Neonics – It’s Bigger than the Bees

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, February 21, 2017

Neonics, Bees & Food Security

Neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics” are the group of pesticides that came to public attention several years ago when beekeepers began reporting alarmingly high rates of bee colony losses. Ontario beekeepers, for example, reported losing 58% of their bee colonies over the winter of 2013 and 38% over the winter of 2014 (1). While there is ample evidence linking neonics to bee colony losses, this issue is bigger than the bees.

When an international group of independent scientists, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, reviewed over 1100 peer reviewed scientific articles, they found that neonics are extremely toxic to most insects, spiders and crustaceans; moderately toxic to birds and fish; persistent so they can accumulate to hazardous levels in the soil; water soluble so they can run off into streams and lakes and leach into ground water; linked to large-scale acute losses of domestic honeybee colonies; and associated with impaired learning, increased mortality, reduced fecundity, and increased susceptibility to disease in bees. The Task Force concluded that neonics are potentially harmful to ecosystem services, such as pollination, that are vital to food security and sustainable development (3).

When public health researchers conducted a study to determine how people around the world might be affected by the total loss of animal pollinators, such as bees, they estimated that global fruit supplies would decrease by 23%, vegetables by 16%, and nuts and seeds by 22%. They predicted that these changes in food supplies could increase global deaths from chronic and nutrition-related diseases by 1.42 million people per year (4).

Regulatory Actions

Moved by the threat that neonics pose to the honey industry in Ontario, which is worth about $26 million per year, and to agricultural crops in Ontario that depend upon pollination, which is worth about $897 million per year, the Ontario Government moved decisively (2). In July 2015, Ontario passed regulations that aimed to reduce the number of acres planted with neonic-treated corn or soybean seed by 80% by 2017 (2). In so doing, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to restrict the use of neonics. The regulations targeted the three neonic pesticides used most extensively in Ontario: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. Newly released data indicates that neonic-treated corn and soybean seeds were used on about 3 million acres of crop land in Ontario in 2016—down by almost 1 million acres from 2014 (6). While this is substantial reduction—about 24%—it is long way from the 80% reduction that will be required by the regulations by the end of this year.

In November 2016, Health Canada proposed a new decision for the neonic pesticide imidacloprid based on a reevaluation of the science. This decision, which is open for public consultation until March 23, 2017, proposes the phase-out of all the agricultural and the majority of outdoor uses of imidacloprid over three to five years. This decision was based on Health Canada’s findings that this pesticide is being measured in aquatic environments at levels that are harmful to aquatic insects that are a food source for fish, birds, and other animals. Let Health Canada know that you support the phase-out of imidacloprid, but want to see them move faster to protect the ecosystem from neonics. You can review the consultation document here and provide feedback here.

For more information on neonics, see CAPE’s Factsheet or CAPE’s Backgrounder


  1. Health Canada. Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health. 2015; 20p.
  2. Ontario Government. 2014. Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario; 2014; pp 21p.
  3. Van Lexmond, M. B.; Bonmatin, J.-M.; Goulson, D.; Noome, D. A., Worldwide integrated assessment on systemic pesticides. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 2015, 22, (1), 1-4
  4. Smith, M R; Singh, G M; Mozaffarian, D; Myers, S S. Effects of decreases of animal pollinators on human nutrition and global health: a modelling analysis. The Lancet, 2015, 386, (10007), 1964-1972.
  5. The European Food Safety Authority. EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity. Press Release. December 17 2013.
  6. Ontario Government. Neonic Regulations for Seed Vendors.  January 2017.
  7. Health Canada. Proposed Re-evaluation Decision. Imidacloprid. November 23, 2016.

Federal Agency Failing to Protect Canadians from Pesticides

Photo: Dan Tobias, Myer’s Farm, Dundas, Ontario

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, January 28, 2016

Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, released a new report on pesticide safety this week.  It audits the processes applied by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to the regulation of pesticides in this county.  It identifies a number of significant failings, which suggests that the PMRA is currently failing to protect Canadians and the environment from chemical pesticides.   

The Commissioner reports that the PMRA continues to make heavy use of ‘conditional registrations’ that allow companies to put their pesticides on the market before they have submitted all of the data and studies to the PMRA.   The PMRA is supposed to be reviewing the evidence submitted by companies to ensure that their products do not present “an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment”. Some of these conditional registrations have been in place for up to 20 years.    

Photo: Daniel Tobias, Weir's Lane Apiary, Dundas, Ontario
Photo: Daniel Tobias, Weir’s Lane Apiary, Dundas, Ontario

The Commissioner found that 80 of the 7,000 pest control products on the market today have been conditionally registered; 29 for more than 5 years and nine for more than 10 years.  Thirty-six of these 80 pesticides are neonicotinoid pesticides (or neonics). This is the class of pesticides that been strongly linked to the death of bees and the collapse of bee colonies in Canada.  They have also been strongly associated with harmful impacts on a wide variety of animals.  After reviewing more than 1000 peer reviewed scientific articles, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides concluded that neonics are likely to produce major adverse effects on ecosystem services, such as pollination, that are vital to food security.

The Commissioner’s report also found that the PMRA:

  • Has been moving too slowly when re-evaluating pesticides that have been on the market for more than 15 years; 
  • Has not been assessing the cumulative health effects of pesticides in all of the situations where it should;
  • Has not applied the 10-fold safety factor required to protect children and infants from pesticides in most situations where it should;
  • Has not been conducting special reviews promptly for pesticides banned by countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as it should; and
  • Has not moved quickly to cancel registrations for some pesticides when reviews demonstrate that they do pose “unacceptable risks” to human health or the environment.

The Federal Commissioner’s report can be accessed at: Commissioner’s Report on Pesticides 2015


Quebec Moves to Ban Neonics and other Agricultural Pesticides


Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, January 2016

CAPE is moving its campaign on neonics – the pesticides linked to bee deaths – to the province of Quebec!

On November 22, 2015, the Quebec Minister of the Environment, David Heurtel, announced a bold new strategy for the regulation of pesticides in Quebec.  He is proposing to update Quebec’s pesticide regulations which banned 20 chemical pesticides for use on lawns and gardens back in 2003.  He is proposing to extend the list of banned pesticides to include 60 active ingredients. 

Neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics” are included in the list of pesticides to be banned.  Neonics are pesticides that have been clearly linked to the death of bee colonies in Ontario and Quebec (1).  These pesticides are harmful to birds, fish, and invertebrates such as worms, as well as bees.  When the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides examined over 800 scientific articles on neonics, it concluded that they are threatening “ecosystem services such as pollination that are vital to food security and sustainable development” (2). 

Building on the regulatory action taken by Ontario on neonics in 2015, the Quebec Pesticides Strategy 2015-2018 proposes to ban the use of neonics for agricultural purposes except when it has been demonstrated as necessary by an agronomist.  While the Ontario Regulations seek to reduce the number of acres of corn and soya that use neonic-treated seeds, the Quebec Strategy proposes to reduce the “risk to public health, pollinators and the environment by reducing the use of the most dangerous pesticides on all crops” (3). This means that Quebec plans to ban the use of neonic-treated corn and soya seeds, and higher risk pesticides such as atrazine and chlorpyrifos, on all crops, except when an agronomist determines that the pesticides are needed.

Neonics-Ad-Nov 2015

Atrazine has been identified by some as an endocrine disruptor that can adversely affect sexual differentiation, produce mammary and prostate cancer, and adversely affect the neural and immune systems (4).  If Quebec successfully bans atrazine, which is used extensively on corn crops, it would be the first jurisdiction in North America to do so (5).  

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has found chlorpyrifos to be acutely toxic to a wide range of organisms including mammals, birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates and honeybees, but has been in the process of re-evaluating it since 1999 (6). Chlorpyrifos has also been identified as a developmental neurotoxicant that can cause brain damage to children with exposure to very low doses during critical windows during pregnancy and early postnatal life (7).

So, in 2016, CAPE will be working with Équiterre in Quebec and other partners to: educate the public about the health and environmental impacts associated with neonics, atrazine and chlorpyrifos; support the banning of these high risk agricultural pesticides in Quebec; and advocate for regulations that create healthy crops, healthy bees, and healthy people.  


  1. Health Canada.  2014.  Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health.
  2. Van Lexmond MB et al.  Worldwide intregrated assessment of systemic pesticides – Global collapse of the entomofauna: exploring the role of systemic insecticides.  Journal of Environmental Science and Pollution Research 22:1-4 &
  3. Province of Quebec. 2015. Quebec Pesticide Strategy 2015-2018.
  4. Louise Henault-Ethier. 2013.  Defining Ecotoxicity of Pesticides: Key Concepts, Hot Topics and Current Controversies over Atrazine and Glyphosate.  
  5. Équiterre, Nadine Bachand, Chargée de projet – Choix collectifs, agriculture et pesticides.
  6. Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. 2015. Pesticide Safety.
  7. Jennifer Sass, Ph.D. & Robin M. Whyatt. 2016. Comments to EPA from Environmental Health Scientists and Healthcare Professionals In support of EPA’s Proposal to Revoke Chlorpyrifos Food Residue Tolerances Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0653.