Neonicotinoids Timeline, 1980’s to June 2020 from an Edmonton, Alberta, Canada perspective

Neonicotinoid pesticides, arguably called “bee killers” are scientifically understood as a problematic class of pesticides. The European Union, in recognition of mounting evidence of their danger, banned 3 neonic formulations in 2018. Health Canada, at various times after 2015, promised to enact a similar ban. Instead, in November of 2019, Health Canada enacted restrictions of the use of certain neonic formulations, stopping short of any complete bans. Further decisions have been delayed until at least Spring of 2021 or Spring of 2022 due to delays attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This Neonic Timeline was prepared by the Pesticide Working Group of the Edmonton Chapter of the Council of Canadians. It is published according to the terms of the Creative Commons. It is available for anyone to build upon and expand, with acknowledgement of the Pesticide Working Group of the Edmonton Chapter of the Council of Canadians.

In the 1980’s Shell, and in the 1990’s Bayer began developing a new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids.  These pesticides are neuro-active and chemically similar to nicotine.  Compared to organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonics cause less toxicity to mammals and birds than to insects.  That said, in so far as neonics reduce insect populations, they clearly and detrimentally affect insectivore bird and other  populations.  Although neonics do not immediately kill bees, there are several studies suggesting that the insecticide reduces the probability of bees surviving the winter.  During the coming years, neonicotinoids are linked more and more to significant decreases in bees and other insect populations.  

1990s:  Neonicotinoid pesticides are first introduced for use in Canada. 

2005:  The first Neonicotinoid pesticides were approved for use in the European Union.

May 2013:  The European Union places a moratorium on three kinds of neonicotinoids (out of 7 types),   The partial ban  forbids their use in flowering crops that appeal to honey bees and other pollinating insects.  There is a large body of evidence showing that neonics harm honey bees.  The ban is limited but acknowledges the need to follow a precautionary approach

Feb 2014:  Canadian Dr. Meg Sears of Prevent Cancer Now makes link between Neonicotinoid pesticides and the collapse of bee and bird populations: 

September 2014:  A new,, international report concludes there is evidence of significant harm caused by the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin and that a regulatory review should be triggered.  

Mar. 19, 2015:  Legislators in Minnesota propose a 5-year moratorium on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides.  See:

Summer, 2015:  Montreal bans all neonicotinoid pesticides – without exceptions- within its borders, including golf courses, the botanical gardens and all agricultural lands. and and

June 3, 2016:  Health Canada and the PMRA end the practice of conditionally registering pesticides. This action was taken after the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development criticized Health Canada for maintaining conditional registration for a number of neonics for more than 10 years.  There remain a number of conditionally registered neonicotinoid (and other) pesticides.  Health Canada promises to ensure that the needed scientific studies and needed responses will “be resolved”  by 2017.

July 2016:  The Canadian environmental charity Eco-Justice files a law suit against the Pest Management Regulatory Agency challenging its conditional (and arguably illegal) registration of a number of neonicotinoid pesticides containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam. (See also April 2019)

2016:   Health Canada initiates a re-evaluation and possibly phasing out the neonic imidacloprid in 3 years. (Health Canada later back pedal on this initiative.  See:  Feb. 2019 and Jan. 16, 2020)  Environmental assessments identified risks to aquatic insects such as midges and mayflies due to the pesticide.  Special reviews of two other neonics, clothianidin and thiamethoxam are also initiated.  A final decision, regarding idimacloprid is expected in December, 2017. and and  

February, 2018:  Quebec places new restrictions on pesticides, but stops short of banning neonicotinoids:

April, 2018:  “The European Union … expanded a … ban of 3 neonicotinoid pesticides, Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.  This decision was made based on the threat they pose to pollinators. …

August 2018:  Citing significant threats to aquatic insects, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency conditionally proposes a 3-5 year phase out of two classes of neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianadin and thiametnoxam.  and  Health Canada later back pedals on this initiative.  (See Feb. 2019 and Jan. 16, 2020)

February, 2019:  Despite a growing body of evidence that 40% of the world’s insects are on the verge of extinction, and a growing body of evidence showing that neonics kill bees and despite a 2018 European Union total ban on the use of 3 main neocinotinoid pesticides, Health Canada and the PMRA reverses the planned 3-5 year phase out of the 3 main neonicotinoid pesticides.  An announcement at the end of 2019 is expected to provide details.  The PMRA is criticized for this decision.  and


April 11, 2019:  The Federal Court arguably sides with the pesticide industry and the PMRA not to hear the merits of a case challenging the legality of conditionally approving pesticides like neonicotinoids before scientific research proves that there is an acceptable risk associated with their use.  The environmental law charity, Eco-Justice argued for this case representing the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth Canada, Nature Canada and the Wilderness Committee.  The Federal Court dismissed this case on the grounds of “mootness”, presumably because theh PMRA was about to announce restrictions on the use of some neonicotinoids.  It took nearly 3 years for this case to wend its way through the courts, including surviving a number of challenges from the PMRA and the pesticide industry to have this case dismissed.  Note also that the PMRA suspended the pracitse of conditionally registering pesticides back in 2016 when this case was initially brought forward.

April 2019:  Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) conditionally restricts certain uses of neonicotinoid pesticides in Canada, flouting the need for a precautionary approach and complete bans in Europe:

July 2019:  Canada lacks a standardized population tracking system of its over 800 native bee species.  Honey bees, often imported, are competing with native bee species.

Jan. 16, 2020:  As noted in the February, 2019 posting here, Health Canada/the PMRA releases an informational update on neoncotinoids which does not include the previously promised  3-5 year phase out of neonicotinoid pesticides,.  Health Canada is, arguably equivocating while continuing to collect data before deciding whether or not to follow the complete ban on the 3 neonicotinoid pesticides in Europe.

In order to protect pollinators, Health Canada is cancelling many uses of neonicotinoids on crops that bees find attractive, such as orchard trees, and is not allowing spraying of some crops, such as berries and fruiting vegetables, before or during bloom.Jan 16, 2020

January 21, 2020:  The Canadian National Collaborating Cenre for Environmental Health releases an updated assessment on the human health impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides.  Five neonics are currently approved for use in Canada.  There is a growing body of evidence showing that neonic residues or contamination in our food is ubiquitous but the significance of this is contested.

June 2020:  Alberta bee keepers confirm “catastrophic” loss of bees during the winter of 2019-20.

September 2020: Health Canada publishes an “Update on the Neonicotinoid Pesticides”. Health Canada continues to delay following up on its earlier commitment to banning any of the neonicotinoid formulations. Efforts to gather, compile and publish data on aquatic insect populations and other factors have been delayed until Spring of 2021 and, in some cases until Spring 2022.

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