Neonicotinoid Bugging the PMRA

By Jerry Rousseau

In November, 2016, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency announced their proposed re-evaluation decision (PVRD) of Imidacloprid, the active ingredient in Merit®, an insecticide registered for control of European chafer, Japaneese beetle, Black Turfgrass Ataenuis and European crane fly larvae on turf.

The evaluation determined that under current conditions of use, the environmental risks for most products containing imidacloprid do not meet current safety standards. Therefore, the PMRA is proposing to cancel the following uses:

Products used by commercial applicators and growers for:
• trees (except when applied as a tree trunk injection)
• greenhouse uses
• outdoor agricultural uses (including ornamentals)
• commercial seed treatment uses
• turf (such as lawns, golf courses, and sod farms

Products used at home for:
• lawns

An evaluation of the scientific information has determined that certain uses of imidacloprid products have value and do not pose risks to human health or the environment. These uses include:

Products used by commercial applicators for:
• use in and around structures (such as homes and buildings)
• trees when applied as a tree trunk injection

Products used at home for:
• flea, tick and lice treatment on cats and dogs

What is imidacloprid?

Imidacloprid is an insecticide that was made to mimic nicotine. Nicotine is naturally found in many plants, including tobacco, and is toxic to insects. Imidacloprid is used to control sucking insects, termites, some soil insects, and fleas on pets. It has been used in products sold in the United States since 1994. (source – Oregon State University)

Can imidacloprid affect birds, fish, or other wildlife?

Imidacloprid is not very toxic to birds and slightly toxic to fish, although this varies by species. Imidacloprid is very toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects. The role, if any, of imidacloprid in Colony Collapse Disorder is not yet clear.  Scientists have shown that plants grown in treated soil may have imidacloprid residues in their nectar and pollen at levels that are below those shown to cause effects on bees in laboratory experiments. (source – Oregon State University)

A multi-stakeholder workshop took place in Ottawa on Dec 21, to discuss the impacts of PMRA's decision to phase out most uses of imidacloprid (e.g. Merit, Intercept, Admire).  Information from a loosely conducted poll by the WCTA of approximately 50 turf managers, was provided to the Canada Nursery Landscape Association for a presentation to stakeholders.  The question we asked was (several of the responses follow):

Is Merit an important product for you?  What alternatives to Merit are available and effective?

“I’d say that it wasn’t that important if we weren’t losing Sevin.”

“I believe that it’s always important to have alternative chemistries.”

“Chafer is relatively new, crane fly damage from birds has been worse the last two years than I can remember”

“I have used Merit in the past for Black Turfgrass Antaenius. I think it is the only registered product to control during the egg laying stage (in soil).”

“The pest is a problem in this part of the province (East Kootenays).  There are very few products registered to control the pest in Canada. It was quite severe last I'm sure there will be issues this spring”

“The loss of Merit would concern me.  The first time that we saw Chafer was in 2015 – just one small area in our deepest rough (i.e. 250 sq. ft., in an out-of-play area). No big deal. This year was another story, with large areas of primary rough and green surrounds torn up during the late summer and fall by skunks and racoons, exposing very high numbers of grubs. We treated with Sevin, but got only a partial control. Large areas became unplayable and had to be marked as ‘Ground under repair’, were unsightly, and will require an expense to renovate this spring.”

This consultation is open for comment until February, 21, 2017 (90 calendar days).  If you would like to comment, see the Pest Management Regulatory Agency Publications Section page for contact information.

In the Media:
Pesticides linked to bee deaths must be banned, scientists say – CBC News, June 24, 2014
Expert to talk to Ontario MPPs about environmental effects of neonic pesticide – Globe and Mail, May 27, 2015
Insecticide toxic to bees promoted to kill Vancouver chafer beetles – CBC News, May 4, 2016
Canada must ban neonics – Suzuki Foundation website
Health Canada plans to phase out controversial pesticide – Globe and Mail, November 23, 2016

Further information:
Health Canada Backgrounder – Neonicotinoid Pesticides, November 2016
Bayer Fact Sheet
PVRD2016-20, Imidacloprid, November, 23, 2016.