Regulatory Waiting Game

EPA to Release Decisions on Neonics as International Scrutiny Mounts

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA missed eight deadlines on its registration review of neonicotinoid chemicals in 2016, leaving farmer and industry use of the chemicals in an uncomfortable waiting pattern. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- The EPA has told DTN it expects to release a number of key documents on neonicotinoids in the coming weeks, after missing most of its 2016 registration review deadlines on this class of insecticides.

The four neonicotinoids up for review are imidacloprid (Gaucho), clothianidin (Poncho), thiamethoxam (Cruiser), and dinotefuran.

"We expect to release in the next week or so preliminary pollinator-only risk assessments for the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran and also an update to the preliminary risk assessment for imidacloprid, which we published in January 2016," the agency told DTN in an email. "Our strategy to reduce acute risks to bees will also be coming out shortly."

The EPA's risk assessments will follow up a tough year for neonicotinoids, which faced heightened scrutiny and more restrictions in 2016, due to continued concerns that they affect pollinator and aquatic insect health.

Most recently, in November 2016, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) proposed phasing out the country's use of imidacloprid (the active ingredient in Gaucho, from Bayer CropScience) over the next three to five years.

Neonicotinoids are used to control insects in a range of agricultural industries, from row crops like corn, soybeans and cotton to horticultural crops. Perhaps most prominently, neonicotinoids are used in insecticide coatings placed on seed before planting.


Health Canada's proposed neonic phase-out was prompted by a routine registration review of imidacloprid, which includes environmental risk assessments. The PMRA said it reviewed data from pesticide manufacturers, Canadian provinces and Environment and Climate Change Canada, as well as publically available scientific studies before releasing this draft risk assessment. The assessment doesn't include any pollinator effects, which is part of a separate and ongoing risk assessment, the agency said.

"The environmental assessment showed that, in aquatic environments in Canada, imidacloprid is being measured at levels that are harmful to aquatic insects," PMRA wrote in its summary of the report. "These insects are an important part of the ecosystem, including as a food source for fish, birds and other animals. Based on currently available information, the continued high volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable."

The agency proposed to phase out "all the agricultural and a majority of other outdoor uses of imidacloprid" over the next three to five years, although it will consider "alternate risk management proposals, provided that they can achieve acceptable levels in the environment in the same timeframe."

The PMRA's draft risk assessment and phase-out proposal are available for public comment for the next 90 days.

Bayer CropSciences released a statement criticizing the PMRA's phase-out plan, calling it "no constructive solution," and noting that the risk assessment found high values of imidacloprid in freshwater mostly in areas associated with greenhouse and vegetables, not row crops. Bayer's statement also accused PMRA of using laboratory data with "poor reliability" instead of field data, and of using "worst case values rather than realistic levels of imidacloprid" in its calculations.

"Bayer will support Canadian growers' use of this valuable tool by continuing to provide Health Canada with sound, science-based evidence concerning imidacloprid's favorable environmental profile, including respecting aquatic insect populations," the company concluded in its statement.

"We don't have any indication that the PMRA announcement will affect EPA's own scientific review, though EPA continues to indicate that it will pursue mitigation as appropriate during the process," Bayer spokesperson Jeff Donald added to DTN in an email.

The PMRA's phase-out plan follows similar moves from a number of Canadian provinces and cities. Over the past two years, city officials in Vancouver and Montreal have voted to ban them, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have taken steps to phase them out gradually, with Ontario aiming to reduce use by 80% from 2015 to 2017.

Some U.S. states are getting on board, too. In Maryland, a state law will go into effect in 2018 banning all consumer uses of neonicotinoids, with exceptions for agricultural and veterinary uses.

In August of 2016, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton laid out a set of proposed rules instructing the state's department of agriculture to prompt new laws allowing them to regulate neonicotinoid-treated seed and then impose a series of restrictions on when and how often Minnesota farmers can use them. (See the DTN story here:…).


At the end of 2016, EPA had released documents on only one neonicotinoid chemical under review, imidacloprid (Gaucho). In a preliminary pollinator ecological risk assessment, the agency concluded that bees are most at risk of exposure to damaging levels of the imidacloprid from foliar and seed treatments in cotton fields and foliar applications in citrus fields.

The chemical's initial final registration decision was originally scheduled for 2014. Clothianidin (Poncho), thiamethoxam (Cruiser), and dinotefuran all have final decisions originally scheduled for 2018.

See the EPA's revised schedule for its neonicotinoid registration review here:….

See the imidacloprid risk assessment and phase-out plan proposed by Health Canada's PMRA here:…

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Emily Unglesbee