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431-00060 (Environment)

Paper petition

Original language of petition: English

PETITION TO THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA

THEREFORE, YOUR PETITIONERS call upon the Government of Canada to, for the sake of our bees and our food security, follow Europe's lead, and adhere to the precautionary principle by banning the use of neonicotinoids in Canada.

Response by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, PC, MP

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) works with beekeepers, federal and provincial officials, and other relevant groups to ensure that beekeeping is a successful industry in Canada. AAFC works nationally with provincial governments and other federal departments and agencies, as well as with industry representation from the beekeeping, honey, horticulture, grains, oilseeds, seeds and crop protection sectors, through the Bee Health Roundtable to consider issues affecting honeybee health. The Roundtable’s work includes the development of a pollinator strategy, national bee health monitoring strategy, national integrated bee health research strategy, and activities to support best management practices by beekeepers and crop producers.

In July 2014, AAFC committed $1 million to the Beekeepers Commission of Alberta to conduct a nationwide surveillance project to document the health profile of honeybee colonies in Canada. The project is currently analyzing samples from bee hives to determine the prevalence of pests and diseases. It is also assessing hive contaminants in order to provide a national baseline of bee health challenges.

AAFC also continues to conduct research on the complex issues of long-term bee health, including screening for the presence of neonicotinoids and other pesticide residues in pollen, honey and beeswax, as well as research on native pollinators and the effects of other agricultural practices.

Honeybees are critical for the pollination of several important crops in Canada, including hybrid canola seed, blueberries, cranberries, orchard fruits, and some field vegetables. In 2019, there were 10,344 beekeepers in Canada keeping 773,182 colonies of honeybees. This represents a 2.1 percent decrease in colonies over 2018, and an increase of 0.6 percent over the average of the previous four years.

Each province has a provincial apiculturist who collects relevant data about beekeeping, including the levels of overwinter honeybee colony losses. The most recent data on overwinter losses shows that, for the winter of 2018–19, the national average colony loss was 25.7 percent, with individual provincial percentage losses ranging from 19.8 percent to 54.1 percent. Beekeepers identified the leading causes contributing to losses as poor winter/spring weather, poor queens, weak colonies, and starvation. The overall colony loss reported in 2019 is in the middle range of reported losses since 2007. Furthermore, the data highlights that the 35.2 percent increase in Canadian colony numbers since 2007 provides evidence that beekeepers have been successfully addressing bee health issues while growing their beekeeping operations.

The registration and regulation of pesticides in Canada fall under the responsibility of Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (under the authority of the Pest Control Products Act). AAFC recognizes the importance of pesticides in supporting the competiveness of the agricultural sector in Canada. Pesticides play a crucial role in controlling pests, help protect the yield and quality of crops, and are a valuable tool when applied according to strict regulatory guidelines and integrated as part of a best management practices regime.

Response by the Minister of Health

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): Darren Fisher

The Government is committed to the health and safety of Canadians, their environment and their food supply.  Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) will continue to diligently ensure that only pest control products meeting our stringent health and environmental standards will be approved for use in Canada. Pesticides are regulated under the Pest Control Products Act, which is administered by Health Canada, to protect Canadians and their environment from risks associated with the use of pesticides.

Before a pesticide is allowed to be used or sold in Canada, it must undergo a rigorous scientific assessment process that provides reasonable certainty that no harm, including chronic effects such as cancer, will occur when pesticides are used according to label directions. Results from more than 200 types of scientific studies must be submitted to determine whether the pesticide would have any negative effect on people, animals (including birds, mammals, and other wildlife), or plants, including organisms in the soil and water. This assessment takes into consideration sensitive populations, such as pregnant and nursing women, infants, children and seniors. 

Health Canada is aware of the importance of bees and the beekeeping industry to the production of food in Canada, as well as the issues regarding bee health, including concerns over the potential effect of chronic pesticide exposure.

The PMRA has worked with stakeholders to develop measures to reduce risk to pollinators from exposure to dust generated during planting of insecticide-treated seed. These measures were developed in collaboration with the provinces, pesticide industry, international regulatory authorities, growers, beekeepers, and equipment manufacturers.

The PMRA implemented the following measures for the 2014 planting season for corn and soybean production:

  • mandatory use of a new dust-reducing seed flow lubricant;
  • adherence to identified safer seed planting practices; and,
  • enhanced warning statements on pesticide and seed package labels.

Since these measures have been put in place, the number of incidents has declined substantially. Monitoring continues and additional measures will be implemented if necessary.

Health Canada must periodically re-evaluate pesticides that are on the market to assess whether they continue to meet the Department’s health and environmental standards and hence, whether they should continue to be permitted for use in Canada. On April 11, 2019, Health Canada published the final pollinator-focused (bees) re-evaluations of the neonicotinoid pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. To protect pollinators, Health Canada has cancelled some uses of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, and has added further restrictions to other uses. The extensive scientific re-evaluation of these neonicotinoid pesticides showed that under the newly established conditions of use, they do not pose unacceptable risks to the environment, including pollinator insects (bees).

Neonicotinoids are also being detected in waterbodies at levels that are potentially harmful to certain aquatic organisms (e.g., midges and mayflies). As a result, Health Canada has proposed to cancel the majority of outdoor uses of all three neonicotinoids, in order to protect the environment. Following these consultations, the Department has received a substantial amount of new information. 

This included comments from the public, pesticide registrants, provinces, and an unprecedented amount of new water monitoring data from various stakeholders such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s water monitoring working group and from the provinces. These new data are of high quality and provide a much clearer picture of the levels of neonicotinoid pesticides being detected across Canada. In addition, Health Canada is also considering new information that is being published in scientific papers on neonicotinoids. This new information will be incorporated in the risk assessment to ensure that the upcoming decisions reflect current scientific knowledge.

The analysis of the information received is ongoing. Final decisions related to the cyclical re-evaluation of imidacloprid and the aquatic special reviews of clothianidin and thiamethoxam are expected to be published in the Fall of 2020.

Health Canada’s PMRA is an active participant in Agriculture and Agri-food Canada’s Bee Health Forum in which stakeholders (including grower and beekeeping groups, the seed trade, pesticide and equipment industry associations, and federal and provincial governments) are working together to find comprehensive solutions that will improve pollinator health in Canada. This initiative looks broadly at all aspects of pollinator health, including agricultural pesticide use practices, with the goal of promoting pollinator health and positive interactions between the agricultural and beekeeping industries.

In addition, both federal and provincial governments have made investments in research to better understand and to maintain healthy bee populations, including funding for research geared towards optimizing the profitability of honeybee colonies and maintaining healthy bee populations, and for a national surveillance project to document the health profile of honeybee colonies in Canada. The Beekeepers Commission of Alberta in collaboration with the Manitoba Beekeepers Association is undertaking the National Honey Bee Health Survey project and will work closely with colleagues in other provinces as the project progresses, utilizing the National Bee Diagnostic Centre for sample analysis. The goal of the National Honey Bee Health Survey is to establish a bee health database in Canada to document the prevalence, intensity and distribution of pests, pathogens and chemical residues in Canadian honey bee colonies.  Phase I of the project has been completed (2014-2017), while Phase II (2019-2022) is underway. Reports are produced annually by the Federal Government, and are available in English and French at the following link: https://www.gprc.ab.ca/research/nbdc/index.html. Prior to initiation of the National Honey Bee Health Survey in Canada, surveillance of this nature had only been done at the regional level; the sector is seeking to expand co-ordination and identify issues that present challenges to bee health across the country.

Health Canada continues to monitor for new information related to neonicotinoids, including regulatory actions taken in other jurisdictions and will take appropriate action if risks to human health or the environment (including pollinators) are confirmed.

Presented to the House of Commons
Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
February 3, 2020 (Petition No. 431-00060)
Government response tabled
April 11, 2020
Photo - Elizabeth May
Saanich—Gulf Islands
Green Party Caucus
British Columbia

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