Thursday, March 4, 2021

Federal cuts make no sense

The federal agriculture department has made severe budget cuts that are impacting farmers who need pesticides to produce food.

Take the Pest Management Centre in Ottawa, for example.

Pesticides need to undergo trials at the centre to gain approvals for farm use, yet the budget there has been cut to only $8.9 million.

The Canadian Horticultural Council is pleading for another $5.3 million. 

Grower Charles Stevens says “it’s under siege.”

The Pest Management Centre budget for the reduced risk pesticide program has been decimated from $1.2 million to $210,000.

Two other centres at Bouctouche, New Brunswick, and Delhi, Ont., have been closed.

What in the name of common sense are you thinking, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau? In this data-driven age of research and regulation, why would you starve the source of data?

These cuts have reduced the testing capacity from 37 to a mere 10 projects last year, reports The Grower magazine for fruit and vegetable farmers.

Then there’s the case of the Pest Management Review Agency which requires far more research and data on worker safety than its counterpart in the United States.

This means Canadian farmers often wait for approvals while their competitors across the border pilfer market share.

I’m not saying that it’s not necessary to protect workers, but the federal government should be helping farmers gather the necessary information in a timely fashion.

The Grower cites an example of the time after spraying an orchard before workers are allowed in. In the case of some products, machinery can go in within three days, but workers must stay out for 15 days.

For some crops, 15 days is simply not workable; the crop can be lost by the time workrs can get into the orchard or vineyard.

I think part of the problem is that it’s global companies that do the research and development for new crop protection products and Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency decides which ones will be approved for use, and what conditions and limitations will be imposed.

If it were the federal government’s researchers who were developing the new products, maybe regulation would be better funded.

And that raises the question of why we rely on corporations to conduct research and development for the crucial issue of food supply and safety. 

And for the development of drugs and medicines.

I think the research and development ought to be done by public institutions, including crown corporations which had a stellar track record in Canada until they were privatized.

That, incidentally, is what happened to Connaught Laboratories in Toronto. And we wring out hands now that we lack capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.

Please, Bibeau, take a another look at your research budgets, dig into some of the details and persuade your colleague, Christia Freeland, to put a lot more money into agriculture research and development.