Liberal campaign targets safer pesticide use

The federal government said last month before the election was called that it planned to review how the Pest Management Regulatory Agency reviews pesticide registrations, prompting concern from CropLife Canada that updating or amending the Pest Control Products Act should be done carefully. | File photo

Election ’21: Party vows to strengthen Pest Control Products Act and align with world-leading reassessment approaches

The federal Liberals have about 190 commitments in their election platform.

There’s a lot in there, from a commitment to end gun violence to a promise for safer indoor air.

One of the commitments is about reducing the risks from pesticides.

If re-elected, a Liberal government would:

  • Strengthen the Pest Control Products Act to better protect health, wildlife and the environment.
  • Align with world-leading approaches to transparency when reassessing pesticides already on the market and increase opportunities for independent scientists to have input into the decision-making process.
  • Ensure that the impacts of pesticides on wildlife are fully considered.

On the Liberal website that contains the commitments, the party repeats its pesticide pledge in French. It is the only promise on the English-language website that is repeated in French.

The commitments around pesticides build on an Aug. 4 news release, in which the federal government announced it is considering changes to the Pest Control Products Act and how the Pest Management Regulatory Agency approves the use of pesticides.

“While the current regulations provide robust protection of human health and the environment, some of its provisions now warrant review to ensure the pesticide approval process meets the expectations of Canadians in the areas of transparency and sustainability,” the government release said.

At the time, the feds said they would invest $42 million in the PMRA to improve the decision-making process on pesticides and make it more transparent.

“This funding will allow Health Canada to increase independent data generation, including new water and agricultural monitoring data. It will also allow the creation of a new expert panel process to provide advice, as appropriate, prior to evidence-based decisions of the PMRA on pesticides.”

CropLife Canada, which represents crop science companies, said the investment in the PMRA is helpful, but the language in the Liberal Party platform is concerning.

The experts who work for the PMRA make decisions based on the weight of scientific evidence rather than on public or political sentiment.

CropLife Canada wants that to continue.

“Health Canada’s scientists carefully review all pesticides to ensure they are safe before approving them for use, similar to how the scientific experts review vaccines to ensure that they are safe for Canadians,” said Pierre Petelle, president and chief executive of CropLife Canada.

“While we support increased regulatory transparency, it is critical that the regulatory process does not become politicized.”

One case of possible political interference is connected to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. This spring, the PMRA proposed to increase the maximum residue levels for the herbicide, the amount of glyphosate that can be on a food without risk to human health.

The PMRA was planning to change the MRLs for a long list of grains and pulses, including oats, chickpeas, field peas and dry beans.

The changes would have made Canadian MRLs for glyphosate similar to American and CODEX rules, which are food standards set by the United Nations’ World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization.

But in early August the federal government put a “pause” on the proposed changes for glyphosate residue levels.

“With today’s announcement, we are confirming that no decision on any increases to pesticide limits on food will be made before next spring,” agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in an Aug. 4 statement.

“Meanwhile, we will review the framework underlying the review process of the PMRA and strengthen its capacity to conduct those reviews.”

CropLife didn’t mention glyphosate or MRLs in a recent email, but it is worried about the integrity of the Pest Control Products Act. The legislation, as its name implies, regulates what products can be used to control pests such as weeds, insects and fungi in Canada.

Petelle said updating or amending the act should be done carefully because it is serving Canadian farmers and consumers.

“(It) is one of the most robust and protective pieces of legislation in this country, with significant transparency provisions built in,” he said.

“It has long served to enable the safe and effective use of pesticides that has helped Canadian farmers become one of the most trusted global suppliers of high quality, sustainable food.”

In their campaign commitment, the Liberals also promised to increase funding to monitor water near agricultural lands and to spend $8 million on programs to support farmers who choose alternative approaches that reduce the use of pesticides.

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