Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pesticides under new attack

Canada's environment commissioner has issued a highly-critical audit that is likely to make farmers anxious.

Commissioner Julie Gelfand says it's taking far too long for the Pest Management Review Agency to remove dangerous products from the market.

These are products farmers want kept until there are alternatives available to control the pests in question.

She is also critical of conditional registrations which allow new pesticides on the market while awaiting further information. Eight of nine neonicitinoid seed-treatment pesticides fall into that category.

Last week, already knowing what Canadians are now learning about the audit, the Liberal government announced it's ending conditional registrations. Crop Life Canada, which speaks for manufacturers and distributors, agreed with the move.

The commissioner's report was tabled in Parliament Tuesday, soon after the first session under the Liberals began.

"We've recommended to the agency that once they've decided that a pesticide has unacceptable risks for all uses, that it should remove them from the market as soon as possible," the commissioner told a news conference.

"And that if they can't remove it right away, they should give more information to the public."
Gelfand's audit found the pest agency took an average of five years, and up to 11 years, to get dangerous pesticides off store shelves — and that the stalling mechanisms are built right into the law.

The act governing pesticides allows the minister to keep a harmful product in circulation if it's deemed there are no readily available alternative products. It also allows manufacturers to sell their existing stock of pesticides that are found to be harmful before the product is de-registered.

"If Canadians feel there should be a change, that's up to Parliament to make that change in the law," said Gelfand.

The commissioner also found that the agency did not assess the cumulative effects of products on human health, even when required to do so by legislation.

As for those conditionally registered products, the audit found that eight of the nine pesticides that had been conditionally registered for more than a decade were neonicotinoids.

"These products are now used extensively in Canada and are widely suspected of being a threat to bees, other pollinators, and broader ecosystems," says the audit.

There are about 7,000 pesticides available to Canadian consumers, containing some 600 active ingredients.

All products are supposed to be re-evaluated every 15 years and the commissioner says 95 per cent of re-evaluations result in additional precautions to protect health or the environment.

About 14 products are re-checked each year — one sixth of the number that should be re-evaluated —and more pesticides come up for re-evaluation every year.