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Clips: Federal government, industry make second attempt to kill pesticide case

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Nov 16th, 2017
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Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to mass bee die-offs and declining pollinator populations

Friends of the Earth Canada 15 November, 2017

Environmental groups, represented by Ecojustice, are back in Federal Court tomorrow in an effort to protect pollinators from a harmful class of pesticides and fend off a second attempt by multinational pesticide companies and the federal government to dismiss their lawsuit that challenges the practices of Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

“This case could set an important precedent for evidence-based, precautionary regulation of pesticides in Canada. It deserves a hearing,” said Charles Hatt, Ecojustice lawyer.

The David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ontario Nature and the Wilderness Committee argue that the PMRA’s practice of registering neonicotinoid pesticides without the necessary science required to determine the pesticides’ risks to pollinators is unlawful.

In July, the federal government and several multinational pesticide companies lost their bid to shut down the environment groups’ lawsuit that challenges the PMRA’s continued registration of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics). Now, they are appealing the ruling that ordered a hearing is necessary to determine whether the PMRA is following its own legislation.

Environmental groups have tracked the science linking neonics and declining pollinator populations with mounting concern. The science clearly shows neonics pose serious risks to pollinators and have become ubiquitous contaminants in ecosystems throughout the world.

Ecojustice lawyers representing the groups argue that the July ruling must stand. They say dozens of agricultural pesticides containing two neonicotinoid active ingredients (Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam) have been persistently unlawfully registered in Canada, in some cases without any public consultation.

“The use of neonicotinoids in Canadian agriculture is known to cause declines in pollinator populations, and mounting scientific studies show that neonics are a bad bet for our environment and our pollinators. So why has the PMRA allowed neonics to be used as “conditional” registrations while it waits for the science it says is needed to assess the pesticides’ risks?” said Eric Reder, Wilderness and Water Campaign Director for the WIlderness Committee.

The world’s largest study on neonics, published in a June issue of Science, showed widespread evidence of population decline and shortened lifespans in domesticated and wild bees populations exposed to neonics. A separate study, conducted in Canada and published in the same journal, discovered that prolonged exposure to neonicotinoids affects honey-bee health in corn-growing regions. In September, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides previewed its updated survey findings that neonics represent a “major worldwide threat to biodiversity and ecosystems.” Finally, in October a novel study showed that honey samples from across the world are contaminated with ecologically concerning levels of neonics, and contamination is highest in North America.

“Decision-makers in the European Union, France, and Ontario have already opted to heavily restrict neonicotinoid use. Rather than follow these precautionary examples Canada has taken years to study the problem and allowed for even more widespread use of neonics, letting the market use these risky pesticides,” Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada.

“Humans rely so greatly on the services that pollinators provide for free. They are essential for fruits, vegetables, nuts and 90 per cent of flowering plants. Neonicotinoid use recklessly gambles with the health of our environment,” said Caroline Schultz, Ontario Nature’s Executive Director.

“We are deeply concerned to see the government being so laissez-faire about neonicotinoids’ risks to pollinators,” said Faisal Moola, David Suzuki Foundation Director General for Ontario and Northern Canada. “In approving these deadly pesticides despite evidence of harm to pollinators and other beneficial species, the government has failed to protect the environment from unacceptable risks.”

The federal Pest Control Products Act requires the PMRA to have “reasonable certainty” that a pesticide will cause no harm to the environment before registering it. For more than a decade, the PMRA has continuously granted “conditional” registrations for two neonicotinoid pesticides, putting off for a later day its review of scientific information on the pesticides’ risks to pollinators. Years later the PMRA is still waiting for studies sufficient to justify “full” registration of the pesticides.

About:

-Neonics are systemic chemical insecticides that are intended to control crop-destroying pests. They pose threats to non-target organisms like native bees, which are responsible for pollinating one third of the world’s crops and 90 per cent of all wild plants.

-Ecojustice is Canada’s largest environmental law charity. Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all.

-Wilderness Committee is Canada’s people-powered, citizen-funded wilderness protection group.

-Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement.

-The David Suzuki Foundation’s mission is to protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future.

-Friends of the Earth Canada (www.foecanada.org) is the Canadian member of Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest grassroots environmental network campaigning in 75 countries on today’s most urgent environmental and social issues.

Bees v. government & industry, round two

By Charles Hatt Ecojustice November 15 2017

We’re fending off a second attempt to shut down our lawsuit against bee-killing pesticides

Today, we’re back in court to fend off a second attempt by industry and government to shut down our clients’ case against the continued registration of bee-killing pesticides without the scientific studies required to assess their risks to pollinators.

Meanwhile, the science on neonicotinoids (neonics) and pollinators only becomes clearer — the widespread use of these pesticides is exposing bees and other pollinators around the world to dangerous levels of toxic contamination, killing bees and collapsing their colonies. Sadly, it has become harder for pollinators to do the awe-inspiring work of pollinating our food and flowering plants.

But here’s the trouble — as we’ve seen over the past few months, government and industry do not want this case to get a hearing, where a judge can decide whether the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s (PMRA) ‘approve first, study the science later’ approach is legal.

We first filed this lawsuit on behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Wilderness Committee, and Ontario Nature, in July 2016. Our case argues that the PMRA’s approach doesn’t comply with its own legislation, the Pest Control Products Act —a law that seeks to protect people and the environment from the risks posed by pesticides.

Since then, we’ve been fighting hard to make sure this case goes to a hearing.

Bees and pollinators are fascinating creatures that are critical to the survival of our ecosystems. They pollinate 90 per cent of our wild plants, and 30 per cent of the world’s crops. Without them, much of this plant life would die off.

Neonicotinoids interfere with a bee’s central nervous system. When bees come into acute contact with high levels of the insecticide, the consequence can be death. But often the more pernicious effects of neonicotinoids come from chronic, low level exposures to neonicotinoids in the nectar and pollen of treated plants, or in the vegetation and waterways surrounding fields where neonics are used. The troubling science shows that chronic exposure to neonics can harm bees and bee colonies by impairing their ability to forage, fly, reproduce, and keep their colonies clean.

The world’s largest study on neonics, published in a June issue of Science, showed widespread evidence of population decline and shortened lifespans in domesticated and wild bees populations exposed to neonics. A separate study, conducted in Canada and published in the same journal, discovered that prolonged exposure to neonicotinoids affects honey-bee health in corn-growing regions. In September, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides previewed its updated survey findings that neonics represent a “major worldwide threat to biodiversity and ecosystems.” Finally, in October a novel study showed that honey samples from across the world are contaminated with ecologically concerning levels of neonics, and contamination is highest in North America.

In July, my colleague Julia Croome and I went to bat against nine lawyers from the Government of Canada and several multinational pesticide companies. The result? The judge determined that the case deserves to be heard so the court can determine whether the PMRA’s continued approval of neonicotinoid pesticides is legal.

Today, we’re up against a second attempt to shut down this case, but we’re optimistic that the law is on our side.

Decision-makers in the European Union, France, and Ontario have already opted to heavily restrict neonicotinoid use. Rather than follow these precautionary examples Canada has taken years to study the problem and allowed for even more widespread use of neonics, letting the market become dependent on these risky pesticides

This case is an example of the great endurance litigation demands. Thanks to your support, we’ve not only been able to launch this lawsuit, but we’ve been able to successfully resist repeated attempts to block our clients – and pollinators – from getting their day in court. Thank you!

When our lawsuit it is finally heard, it could set an important precedent that would force Canada to take a more precautionary and science-driven approach to pesticide regulation.

This won’t be the last time we stand before a judge to fight for pollinators and our environment, so stay tuned. We’ll keep fighting, thanks to you.

P.S. Did you know? Ecojustice represents Friends of the Earth Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Wilderness Committee, Ontario Nature, and every one of our clients free of charge. When you donate to Ecojustice, you aren’t just supporting a single organization, you’re helping strengthen an entire movement.

 Deadly serious on neonic court action

By Beatrice Olivastri Friends of the Earth Canada November 17 2017

I’m just back from two days of court hearings – the Attorney General and three pesticide manufacturers are trying, for the second time, to throw out our case against the continued registration of bee-killing pesticides without the required scientific studies on their risks to pollinators.

I feel a duty to be in the court room when our Ecojustice lawyers go head to head with the other side. In July, our two lawyers, Charlie Hatt and Julia Croome, faced nine lawyers from the government and pesticide manufacturers. This time, Charlie and Kaitlyn Mitchell faced at least 11 lawyers appearing on behalf of government and industry, spilling over into both sides of the court room with ever more documents piling up in the court room.

You can imagine my anger when a lawyer for Bayer characterized Friends of the Earth and the three other groups bringing this public interest case as being nothing more than “mischievous”.

You know from the science reports rolling out this year that the impacts of neonics on pollinators are deadly. And, we’re deadly serious in saying that the performance of Canada’s pesticide regulator shows a pattern of ‘approve first, study the science later’.

Our case asks the court to decide if this approach is legal but government and industry are pulling out the stops to shut down our lawsuit.

Yesterday, our lawyer at Ecojustice, Charles Hatt, argued that “approving pesticides that kill off bees en masse, without observing the science, is unlawful.” He provided the court with compelling evidence of situation after situation where the PMRA granted pesticides conditional registration without receiving what they themselves defined as “critical” data required on acute toxicity to bees.

Last July, our lawyers argued successfully that our case deserved to be heard on its merit at a full hearing. Judge Aylen decided that the case deserves to be heard so that a court can decide whether the PMRA’s continued approval of two neonicotinoid pesticides without the necessary science is legal.

But here we are again battling for the basic right for the case to be heard.

I am so very proud to work with Ecojustice and our colleagues on this important case. It could set an important precedent that would force Canada to take a truly precautionary and science-driven approach to pesticide regulation. And it could save millions of bees from future poisoning.

Thanks to your support to the Bee Cause campaign, Friends of the Earth is an applicant in this precedent-setting case. Along with urging Canadians to learn more about bees, we want to ensure bees can enjoy healthy lives and perform their important roles in our web of life. We know this will never happen if we continue the use of systemic pesticides such as neonics without the relevant science before our decision makers.

We insist our pesticide regulatory agency should do its job as legally required to protect human health and the environment – including the bees.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support to the Bee Cause. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear back from the court on next steps.

An ‘ecological Armageddon’ — and a government asleep at the switch

By Michael Harris iPOLITICS  November 9 2017

The scientific evidence is clear — that neonics threaten the survival of pollinators. Canada must act immediately to ban the use of all neonics, and ensure phase-outs are implemented quickly. Canada’s proposal to phase out imidacloprid is a good first step, but not extending the same ban to other neonics means more bee populations and other beneficial insects will continue to be harmed.”

— Muhannad Malas, toxics program manager with Environmental Defence

To bee or not to bee — that is the question.

While Canada dithers on whether to ban bee-killing, water-polluting and honey-tainting pesticides, one country has just answered that question resoundingly.

In defence of bees — as well as other elements of the ecosystem put at risk by the so-called neonicotinoid (neonics) class of pesticides — Britain’s Secretary of the Environment has just announced a total ban on this product.

In some ways, that’s like the Three Stooges developing table manners. Just four years ago, Britain firmly opposed a move by the European Union to ban the use of neonics on all flowering crops. Since this class of pesticides is the most widely-used in the world, with a multi-billion dollar global market, the lobbying effort to head off such a ban has been fierce.

Despite that, the European Union will be voting on a total ban of neonics outside of greenhouses this December. With Britain’s about-face on the issue, it’s virtually certain now that the EU measure will now pass.

Why this sudden policy reversal by the U.K.? As Environment Secretary Michael Gove wrote this week in The Guardian, it was really quite simple.

“The evidence points in one direction — we must ban neonicotinoids.”

The evidence, in fact, is damning. Neurotoxins are not good for anything, and that includes bees. In a world that uses this deadly product on an industrial scale, field trials around the world have shown that neonics weaken or kill honey bees and other pollinators. A recent study conducted by York University confirmed that neonics kill not only in the laboratory, but in the field.

That is plainly monstrous at the planetary level. It’s also costly. These insects add as much as a billion dollars annually to the U.K.’s crop yields. Gove noted that British apple growers, for example, must now pay $10 million a year to replace the work of “lost natural pollinators.”

And then there is the daunting finding of the U.K.’s Expert Committee on Pesticides, which warned that the effects of neonics “are occurring at a landscape level and between seasons.”
open quote 761b1bDespite the advice it’s gotten from scientists since 2011, the federal government hasn’t moved to put a single species of bee on the list of wildlife at risk — nor has it come to terms with the profound dangers of neonics.

In other words, an unintended slaughter is going on in the name of crop protection. As usual, the chemical industry is in full-throated denial, with their government partners occasionally singing harmony.

And the damage done by these pesticides may not be restricted to bees. That became an issue after Plos One, a Europe-based Open Access multidisciplinary journal, published a stunning report this year on the plummeting number of flying insects in Germany. The report, which made headlines around the world, found that the number of such insects fell by a jaw-dropping 75 per cent over 27 years.

It’s important to note that the study made no firm finding about what was behind this “ecological Armageddon.” It might be lack of food, weather, viruses, or those factors combined with exposure to chemical pesticides.

But Martin Sorg of Germany’s Krefeld Entomological Society, the man who led the amateur entomologists who conducted the study, made clear that although factors like weather might come into play, “it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend.”

(Come to think of it, have you noticed fewer insects on your windshield on long road trips? I have.)

So what is Canada doing while bees and other insects and wildlife are dying? Slumping over the steering wheel, snoring. Canada’s federal pesticide regulator has allowed neonics to be registered for use despite the agency’s unanswered concerns about the safety of the product.

Other jurisdictions are doing much better, including some of Canada’s biggest cities. Vancouver and Montreal have already banned these dangerous pesticides within their city limits. Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to limit the use and sale of neonics. That seems appropriate after ten years of bee-poisoning in that province’s corn fields. Quebec also has limited the pesticide’s use.

But Canada still uses 300,000 kilograms of neonics every year.

Despite the advice it’s gotten from scientists since 2011, the federal government hasn’t moved to put a single species of bee on the list of wildlife at risk — nor has it come to terms with the profound dangers of neonics.

What we have seen so far are token gestures — like Ottawa’s $12 million contribution to bee habitat protection. Good — but a baby step. There also have been suggestions that a decision on neonics is at hand. There is even a quasi-pledge that something might be decided by the end of this year. And why the blue hell shouldn’t it be, when Health Canada itself is recommending a ban?

The question is — a ban on what? Will it be a ban on all neonics, or just certain variations like imidacloprid, clothianidin, or thiamethoxam? Or will it be none of the above?

Despite the Trudeau government’s rhetorical commitment to the environment, Ottawa recently joined forces with four chemical companies to stop a lawsuit over pesticides potentially harmful to bees — clothianidin and thiamethoxam, both neonics.

This summer, the Federal Court ruled against the Trudeau government and the companies. The lawsuit, launched by a group of environmental organzations represented by a lawyer for Ecojustice, will now proceed to court. With any luck, it will tell us whether Ottawa allowed neonics to be used without forcing makers to answer questions about their risks.

This is not what we expected of Justin Trudeau, given his campaign commitment to basing policy on science.

Canadians have had their fill of governments that gave the benefit of the doubt to products and practices that kill the ecosystems that keep us alive. They watched as Ottawa issued larger and larger quotas on the Grand Banks, even as the Northern Cod was disappearing as a commercial species.

Millions of people cringed when the Harper government kept supporting asbestos exports, long after it was banned as a hazardous material in this country and we were paying to take it out of 24 Sussex.

The last thing Canadians want is a government that won’t get its ass in gear in the interests of a marvelous creature that helps pollinate the plants that give us one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat.

Despite important roles for the ministers of health and environment in this controversy, Justin Trudeau is our Bee-Keeper-in-Chief. It’s time he acted like one.

A good starting point would be a long conversation with Michael Gove.

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