Neonics – It’s Bigger than the Bees

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, February 21, 2017

Neonics, Bees & Food Security

Neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics” are the group of pesticides that came to public attention several years ago when beekeepers began reporting alarmingly high rates of bee colony losses. Ontario beekeepers, for example, reported losing 58% of their bee colonies over the winter of 2013 and 38% over the winter of 2014 (1). While there is ample evidence linking neonics to bee colony losses, this issue is bigger than the bees.

When an international group of independent scientists, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, reviewed over 1100 peer reviewed scientific articles, they found that neonics are extremely toxic to most insects, spiders and crustaceans; moderately toxic to birds and fish; persistent so they can accumulate to hazardous levels in the soil; water soluble so they can run off into streams and lakes and leach into ground water; linked to large-scale acute losses of domestic honeybee colonies; and associated with impaired learning, increased mortality, reduced fecundity, and increased susceptibility to disease in bees. The Task Force concluded that neonics are potentially harmful to ecosystem services, such as pollination, that are vital to food security and sustainable development (3).

When public health researchers conducted a study to determine how people around the world might be affected by the total loss of animal pollinators, such as bees, they estimated that global fruit supplies would decrease by 23%, vegetables by 16%, and nuts and seeds by 22%. They predicted that these changes in food supplies could increase global deaths from chronic and nutrition-related diseases by 1.42 million people per year (4).

Regulatory Actions

Moved by the threat that neonics pose to the honey industry in Ontario, which is worth about $26 million per year, and to agricultural crops in Ontario that depend upon pollination, which is worth about $897 million per year, the Ontario Government moved decisively (2). In July 2015, Ontario passed regulations that aimed to reduce the number of acres planted with neonic-treated corn or soybean seed by 80% by 2017 (2). In so doing, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to restrict the use of neonics. The regulations targeted the three neonic pesticides used most extensively in Ontario: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. Newly released data indicates that neonic-treated corn and soybean seeds were used on about 3 million acres of crop land in Ontario in 2016—down by almost 1 million acres from 2014 (6). While this is substantial reduction—about 24%—it is long way from the 80% reduction that will be required by the regulations by the end of this year.

In November 2016, Health Canada proposed a new decision for the neonic pesticide imidacloprid based on a reevaluation of the science. This decision, which is open for public consultation until March 23, 2017, proposes the phase-out of all the agricultural and the majority of outdoor uses of imidacloprid over three to five years. This decision was based on Health Canada’s findings that this pesticide is being measured in aquatic environments at levels that are harmful to aquatic insects that are a food source for fish, birds, and other animals. Let Health Canada know that you support the phase-out of imidacloprid, but want to see them move faster to protect the ecosystem from neonics. You can review the consultation document here and provide feedback here.

For more information on neonics, see CAPE’s Factsheet or CAPE’s Backgrounder


  1. Health Canada. Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health. 2015; 20p.
  2. Ontario Government. 2014. Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario; 2014; pp 21p.
  3. Van Lexmond, M. B.; Bonmatin, J.-M.; Goulson, D.; Noome, D. A., Worldwide integrated assessment on systemic pesticides. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 2015, 22, (1), 1-4
  4. Smith, M R; Singh, G M; Mozaffarian, D; Myers, S S. Effects of decreases of animal pollinators on human nutrition and global health: a modelling analysis. The Lancet, 2015, 386, (10007), 1964-1972.
  5. The European Food Safety Authority. EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity. Press Release. December 17 2013.
  6. Ontario Government. Neonic Regulations for Seed Vendors.  January 2017.
  7. Health Canada. Proposed Re-evaluation Decision. Imidacloprid. November 23, 2016.