Quebec heading toward neonic limits on crops

Treated corn seed. (

The Quebec government is preparing consultations ahead of a wide legislative swath through the province’s pesticide sector, to limit farmers’ use of neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments and certain other pesticides.

Environment Minister David Heurtel on Sunday released the province’s pesticide strategy for 2015 to 2018, mapping out the Couillard government’s plans in those years to “protect the health of the population, pollinators and the environment.”

Specifically, the government plans to introduce a bill by next winter to “modernize” the provincial Pesticides Act, with new financial penalties for violations.

It also plans to put forward new regulations by the fall of 2016, aimed at ending the non-essential use of chemical pesticides in urban areas — and to reduce farmers’ use of pesticides deemed to be of greater risk.

The province expects its “greater risk” list to include the so-called neonics — imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin — as well as atrazine herbicides and chlorpyrifos insecticides.

The legislation, if passed, would require farmers’ planned uses of neonics and other “greater risk” pesticides to be first reviewed by certified agronomists in “100 per cent of cases” — a move the Quebec government said goes well beyond the measures Ontario adopted last summer to limit neonic use in that province.

However, the Quebec strategy document also calls for economic incentives to encourage use of corn and soybean seed not treated with neonics. A discussion document on such incentives is expected to be out next summer.

Furthermore, Quebec’s strategy calls for a review of sales of neonic-treated seed in the province — and recommends banning use of all neonics in management of lawns and flower beds.

Quebec crop producers are today estimated to apply neonic-treated seed on nearly 100 per cent of corn acres and over 50 per cent of soybean acres, representing about 1.2 million total acres, the province said.

The province noted the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency previously declared such a level of use unsustainable, and also quoted the PMRA as saying about 70 per cent of dead bees studied in Quebec and Ontario in 2012 and 2013 carried neonic residues.

The legislative package would also make Quebec the first jurisdiction in North America to impose limits on the use of atrazine — the Group 5 active ingredient in herbicides such as Syngenta’s Aatrex and one of the actives in brands such as Propero, Lumax EZ and Primextra II Magnum, all registered for use in corn crops.

Farm-level products containing the Group 1B insecticide chlorpyrifos include brands such as Dow AgroSciences’ Lorsban, Adama Canada’s Pyrinex, Cheminova’s Nufos and Ipco’s Citadel. The chemical is used to control certain cutworms in corn and potatoes, midge in wheat, and grasshoppers in cereal crops and canola. Chlorpyrifos’ product labels also make note of its “acute mammalian toxicity.”

Quebec’s strategy also pledges to allow the sale of lower-risk bio-based pesticides at all retailers, and to provide “economic incentives” favouring the use of pesticides deemed to be of lower risk.

The province, in its strategy document, said it would also triple the number of pesticides banned from use in urban areas such as lawns and parks, to about 60 products — and would require golf course operators to reduce, by 25 per cent, the use of pesticides deemed of greater risk.

The new rules would also require that pesticide applicators’ qualifications in pest management are adequate for the job in question, and would widen buffer zones between residential areas and pesticide applications.

Sidney Ribaux, director general with ecological non-profit group Equiterre, hailed the province’s plans on atrazine in the government’s release Sunday, noting the chemical has been prohibited from use in Europe for over 10 years.

Heurtel’s associate environment minister, Marc Plante, pledged in Sunday’s release that the strategy’s proposals will be subject to consultations with industry partners, so as to “clarify and improve” its planned changes and amendments.

The province, in its strategy document, cited concerns over the risk to pollinator insects from neonic use, but also cited human health risks from exposure to pesticides, listing cancers and hormonal disruptions as well as effects on fetal development, immunity to disease and neurological health.

Quebec’s Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis on Sunday also hailed the proposed strategy, saying that by tightening the conditions for use of pesticides deemed higher-risk, the strategy will protect the health of the general public, but also the health of “the farmers who are (these products’) principal users.”

Paradis and Ontario’s Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal had discussed the notion of a “social license” for farming and the “responsible use of pesticides, including pollinator health” during a bilateral meeting Nov. 9.

Quebec’s main farm organization, however, had criticism Sunday for the strategy’s proposals.

Marcel Groleau, president of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), called the proposed measures “disappointing and incomplete” and described them as “bureaucratic solutions disconnected from the reality on the ground.”

The strategy’s measures, he said, will serve only to increase the “administrative requirements” for farmers already “literally buried” in paperwork.

While Quebec’s farmers share the general public’s concerns about pesticides and the environment, Groleau said, farmers also already have a vested financial interest in using expensive pesticides as little as possible.

Furthermore, he said, Quebec already has the tightest regulations of any province on pesticide use, including mandatory training for producers and regulations on storage and distribution.

Quebec farmers, he added, work in increasingly open markets and their competitors in the U.S. and elsewhere aren’t subject to the same requirements — and neither the federal nor provincial governments demand regulatory reciprocity on agrifood imports, he said.

“Are we doing all this just to consume, in the end, more imported products?” he said. — Network

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