Dr. Carolyn Callaghan is a Senior Conservation Biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation with a focus on terrestrial wildlife. She is CWF’S lead on the neonicotinoids issue. With the recent Health Canada proposal to ban one type, there have been a l
News, events and updates on conservation, education and engagement projects from the Canadian Wildlife Federation
HOW LONG HAS THE CANADIAN WILDLIFE FEDERATION BEEN RAISING AWARENESS OF THE DANGERS OF PESTICIDE USE?
CWF was founded in 1962, and almost immediately we began urging governments to investigate the effects of biocides. These toxins were designed to kill organisms, and CWF was concerned about the effects on wildlife. We urged governments to impose regulations on the sale of biocides to reduce threats to wildlife. CWF also urged governments to establish suitable diagnostic and recording standards for identifying and recording human illnesses or deaths caused by biocide poisoning in Canada. At the time, little was known about the effects of toxins such as pesticide on wildlife.
In subsequent years, CWF continued to urge governments to increase research into the harmful effects of these chemicals. In 1972, Canada banned the use of a particularly harmful pesticide called DDT, which caused the thinning of eggshells in birds such as the bald eagle. Unfortunately, impacts of this pesticide persisted, to the extent that in the 1980s, the bald eagle population of southern Ontario was nearly wiped out by industrial chemicals and pesticides. CWF stepped up to help save the species.
In the 1990s, neonicotinoid pesticides were introduced because many insects were becoming resistant to common pesticides. Neonics are derived from nicotine, which is a neurotoxin that affects brain function. While originally thought to be safer than their forerunners, neonics are systemic, which means they are absorbed by plants when applied to seeds, soil or leaves. The chemicals circulate through the plant’s tissues, killing the insects that feed on them.
CWF continues to campaign against the use of neonics, as we are very concerned about their impacts on many species, including pollinator populations, birds, aquatic invertebrates and earthworms.
HEALTH CANADA RECENTLY PROPOSED A BAN ON ONE TYPE OF NEONIC PESTICIDE KNOWN AS IMIDACLOPRID. WHAT’S CWF’S PERSPECTIVE ON THIS BAN?
CWF supports the ban. This is a big step in the right direction. Imidacloprid is one of the most widely used pesticides and has been found in aquatic environments in Canada at concentrations of up to 290 times the acceptable level for aquatic invertebrates. This is very concerning, and proposing a ban on its use is the
appropriate decision given the evidence of harm. These pesticides seep into streams and lakes from farmers’ fields and kill aquatic insects, many of which are an important food source for fish as well as birds once the insects hatch into flying adults.
IF THE IMIDACLOPRID BAN IS IMPLEMENTED, WILL WILDLIFE BE SAFE?
Unfortunately, eliminating one pesticide is not enough. A lot of other dangerous pesticides are putting wildlife at risk. In fact, imidacloprid is one of nine neonicotinoids pesticides currently being used in Canada. Health Canada is launching special reviews of two other neonicotinoids (clothianidin and thiamethoxam). These pesticides have become infamous for affecting pollinators around the world. CWF would like to see Health Canada do more to protect biodiversity from neonicotinoid pesticides. They are toxic. They are retained in soil. They are water soluble. They are absorbed by plants. These impacts are acute and chronic. There is solid scientific evidence of serious harm to wild bees, hoverflies, butterflies, lacewings, flower bugs and earthworms. There is also some evidence of harm to vertebrates such as birds and bats. Routes of contamination include dust generated during drilling of dressed seeds, contamination and accumulation in soils, run-off into waterways, and uptake by non-target plants via their roots or dust deposition on leaves.
BESIDES BANNING PESTICIDES, WHAT ELSE CAN GOVERNMENTS DO TO HELP?
While protection of the environment is paramount, the Canadian Wildlife Federation also wants assurance that throughout the banning process there is support for farmers, some of whom may feel that the proposed ban will reduce their options to deal with pests. Agricultural departments across Canada should support farmers by ensuring that there are safer alternative options and that farmers receive training in integrated pest management. This is designed to reduce use of pesticides by scouting for crop pests in the field before any spraying happens and ensuring that beneficial pest predators are supported in farm fields. The Next Policy Framework, the next phase of an agricultural policy that is coordinated by federal, provincial and territorial governments, is an excellent opportunity to address this deficiency. The policy provides $3.5 billion in program funding, and CWF believes that some of that funding should be used to support farmers in providing for wildlife and habitat on farmland.
WHAT CAN THE PUBLIC DO TO HELP?
The public can join CWF in supporting the pesticide bans. The public also has to be very careful as consumers of gardening products. Many bedding plants, seeds and flowers have been treated with neonic pesticides. Look for gardening items that CWF has certified wildlife friendly, such as our pollinator plant kits. Plant native species of flowers. Beware of wildflower seed packs that might contain invasive species or pesticide-treated products. Share this story with your friends, neighbours and social media networks.