Symposium highlights ‘great harm’ caused by neonic pesticides

Poster for the pesticides symposimCanadian and international scientists are meeting at a symposium on April 19 in Toronto to discuss the latest research on neonicotinoid insecticides, or neonics, which have been linked to declines in global populations of bees, butterflies and other biodiversity.

The one-day symposium is being hosted by the David Suzuki Foundation and York University and will be attended by Canadian scientists and several members of the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP), whose groundbreaking research on neonics and other systemic pesticides has influenced policy and regulations in Ontario, Quebec and the European Union.

“The scientific body of evidence clearly documents that neonics are causing great harm,” said French researcher Jean-Marc Bonmatin, vice-chair of TFSP, which has analyzed more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies into the impacts of neonics and other systemic pesticides. “We are witnessing the greatest threat to the productivity and the diversity of our natural and farmed environment since DDT. Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure that enables it.”

The TFSP study, published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Pollution Research last year, concluded that large-scale, prophylactic use of neonics is having significant, unintended ecological consequences on non-target species, including honeybees, and across terrestrial, aquatic, wetland and marine habitats. A growing body of evidence also shows these chemicals pose risks to ecosystem functioning, such as pollination, which is necessary for about one-third of crops grown in Ontario.

Lawrence Packer
Lawrence Packer

“Bees are essential for agriculture worldwide—not just domesticated honey bees, but also the thousands of species of wild bee, which in many cases are doing the bulk of agricultural pollination without most people noticing their existence,” said Laurence Packer, professor of biology at York University.

The Ontario government brought in restrictions on neonicotinoid use last spring. New regulations prohibit the use and sale of corn and soybean seeds treated with three commercially available neonicotinoid pesticides, except under certain conditions. That means farmers will no longer be allowed to routinely plant neonic-treated seeds, starting this spring.

“The Ontario government is on the right track with its plan to dramatically reduce the use of neonics over a two year phase in period,” said Faisal Moola, Ontario director-general at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Evidence-based policy making is critical to the sound management of the environment and economy. We are encouraged by the participation of various government agencies, scientists and farming and conservation groups in today’s symposium.”

While mounting evidence has led some jurisdictions to reduce neonic use, the insecticides continue to be ubiquitously used in agriculture across the globe, as foliar sprays, soil drenches and seed treatments, in horticulture, turf grass production, golf courses and even in flea and tick treatments for pets. Five neonics are currently registered for use in Canada and are found in more than 100 pesticide products. The French National Assembly recently voted to ban all neonics, on all crops, starting in 2018.

Opening remarks will be given by Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Speakers from the TFSP include: Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, Lorenzo Furlan, Kumiko Taira, Elizabeth Lumawig-Heitzmann and Jean-Marc Bonmatin. Also speaking are York University Faculty of Science Professors Laurence Packer and Amro Zayed; Professor Nigel Raine, University of Guelph; David Kreutzweiser, Canadian Forest Service; Charles Vincent, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; and many more.

The symposium will take place in Room 103, Life Sciences Building, Keele campus.