icon-honeybee  icon-butterfly   icon-moth  icon-bumblebee


Neonics are pesticides that are hurting our pollinators, aquatic insects and impacting wildlife. Pollinators are essential for our food supply, our ecosystems and our enjoyment of nature.

Banning Neonics

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) proposal to phase out three neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin due to unacceptable risk to aquatic species was the correct decision to make, given evidence of serious harm.

CWF applauds Health Canada’s recent announcement to cancel certain uses of these neonicotinoids to address risks to pollinators. However, the decision to continue registration of products containing neonics makes no sense. Continued use of these pesticides is unacceptable, given the weight of scientific evidence of serious harm to pollinators, aquatic insects and other beneficial insects.

While other jurisdictions have banned the use of these neonicotinoids based on the same evidence of harm, we are concerned that Health Canada’s fragmented and lengthy approach to evaluating risks from neonics will impede species recovery.

With the power of our united voice, CWF delivered a strong message to the Government of Canada to:
• Accelerate the timeline for the proposed phase out of three neonics – clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid
• Work towards phasing out the registration of any future systemic pesticides and invest in alternatives
• Ensure that Agriculture Canada works to build a sustainable agriculture industry that is not dependent on poorly adapted seed varieties and high uses of pesticides
• Ensure a full assessment of the impacts of neonics on the species at risk that are likely to be affected, including bats, Monarch Butterflies, Yellow-banded Bumble Bees and Western Bumble Bees

Last summer, the Canadian Wildlife Federation launched a petition calling for a legislated, national ban on the use of all forms of neonicotinoid pesticides in agriculture, horticulture, turf production and golf courses. Under the CWF proposal, emergency use of neonics would be permitted for a limited number of years, but only under cases of severe pest outbreak and with a prescription from a certified agronomist.


“Banning neonicotinoids is an imperative first step if we are to avoid long-lasting serious impacts on the very ecosystems that support farming in Canada. Next, we will need to work to recover species affected by these toxic chemicals and provide Canadian farmers with alternative pest control methods if we are to achieve sustainable agriculture.”
Carolyn Callaghan, Senior Conservation Science Biologist | Canadian Wildlife Federation

What Can You Do?

Don’t use pesticides with neonics around your home and garden

Buy garden plants from stores that source neonic free plants.

Grow pollinator-friendly plants

To help support declining pollinator numbers, grow a variety of native flowers in your garden. Having a garden with flowers all season long is an excellent way to support our pollinators.

How Neonics Spread

Neonicotinoids or “neonics” are a group of insecticides that are chemically related to nicotine. If you’ve bought garden plants from a big box store, or grabbed a few ears of corn from your grocery, you may have encountered them.
In Canada, five of these insecticides are approved for use on many of our foods, including corn, soy, peas, beans, fruits and vegetables. They are applied to the plant as seed coatings, soil solutions, or as sprays on the leaves and stems. They remain active in the plant for many months, and in the soil up to several years.

You can’t wash your hands of it

Neonics are a systemic pesticide. They can’t be washed off of our apples or rinsed from our garden flowers. They are inside the plant, having been taken up by the leaves or roots and distributed throughout by the vascular system. All parts of the plant are affected, including the stem, flowers, fruits, nectar and pollen. When insects ingest fluids or tissues from a treated plant, the neonics damage their central nervous system, causing tremors, paralysis and sometimes death.

Neonics are now the most widely used insecticides in the world with a global market value of billions of dollars annually. However, mounting evidence suggests unforeseen, negative effects on non-target species and the environment.

In our Environment


Neonics are highly soluble in water, which is the reason they can travel to all parts of a plant. They also last a long time both in the plant and the soil around it. This combination not only makes them desirable insecticides, but also potent environmental contaminants. Water can easily transport neonics throughout soils and into waterways. Once there, they take months (possibly years) to break down.

Domino effect

Neonics can now be found in some water bodies at levels that are toxic to aquatic insect species like midges and mayflies. This can cause serious disruptions in the food chain. In the Netherlands, declines of insects from neonics have been linked to declines of insect-eating birds. Birds can also be harmed directly if they eat neonic-coated seeds. In a Canadian study, migratory White-crowned Sparrows exposed to a dose of a neonic equal to four to eight treated canola seeds a day over three days lost a quarter of their body weight.

Depending on the concentration and mode of delivery of the neonic, it’s likely that many other species are harmed. Although amphibians and fish are less sensitive to neonics than insects, studies show neonics to be toxic to them at high doses, or after long exposures. Neonics can alter the eating patterns of earthworms to the point that they starve. Even bats may fall victim to neonics.

A Problem For Pollinators

Without pollinators, where would we be? By some estimates, 30 per cent of our food is made possible by the bees, beetles, flies, birds and butterflies that help grow our food — and let’s not forget honey! Honeybees produce honey from nectar and pollen collected from flowers. But now many pollinators get more than pollen and nectar when they visit blooms in our agricultural fields. In Canada, neonics have been found in the pollen and nectar of many crops.

Hundreds of studies show that the use of neonics causes pollinators like bees significant harm. It affects their ability to navigate, learn, collect food and reproduce. Bumble bee colonies permeated with neonics grow more slowly and produce fewer queens.

Not just agriculture

It’s not just our food we need to worry about. About 75 to 95 per cent of Earth’s flowering plants rely on pollinators for reproduction. But many wild pollinators are put at risk when they fly over the farm fence to feed on the blooms of crops treated with neonics. In some areas, butterflies are sharply declining where their habitat is nearby agricultural areas. Neonics are one more problem for our disappearing wild pollinators to handle on top of habitat loss, disease, climate change and competition or predation from introduced species.

Are Neonics Worth It?


We have come to rely on insecticides like neonics for the control of pests on our food crops, garden flowers, tree farms and even the fleas on our dogs. We routinely apply these chemicals even before they are needed as insurance against a pest outbreak that may or may not occur. “It’s like taking antibiotics to avoid getting ill, before you are ill,” says biologist David Goulson, a scientist with the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.
But is it worth it?

Wasted Effort

This “prophylactic use” of neonics greatly increases the number of non-target species like bees and pest-eating beetles that are killed or exposed to sub-lethal but harmful doses. It means a lot of insecticide needlessly ends up in our environment. By some estimates, 90 per cent of insecticides aren’t taken up by target plants, but instead find their way into our soils, waterways and wild food chains.

Widespread over-use of neonics is accelerating the rate at which insect pests all over the world are developing resistance. For example, just ten years after the neonic imidacloprid was introduced, 95 per cent of Colorado Potato Beetle populations in the Northeastern and Midwestern USA showed resistance. Yet despite increasing rates of pest resistance, many producers still consider neonics to be beneficial.

Neonics ≠ increased yield

Few studies have tested whether neonics are actually beneficial or not. Those studies that have tested the benefits of neonics show their effectiveness to be inconsistent and hard to predict. They often don’t increase yield, and when they do, the effect is sometimes offset by losses of pollinators that affect future crops.
And although neonics may appear to work in terms of reducing damage to the plant, in many cases this does not translate into higher yields at the end of the season. In one study, a neonic was found to reduce root injuries in corn, but this did not translate to a yield increase and associated economic benefit.
The questionable effectiveness of neonics and growing resistance of pest insects to these chemicals needs to be carefully weighed against the harm they are causing other organisms, and the loss of pollination and other services nature provides to agriculture.