On November 23, 2016, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) issued a press release on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, along with a Proposed Re-evaluation Decision of the neonicotinoid pesticide, imidacloprid, and a document entitled “Update on the Neonicotinoid Pesticides” dated November 23, 2016. The Proposed Re-evaluation Decision suggests a phase-out of all agricultural and the majority of all other outdoor uses of imidacloprid over the next three to five years. The Proposed Re-evaluation is open for public comment until February 21, 2017.

As we reported in Environmental Interest Groups Challenge Registrations of Neonicotinoid Products in Federal Court, the continued use of neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics” has faced scrutiny and controversy in Canada and globally, including court challenges of regulators by environmental groups, generally because of concern about the impacts of neonics on honey bees and other pollinators. This particular re-evaluation did not consider risks to pollinators – those risks were considered in Preliminary Pollinator Assessment, Re-evaluation Note REV2016-05, which was published in January 2016. However, the risk management measures proposed in yesterday’s release are aimed at reducing concerns over impacts to pollinators as well.

Imidicloprid and other neonics are used in a variety of ways (including ground, aerial and seed treatments) to treat insects on agricultural crops, specialty crops, and Christmas trees, and for certain uses on pets. The proposed phase-out targets agricultural uses, commercial seed treatments, greenhouse uses, turf and lawn uses. Use in and around structures, when applied as a tree trunk injection (like for the emerald ash borer) and for flea, tick and lice treatments on pets will be allowed even past the three to five year phase-out.

The foundation of the proposed phase-out of imidacloprid is on the basis of the risk to aquatic invertebrates. The Proposed Re-evaluation Decision states that in aquatic environments in Canada, imidacloprid is measured at levels harmful to aquatic insects. Imidacloprid reportedly breaks down slowly in soil and therefore moves into both surface and groundwater.

The PMRA found that modelling, in conjunction with Canadian water monitoring information, demonstrated that levels of imidacloprid were expected to pose risks to aquatic invertebrates and aquatic insects, and particularly in areas of intense agricultural activity, actual levels were above concentrations determined to be toxic. The PMRA noted that even despite the current label restrictions which attempt to prevent imidacloprid from entering surface or groundwater, measured concentrations were too high. The PMRA has stated that any proposals received during the consultation period for continued registration would need to clearly demonstrate concrete actions that would ensure that levels of imidacloprid in water would be reduced below the level of concern.

The PMRA indicated that imidacloprid has value and many alternatives may have cost implications, be less effective or be under re-evaluation themselves.

We can expect the PMRA will hear from many parties involved in the neonic debate during the consultation period, including registrants and environmental groups. Given the PMRA’s public announcement, the fanfare of a press release and the forthcoming Proposed Re-evaluation Decision for imidacloprid stemming from the Pollinator Assessment, some form of phase-out of imidacloprid seems to be the most likely outcome.

The PMRA will also begin special reviews for two other neonics, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

The provinces of Ontario and Quebec and certain cities, including Montreal and Vancouver, are taking active steps to ban or reduce the use of neonics, out of concern for the risks to bees and pollinators.