Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Craig Hunter warns of pesticide crisis

Craig Hunter, probably Canadian farmers’ best informed advocate on pesticide issues, is warning that “for the first time in 20 years we do NOT have the ability to successfully control pests.”

Writing in his column in The Grower newspaper for Ontario Fruit and Vegetable growers, he reviews the situation over recent years, starting with congratulations for federal agriculture department and pesticide regulators at Health Canada for enabling farmers to gain access to valuable pest control products via the Minor Use Program.

But now there is a combination of worrisome factors.

Pests continue to learn how to overcome pesticides.

Companies have merged, closed some research facilities and generally reduced the rate of discovery and registration of new products.

And the federal government is reviewing the registration of familiar and effective pesticides, eliminating some that farmers want and in some cases desperately need.

Hunter goes on to describe how the Pest Management Review Agency is caught in an impossible position.

There have been retirements of some of the most experienced and farmer-friendly staff.

There is pressure from the Auditor General to speed up re-evaluations.

There have been court decisions forcing the agency to undertake Special Reviews.

There simply aren’t enough, and enough experienced, staff members at the Pest Management Review Agency to do it all, says Hunter.

And so farmers face the risk of some day soon planting a crop – or an orchard or vineyard or building a greenhouse - without knowing whether they will be able to control pests that could wipe out their livelihood.

Hunter expects it will happen.

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for his opinions, so I find his warning quite scary.

I don’t have a whole lot of suggestions about how Canadians could tackle this challenge, but I think one is to immediately ramp up basic and applied research geared to better understanding pests and mitigating the damage they can do.

And I think it needs to be public research by the federal and provincial governments, some of it in their own labs, much of it at universities.

And I don’t have much, if any, faith left in the pesticides companies to undertake the research and development required.