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Experts gather to find alternatives to pesticides

Actu - Symposium pesticides

On April 21, Équiterre and its partners organized in Montreal a symposium on the alternatives to systemic pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. On this occasion, they presented an update on the scientific literature findings of the last two years. This event comes just as the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change begins an in depth review of its regulation on pesticide use. About 60 people from diverse fields were present including municipal, governmental, research and agricultural sectors as well as groups from the pubilc.

Isabelle St-Germain, Deputy Director General of Équiterre, welcomed the growing interest on the subject: « Not long ago, only a few groups cared about the pesticide problem. Équiterre played an important role in bringing together scientists, doctors and government representatives, to publicly support, progressive policies on pesticide reduction.» Equiterre plans to have its voice heard in the course of the parliamentary comission that will lead to the reform of the Law on pesticides

This event also marked the first North American visit of the key members of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. The group authored the most important literature review – an analysis of 1121 studies- on the effects of systemic pesticides on bees and other invertabrae, vertabrae, as well as on the overall ecosystem. The Montreal stop is part of a worldwide tour by the task force, who is encouraging the implementation of an integrated pest management as an alternative to the massive use of certain pesticides, paticularly neonicotinoids.


History of the international Task force on Systemic Pesticides

In 2009, a group of European scientists met in France, following an international investigation into the catastrophic decline of insects all over Europe. They observed a progressive decrease in insects, along with the depletion of the natural environment, since the 1950’s. They identified as causes the intensification of agriculture and the loss of natural habitats, the massive use of pesticides and herbicides, the growing number of roads and of vehicular traffic, light pollution on the continent as well as and climate change.

Further analysis points to a more serious decrease in insect populations between 1900 and 2000. The massive collapse of these different species also coincides with the severe decline of different species of insectivorous birds, such as swallows and starlings. On the basis of existing studies, numerous field observations and overwhelming circumstancial evidence, they arrive at the hypothesis that a new generation of pesticides- neonicotinoids- persistant, systemic and neurotoxic, and fipronil, introduced at the begining of 1990, are probably responsible, at least partly, for these decreases.

In response, an international work group on pesticides, Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, made up of independant scientists, is created. The group publishes in June 2014 a literature review, after analyzing 1121 studies published in peer reviewed journals, covering the previous 5 years, including industry-financed studies.

Their analysis underlines the high risk of negative impacts of pesticides, not only on the health of bees, but also on a great number of useful species, such as butterflies, earthworms and birds. Pesticides also put at risk a great number of invertabrae by contaminating soil, vegetation, underground and surface water and aquatic habitats. The task force’s conclusion is unequivocal : « … there exists sufficient proof of the damages to put regulatory measures in place. »

Impacts on humans

A recent analysis from Japan reveals a series of impacts on humans : trembling hands and feet, loss of short-term memory, headaches, generalized fatigue, chest pains, palpitations, abdominal pain, spasms, pain and muscular weakness. These symptoms were linked to the presence of neonicotinoids in the urine of people exposed to the insecticide and they continued for several days, and up to several months, after having stopped consuming contaminated products.


Consult the many actions taken by Équiterre and its partners in the fight against pesticides in the last several years. Among them is an on-going petition to ban atrazine, a toxic pesticide banned in Europe 10 years ago and still used in Canada…