Ecojustice Case – Healthy communities Case Status: Closed

Protecting pollinators from neonicotinoids

Bronwyn RoeLawyer
Ecojustice lawyer Laura BowmanLaura BowmanLawyer
Ecojustice lawyer Charles HattCharles HattEcojustice Alumni
Dr. Elaine MacDonaldScientist
Ontario NatureClient
Wilderness CommitteeClient
David Suzuki FoundationClient
Friends of the EarthClient
Brown-belted bumblebee by Royal Tyler via Flickr
Photo by Royal Tyler

Ecojustice went to Federal Court in November 2018 to challenge conditional registration of some Thiamethoxam pesticides, which are toxic to bees and other pollinators. We argued that these pesticides are unlawfully registered in Canada due to the lax oversight by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systemic chemical insecticides that are found in all tissues of treated plants, including pollen and nectar. They are widely used in modern, intensive agriculture.

In the agriculture sector, neonics are marketed as a way to protect crops from harmful insects. But studies show that these pesticides are also likely to harm “non-target organisms” like native bees, which are responsible for pollinating one third of the world’s crops and 90 per cent of all wild plants. Neonics are one of the largest threats to colony size and health in Canada. Research suggests neonics have played a role in mass bee die-offs, and that the pesticides harm bees’ metabolic, immune, and reproductive functions, and negatively affect bees’ foraging and homing behaviour.

In August 2018, the PMRA proposed to eventually phase out outdoor uses of two widely-used neonicotinoids, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin, due to the risks they pose to aquatic invertebrates and the fish, birds, and other animals that rely on them as a food source. However, the same day, despite recognizing the dangerous risks Thiamethoxam poses to the environment, the PMRA extended Thiamethoxam’s registrations to December 2020 and proposed granting additional three-year registrations.

In April 2019, Ecojustice received a decision that our lawsuit was not successful. The court did not consider the merits of the case and declined to consider the issues on mootness grounds. This meant that the Court did not make any findings on the PMRA’s actions. (David Suzuki Foundation et al. v. Attorney General of Canada et al. 2019, FCC 411.)

Despite the fact the PMRA’s own research concluded that some uses of Thiamethoxam neonicotinoid pesticides pose unacceptable risks to pollinators, all the products remain conditionally registered until December 31, 2020.

Why was Ecojustice involved?

This case challenged a decades-long history of the PMRA failing to live up to its responsibility as a regulator. For years, the PMRA has maintained registrations for Thiamethoxam, a widely-used neonicotinoid pesticide, while failing to ensure it had the scientific information necessary to determine the pesticide’s risks to pollinators. The PMRA has also skirted its legal requirement to consult the public on Thiamethoxam’s environmental risks.

Concern over the PMRA’s lax oversight led Ecojustice to file a lawsuit on behalf of Wilderness Committee, Ontario Nature, David Suzuki Foundation and Friends of the Earth. We asked the court to rule on the issue that the PMRA’s “approve first, study the science later” approach is unlawful and that the practice of granting approvals without science should not continue.

To our disappointment, the Court declined to consider the merits of the case, and did not make any findings as whether the PMRA is undermining the precautionary nature of the Pest Control Products Act by registering possibly harmful products without understanding their impact on ecosystems.

The Pest Control Products Act already has requirements that protect the environment. Ecojustice continues to want the PMRA to follow the law for neonicotinoids and every other pesticide. No pesticide should be used in Canada unless and until it meets the Act’s registration standards for protection of human health and the environment.

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