Conservatives Decrease Funding for Pesticide Regulation and Safety
The issue of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been shown to adversely affect bees and other pollinators essential to agriculture and the ecosystem, has been in the forefront in recent years. It is an economic issue and an environmental issue. Many farmers have opposed the call for a moratorium on neonicotinoid pesticides because of the fear of crop losses or of the need to return to more toxic alternatives. Others believe that a moratorium may be the only option to save pollinators and that Canada should follow the lead of Europe, which implemented a ban on three neonics last year.
Although it is clear that over-wintering losses of domesticated bees have been higher than normal since 2006, many factors aside from neonicotinoid pesticide use could have contributed to the losses: weather and climate change, transportation of bees, diseases and parasites, disease and parasite treatments, or a lack of floral diversity. On the agriculture side, the application of neonicotinoid pesticides and environmental exposure varies depending on the type of crop, soil, climate and farming technique.
From talking to different stakeholders, I think that it is safe to say that all sides agree that decisions should be made with the best scientific knowledge in mind.
In Canada, the federal agency responsible for regulating pesticides is Health Canada’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). In 2012, following reports of exceptionally high bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec, PMRA began studying the toxic effects and efficacy of neonicotinoid pesticides by undertaking a re-evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides in cooperation with the U.S. EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. An interim report is expected in 2015 and the PMRA has and will take action as soon as conclusions are reached.
A May 2015 Senate report on this subject recommended that Canada, “increase the amount and the duration of research funding in order to undertake long-term research projects which contribute to the preservation of pollinator health.”
With all of this in mind, I would like to point out the results of an investigation into the federal government’s funding of PMRA. The Conservative government has been consistently cutting funding for science that informs public policy making, and after studying the Public Accounts for Health Canada, we see that the PMRA is no exception. Here is a graph of the annual budget for pesticide regulation and safety. The lighter-coloured portion is the amount of funding that was left unspent. When the Conservative government took power in 2006, the year the bee decline was first evident, the budget was about 50% higher than it is now!
Let’s hope we don’t get stung by an eroded capability of the federal government to investigate and figure out complicated and important issues like neonicotinoid pesticides!