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Canada to Phase Out Crop Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths

FILE-The suburban Minneapolis headquarters of Syngenta in Minnetonka, Minn., April 18, 2017.
FILE-The suburban Minneapolis headquarters of Syngenta in Minnetonka, Minn., April 18, 2017.

The Canadian government said on Wednesday it would move to restrict use of two types of crop chemicals that have been linked to deaths of aquatic insects and bees, in a victory for environmentalists and the latest setback for companies that sell the pesticides.

Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) said it would phase out, over three to five years, the outdoor use of thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta AG, and clothianidin, produced by Bayer AG.

A review found the chemicals at levels in water bodies high enough to harm aquatic insects that are food for fish and birds. The widely used chemicals protect corn, soybean and canola crops from insect damage.

Health Canada's move is subject to a 90-day consultation period, followed by final decisions in late 2019.

Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, are a class of pesticides applied as a seed treatment or sprayed on leaves.

Neonics have drawn scrutiny after research pointed to risks for honey bees, which have been in decline in North America, possibly due to pesticides, loss of habitat and climate change.

Health Canada also plans a final decision by the end of this year whether to phase out a third neonic, Bayer's imidacloprid. Canada's moves come after European Union countries in April backed a proposal to ban all outdoor use of neonics.

The United States has not taken similar action, but is reviewing neonics and plans to seek public comment on proposed action next spring, a spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Ontario beekeepers blame overuse of neonics for devastating honey bees, after an estimated 46 percent of colonies in the province did not survive winter.

"I'm thankful we're going to see a phase-out. I'd like it to happen sooner," said Jim Coneybeare, present of the Ontario Beekeepers' Association.

Alberta beekeeper David Tharle, however, said neonic use on canola fields has not harmed his hives, and he worries farmers will turn to harsher chemicals. "I haven't seen [neonics] affect the bees one iota."

Neonics are an "important tool" for farmers, with few alternatives, said Barry Senft, CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Syngenta is disappointed with the decision and believes the PMRA did not consider all relevant information, said Chris Davidson, spokesman for the company's Canadian unit.

Bayer believes clothianidin has a "favorable environmental profile," said Paul Thiel, vice-president of innovation and public affairs at Bayer CropScience.

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