaign to save the bees, The Bee Cause, is picking up momentum. All the effort you and I have put in is starting to pay off. I want to thank you warmly for your continuing support of this work.
Last fall I told you the Environment Commissioner (CESD) was auditing the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and we will use her report as the cornerstone of our campaign. The audit will be made public January 26th.
Health Canada has already seen the audit and provided their responses to the Commissioner. Now, using an old political trick, they’re taking a pre-emptive step to announce an end to “conditional registrations” of pesticides – probably because the most controversial criticism in the audit will be this practice of allowing pesticides on the market before all the scientific information is gathered. However, discontinuing this practice won’t fix an industry-biased and scientifically out of date system.
Canada needs a systematic approach to assessing pesticides that is open, transparent and independent of industry. This announcement should be the first of many on what Health Canada will do to fix the way pesticides are assessed and to reassure us they have the scientific capacity needed to conduct independent assessments.
Last year, I raised this issue with Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand and urged her to audit the PMRA. Now, it’s paying off with this one step on the way to an overhaul – a necessary, new systematic approach. (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/part/consultations/_noi2016-01/noi2016-01-eng.php)
In my interview with CESD researchers, I explained that buried in the PMRA’s public register of pesticides we found 55 neonicotinoid pesticides had been granted conditional registration but no evidence any of the conditions had been met. Some had been on the market for more than 10 years.
The PMRA also recently posted “Re-evaluation Note REV2016-03, Value Assessment of Corn and Soybean Seed Treatment Use of Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam. It’s a mouthful but think of it as an attempt to justify all damage done to bees and other pollinators by putting an economic value on it. There hasn’t been any independent review yet, but the PMRA, with input from growers and the pesticide industry, found “benefit” from neonicotinoids represents 1.5% of the Canadian corn industry value in 2013 and 1.9% of the Canadian soybean industry value in 2013. In some areas there is no benefit at all. If we were to continue the use of coated seeds, we would be endorsing widespread risk of acute and long term damage to pollinators for a very small or virtually no benefit. Fortunately, Ontario, the first jurisdiction regulating the phase-down of coated seeds, is holding firm with its commitment.
But that’s not all that’s happening. Two weeks ago both the EPA and the PMRA released preliminary reviews of imidacloprid perhaps the oldest neonicotinoid. They concluded corn and soybean crops treated with it aren’t a threat to honey bees although bumble bees should avoid them. The headlines, especially in agricultural publications, claimed neonicotinoids don’t kill bees. What the PMRA didn’t say in its review was the fact that, in Canada, corn and soy are treated with thiamethoxam or clothianidin. When the media misinterpreted the study results the PMRA did nothing to correct them. But back in 2013 when the media were reporting millions of bee deaths, the PMRA sent out its staff to minimize the stories to protect the industry.
We will have lots to to say about the shortcomings of this review but, for now, we should be encouraged by all this activity. It looks like the Environment Commissioner agreed with some of our concerns. The PMRA is sticking with its industry friends but is feeling the heat.
There are formal comment periods for all these announcements and I urge you to send in your thoughts. Stay in touch and we’ll be providing a way to join our comments too. But right now I’m inviting you to join me in speaking directly to Health Minister Philpot. Let her know we appreciate getting rid of conditional registrations but it’s only a first step.