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Ontario court rejects grower appeal on neonic rules

GFO hires BDO to audit new rules' effects over next three years

The group representing Ontario’s corn and soybean growers, seeking a stay on the province’s new restrictions for use of neonicotinoid seed treatments, won’t get its wish from the provincial Court of Appeal.

The appeal court on Wednesday dismissed a March 9 application from Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) seeking an interpretation of the province’s new rules and a stay pending the outcome.

GFO chairman Mark Brock, in a release Wednesday, described the ruling as “frustrating and disheartening for myself, our farmer-members and the grain industry.”

However, he said, the ruling at least “acknowledged that farmer rights have been negatively affected by this regulation and that it does create legitimate hardships on grain farmers in this province.”

The organization’s previous request for a stay was dismissed at Ontario Superior Court in October last year.

Writing for the appeal court, Justice Bradley Miller rejected GFO’s claim that the province’s regulation was “ambiguous.” GFO, he wrote, “has not identified a genuine dispute about the farmers’ rights and obligations.”

Granting GFO’s request, he added, “would be tantamount to amending a regulation through interpretation, a remedy well outside the court’s discretionary power to order declaratory relief.”

Miller granted that the new regulation “narrows the farmers’ range of legally permitted options” for pesticide use, but added that “limitation of a right does not, standing alone, create a justiciable issue.”

GFO said Wednesday its board will discuss its options for further appeals, but will also “immediately” hire accounting and consulting firm BDO to conduct an audit of the impact of the provincial regulations on Ontario grain farmers.

Over the next three years, GFO said, BDO will “investigate the socioeconomic consequences of these regulations, including the cost to farmers operating under this new regime and the cost to the future of food and fibre production in Canada.”

“To ensure the government truly understands how decisions like this impact our businesses, and with the goal of improving how agricultural policy is formed in the future, we are commissioning this audit and we will regularly inform the government of findings throughout this study,” Brock said.

Ontario’s neonic regulations were put in place last summer to meet a government target to cut use of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 per cent by 2017, to be used “only when there is a demonstrated pest problem.”

The regulations put the neonic insecticides — imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin — in a new pesticide class, Class 12.

Between now and the end of August this year, any Ontario corn or soy grower wanting to plant Class 12-treated seed on more than 50 per cent of his or her acres must complete a soil inspection pest assessment report.

Past August, a corn and/or soy grower wanting to use any Class 12-treated seed at all must complete a pest assessment report and present his or her certificate in integrated pest management (IPM) training.

Pest assessments beyond August must be done either via a soil inspection by an IPM-certified grower or professional pest advisor, or via a crop inspection by a professional advisor.

Ontario set up its neonic regs citing evidence that the Class 12 pesticides are “highly toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects,” and could also harm aquatic insects if they run off soils into nearby watercourses.

The GFO on Wednesday cited a Conference Board of Canada study, conducted before the regulations took effect, estimating losses at over $600 million if farmers were unable to access neonics.

The appeal court, in its dismissal Wednesday, made no order as to the costs of the appeal. — Network

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