Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pesticides cost too much in Canada

Pesticides cost Canadian farmers about 50 per cent more than U.S. farmers, according to price tracking by Ridgetown campus of the University of Guelph.

That, says Craig Hunter who works on pesticide issues for the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, explains why the rules need to change.

The federal government’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is proposing changes and says this time it will put them into the Pesticides Act so there will be teeth instead of the current situation which is voluntary compliance.

In his regular column in The Grower newspaper for fruit and vegetable growers, Hunter outlines the history of pesticide import regulations and price differences with the United States.

Until 1977, pesticides could be brought in from the U.S.

The companies complained that they needed import controls so they could pay for research, container disposal and the higher costs of distributing pesticides across our vast nation to a much smaller market than the U.S.

They warned that the Canadian industry would decline, if not disappear, if they failed to get their way.

They got their way, and they cut Canadian research, reduced Canadian production and employees and merged with each other.

It pinched farmers who complained, particularly the Ontario Corn Producers Association. They asked for the right for farmers to import pesticides for their own use. No wholesalers, no retailers, nobody else would be allowed this privilege.

That worked. The farmers didn’t even need to import pesticides often, or in any significant volume, to achieve much more competitive prices.

Then about a dozen years ago, farmers imported a whack of glyphosate under the own use program.

The pesticide companies complained. And they got their way.

This time it was the GROU program. Since it took over, the 50 per cent price gap developed.

The old own-use program is still on the books, but the pesticide companies blustered and bullied with threats to sabotage the GROU program if farmers dared use own-use import permits.

So here we are with proposals to tinker with the GROU program and make them part of the Pesticides Act. Hunter makes a number of recommendations that ought to be included in the GROU program, all amounting to increased pressure on the companies to help Canadian farmers remain competitive.

I take a different view.

I think pesticides ought to be registered for use in both countries. We don’t need our own expensive, bureaucratic Pest Management Review Agency as long as the Americans are doing a good job of regulation.

And if they aren’t, we could spend our money and efforts lobbying them to pull up their socks. After all, much of what they produce can come into Canada anyway and we share the same air and lakes and many rivers.

With uniform regulation, there would be no need for any import controls on pesticides. And that would also work for exports from Canada to the U.S.

Would we lose research jobs and dollars? I doubt it. The companies will still need to conduct research and I think Canadian researchers are just as good as American ones, if not better.

And with open access to U.S. markets, I think we have some Canadian entrepreneurs who might develop some pretty good pesticide research, development and production facilities.