Friday, December 7, 2012

CFIA bowing out of fertilizer efficacy enforcement

Alma – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is going to end regulation of the fertilizer and soil-supplements industry on April 1, leaving marketers free to make any claim they want.

It will be up to farmers to be wary and to take action against the marketers if their claims fall short of performance. That could be a daunting challenge because the farmer would have to provide proof to back his claim for compensation.

The CFIA will continue to regulate safety - eg. to ensure there are no harmful levels of dangerous metals.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the federal agriculture department before the agency was formed, required fertilizer and supplement vendors to prove that their products performed as intended i.e. efficacy data.

That included proof that the fertilizer had the claimed content of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash, that soybean inoculants worked as claimed, etc.

Enforcement was always suspect. In fact, for fertilizers, it was basically up to companies to voluntarily submit samples for lab testing and even then, the standard was not whether the fertilizer met standards individually for nitrogen, phosphorous and potash, but only that the blend came within a tolerance for overall value.

Even at that, a majority of samples flunked, as outlined in annual reports prepared, but never publicized, by the CFIA. There was also some random-sample testing performed by the CFIA.

The CFIA also tested ingredients from big-company suppliers of N, P and K and sometimes they, too, failed to come up to standard.

No farm organizations ever filed complaints.

But when Keith Reid of the federal agriculture department told the annual meeting of the Wellington County Soil and Crop Improvement Association here recently that the CFIA will no longer be enforcing efficacy standards – i.e. testing to ensure the fertilizer or supplements actually work as claimed – many of the farmers were upset.

“It’s the wild west. You’re on your own,” Reid told them. It’s now up to farmers to beware and to check what they’re buying, he said.

He offered only one slim benefit: companies might be more inclined now to bring new products to market much faster because they won’t have to prove efficacy. Importing will also be easier, meaning everything that’s being peddled to farmers in the United States and Europe could soon show up in Canada.

Reid said farmers will still have recourse to the courts, suing suppliers for false claims or prodding police to lay criminal fraud charges.

Until April 1, Reid said farmers have efficacy protection and should make sure the products they’re buying have been registered with the CFIA.

After April 1, he said beware of false or misleading claims. Testimonials are next to useless; what’s required is data from two or more years of trials that have been replicated, and trials that compare performance between plots and products that differ only in the active ingredient the vendor is marketing, he advised.

He recommends that for soil amendments and fertility boosters that farmers also check for the percentage of active ingredient. He showed the label from one product that has 0.39 per cent active ingredient and all the rest is filler.

Because the CFIA will no longer require efficacy performance data for registration, it will also no longer conduct fertilizer sampling and testing and there will be no more of those largely-ignored annual reports.

Farmers who are curious about what’s been going on for the last few years could ask the CFIA for recent annual reports. They may, or may not, include their supplier.