OTTAWA — Environment groups are calling out Canada’s approach to assessing pesticides after seven years of reviews led Health Canada to simultaneously decide to allow certain popular products to keep being used with restrictions, and to propose banning the same products from outdoor uses altogether.
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency on Thursday released its final decision on what limits should be placed on a category of nicotine-based pesticides known as neonicotinoids to keep them from killing bees. Starting in two years, the pesticides won’t be allowed to be sprayed at all on certain crops like apples and tree nuts and there will be limited times when they can be sprayed on many others, like tomatoes, eggplants and berries.
Products that have no alternatives are given an extra year before they are affected by the decision.
The agency said the risks the products pose to bees in other applications, such as pre-treating seeds, are acceptable and only require new labels to warn of the dangers. Most of Canada’s canola and corn crop seeds are pre-treated with neonicotinoids, along with about half the country’s soybean seeds.
However, this decision, which won’t begin to take effect until 2021, will likely be overridden in less than a year when the agency finalizes a separate assessment of the exact same products for their impact on aquatic insects. The agency found in 2016 that the most popular of the neonicotinoids was building up in ground and surface water and recommended banning it outright. It also launched a special assessment of the other two most common “neonics,” concluding in 2018 that they also needed to be banned.
The very final decision on that won’t come until January 2020.
“Right now this is strictly about the risk to pollinators and for this assessment not all uses pose an unacceptable risk to pollinators,” said Scott Kirby, the director general of the environmental-assessment division of the pest management agency.
Lisa Gue, a senior researcher at the David Suzuki Foundation, said it is “disturbing” that the agency is continuing to allow neonicotinoids at all given that the agency’s scientists have concluded they cause unacceptable harm to any kinds of insects.
“The decision-making process here is just incomprehensible and incoherent,” she said.
Beatrice Olivastri, the executive director of Friends of the Earth Canada, said the agency’s fragmented approach to reviewing the products is “nonsensical.”
Neonicotinoids are used by farmers and hobby gardeners alike to manage pests like aphids and spider mites. Scientists blame the chemicals for weakening bees, making them more susceptible to disease and bad weather.
More than one-third of the world’s food crops require pollinators, like bees, for production.
The European Union banned neonicotinoids at the end of last year after scientists concluded there was no safe way to use them without hurting bees. In 2017, a task force at the International Union for Conservation of Nature updated a compilation of more than 1,100 peer-reviewed research studies of neonicotinoids and concluded there was no doubt they harm bees.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
‘It’s unsettling:’ Ranchers and feedlots worried about future impact of COVID-19
CREMONA, Alta. — A cacophony of bellowing cattle makes it hard to hear the other hoof drop, but rancher Bruce Bird knows that it’s coming.
Bird runs a cow-calf operation and had to shout to be heard during annual branding last week on his ranch near Cremona, 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary.
Over a hundred calves were run through a chute and locked onto a table to have ear tags applied and a mark seared onto their sides.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t had a serious effect on Bird yet, but he’s anticipating it will be tougher when the calves are sold in the fall.
“Absolutely, we’re going to get hit eventually,” he said. “There’s usually a big ripple effect prolonged. It’s a long, long gradual time until it can rectify itself.”
“There’s some marketing issues, some commodity issues … that are really slow to hit us. But when it hits us, it hits us extra hard.”
A concern for Bird and neighbour Chelsey Reid, who farms with her husband, Scott, is a backlog of beef at feedlots.
The Cargill plant in High River, Alta., shut down for two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak there and is now operating at about 60 per cent capacity. The JBS plant in Brooks, Alta., reduced its operations to just one shift a day until recently. The two meat-packers process 70 per cent of Canada’s beef.
“There’s always what we call the fall run. That’s when there’s always a lot of beef on the market, but we always have the capacity for it, so it’s not that big of a problem,” Reid said.
“If people aren’t able to sell their calves this fall, that’s going to be a real problem.”
Reid said the uncertainty is the most unsettling part.
“Our farms are just sort of carrying on as they always have. Anything that’s going to be negative … is going to be happening come this fall and probably in 2021,” she said.
“A lot of us young farmers have a lot of payments that we’re tied into, so it definitely is worrisome. It’s a lot of money that we definitely rely on.”
Tom Thorlakson said there are animals at his family’s feedlot near Airdrie that were supposed to have been shipped to meat plants in mid-April.
“We have cattle that we wish were gone. We’re not buying anything,” said Thorlakson, vice-president of Thorlakson Feedyards.
There are 14,000 cattle at the feedlot and feed costs are running to about $1 million a month, he said.
“When are we ever going to know when the plants will be up to full capacity? It will be the ever-going threat we’re living with right now.”
Thorlakson said he’s heard the cattle backlog could exist until December. And although his family feedlot will be OK, it won’t be the same for others.
“It pushes it back to the rancher right? If a lot of the guys are not buying, the guys selling their calves will be getting a lot less money for them because there’ll be less demand,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of guys in hardship.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
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