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A Tale of Two Regulatory Approaches: European Commission Ban on Neonicotinoid Pesticides Goes into Effect While in Canada Their Sale and Use Continues

An interesting experiment in contrasting approaches to pesticide regulation is now taking place in Canada and Europe. The European Commission two-year ban on the sale and use, with some limited exceptions, of neonicotinoid pesticides in European Union countries went into effect on December 1, 2013. The European Commission rationale for the two-year ban was the need for more studies on the effects this class of pesticides may be having on bee populations before allowing the products to be used again, if ever.

In Canada, meanwhile, the sale and use of these pesticides continues even though many of the same studies the European Commission wants done to answer unanswered questions are also conducted here.

If you were a bee where would you rather spend the next two years?

Predictably the manufacturers of these pesticides have initiated litigation against the restrictions imposed by the European Commission. However, environmental groups in Canada have not been idle in the face of the Canadian government’s stance.

Notice of Objection

In September 2013 CELA and Ecojustice filed what is known as a Notice of Objection under the federal Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) on behalf of four environmental groups (Sierra Club Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, and Équiterre) based in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

What the groups were objecting to was a July 2013 decision of the federal government to renew a conditional registration under the federal pesticides law for a pesticide known as clothianidin that is used on a wide variety of crops in Canada. Pesticides cannot be sold or used in Canada unless they have a federal registration or conditional registration under this law.

The notice of objection, if granted, could lead to a hearing before a board of review under the PCPA on whether the government should re-consider its decision.

Clothianidin and the Ban by the European Commission

Clothianidin is part of the neonicotinoid family of pesticides that the European Commission decided in May 2013 should be banned from sale or use for two years while further studies are conducted on its environmental effects, particularly on bees.

Situation in Canada

The situation in Canada, as noted above, is markedly different. While Europe was banning clothianidin and two other neonicotinoids for two years, Canada was renewing the conditional registration of clothianidin for a further two years. Yet, many of the same studies the European Commission wants done to fill information gaps on the environmental effects of these pesticides on bees, are also to be produced for Canada.

For Canada, this is bad decision-making, resting on a foundation of bad law, and worse policy.

There are many things that are of concern about the federal government decision of July 2013 but mentioning just one will suffice:

  • The studies that Canada said the makers of clothianidin had to conduct over the next two years (while the pesticide is still permitted to be sold and used in Canada) were, in some instances, the same studies that Canada has been asking the industry to perform for many years now. In the case of one type of study, a study of the long-term toxic effects of the pesticide on bees, Canada has been asking the industry to produce a valid study on this issue for roughly a decade

What’s Wrong With This Picture and What Needs to be Done

What this case reveals, among other things, is what is wrong with our national pesticide law. A conditional registration for a pesticide, by statutory definition, is a registration where the government is admitting that the holder of the registration has not produced a full package of the data necessary to demonstrate that the risk posed by the pesticide is acceptable.

That is a significant flaw in the law and right now we may all be paying the environmental, social, and economic price for that flaw. In this particular case, bees, beekeepers, and maybe national food production may be suffering because of that legislative oversight. At a minimum, only pesticides with a full data package should be allowed to be registered in Canada.

Finally, and more to the point going forward, this case once again raises the need for our laws to mandate serious efforts to shift away from an over-reliance on pesticides and toward non-chemical alternatives in order to better ensure food security and environmental protection in future.