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Environment groups are calling out Canada’s approach to assessing pesticides after seven years of reviews led Health Canada to simultaneously decide to allow certain popular products to keep being used with restrictions, and to propose banning the same products from outdoor uses altogether.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency on Thursday released its final decision on what limits should be placed on a category of nicotine-based pesticides known as neonicotinoids to keep them from killing bees. Starting in two years, the pesticides won’t be allowed to be sprayed at all on certain crops such as apples and tree nuts and there will be limited times when they can be sprayed on many others, such as tomatoes, eggplants and berries.

Products that have no alternatives are given an extra year before they are affected by the decision.

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The agency said the risks the products pose to bees in other applications, such as pretreating seeds, are acceptable and only require new labels to warn of the dangers. Most of Canada’s canola and corn crop seeds are pretreated with neonicotinoids, along with about half the country’s soybean seeds.

However, this decision, which won’t begin to take effect until 2021, will likely be overridden in less than a year when the agency finalizes a separate assessment of the exact same products for their impact on aquatic insects. The agency found in 2016 that the most popular of the neonicotinoids was building up in ground and surface water and recommended banning it outright. It also launched a special assessment of the other two most common “neonics,” concluding in 2018 that they also needed to be banned.

The very final decision on that won’t come until January, 2020.

“Right now this is strictly about the risk to pollinators and for this assessment not all uses pose an unacceptable risk to pollinators,” said Scott Kirby, the director general of the environmental-assessment division of the pest management agency.

Lisa Gue, a senior researcher at the David Suzuki Foundation, said it is “disturbing” that the agency is continuing to allow neonicotinoids at all given that the agency’s scientists have concluded they cause unacceptable harm to any kinds of insects.

“The decision-making process here is just incomprehensible and incoherent,” she said.

Beatrice Olivastri, the executive director of Friends of the Earth Canada, said the agency’s fragmented approach to reviewing the products is “nonsensical.”

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Neonicotinoids are used by farmers and hobby gardeners alike to manage pests such as aphids and spider mites. Scientists blame the chemicals for weakening bees, making them more susceptible to disease and bad weather.

More than one-third of the world’s food crops require pollinators, such as bees, for production.

The European Union banned neonicotinoids at the end of last year after scientists concluded there was no safe way to use them without hurting bees. In 2017, a task force at the International Union for Conservation of Nature updated a compilation of more than 1,100 peer-reviewed research studies of neonicotinoids and concluded there was no doubt they harm bees.

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