Skip to main content

Environmental groups launch lawsuit over pesticides believed to kill bees

Montreal Gazette,
Caroline Plante,
July 10 2016

QUEBEC – Efforts to protect bees from an insect-killing pesticide have intensified, with four environmental groups taking the matter to federal court.

The David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ontario Nature and the Wilderness Committee allege in a July 6 lawsuit that Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) registered neonicotinoid pesticides in the last decade without having acquired the scientific evidence necessary to evaluate their environmental risks, in particular to pollinators. They want the court to overturn the PMRA’s approval of the pesticides.

The Pest Control Products Act requires that the agency have “reasonable certainty” that a pesticide will cause no harm to the environment before registering it, the groups said in a joint statement.

Neonicotinoids, often shortened to neonics, are widely-used systemic pesticides that are believed to kill bees, which are responsible for pollinating about a third of the food we eat.

“Decision-makers in the European Union, France and even Ontario have already opted to heavily restrict the use of neonicotinoids. It’s time for Canada to join this push to protect pollinators,” said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive officer at Friends of the Earth.

Once applied, environmentalists said neonics spread throughout a plant’s tissues – from roots to leaves to pollen – and cannot be washed off crops.

Léo Buteau, president of Quebec’s beekeeping federation, told the Montreal Gazette neonics are scary because they also seep into the soil and water.

“It’s pretty frightening that neonics are in each river and in each stream in Quebec,” he said, referring to recent government testing of 16 rivers. “Neonics supposedly degrade over time, but we’re finding them in bodies of water everywhere.”

Buteau argued that one way to reduce pesticides is to diagnose the presence of pests in a field before using neonics-coated seeds.

Last month, Quebec’s Sustainable Development Commissioner, Jean Cinq-Mars, tabled a chilling report on the increasing use of pesticides in agricultural areas, the “poor” state of our rivers and the presence of pesticides in drinking water.

Low concentrations of pesticides were detected in drinking water, he said. But Quebecers will only get the full picture once the government starts testing for neonics in drinking water. “(Neonics) are barely starting to be tested, and the results are not published,” he said.

Cinq-Mars found that instead of decreasing, pesticide sales in Quebec rose about 30 per cent since 2006. Most of the neonics used to coat seeds are unaccounted for in the province’s pesticide sales report, he added.

Almost all grain corn and 60 per cent of soybean seeds in Quebec are treated with neonics, affecting some 550,000 hectares of crops every year, according to the commissioner’s report.

Cinq-Mars said neonics have a “negative effect on bees, birds, worms and aquatic invertebrates.”

The government had promised to limit neonics, but it will require that Environment Minister David Heurtel table legislation to change Quebec’s pesticide law, which he has vowed to do in due time.