For the Standing Committee on Health
April 25, 2001
The proposed act will not guarantee adequate protection of children. As with the US Food Quality Protection Act, the bill proposes an extra margin of safety that is discretionary [s.7(7)(b)(11) and s.19(2)(b)(ii)]. In the US, this has meant a safety factor that is rarely used; of 120 evaluations between 1996 and 1999, the safety factor was applied only 15 times. Studies on young lab animals however, cannot prove that the risks to human children and adults are the same. The bill also restricts the use of the safety margin to pesticides used around homes or schools. The proposed act should include a mandatory 10-fold safety factor to protect children and other vulnerable populations and this safety factor should apply to all pesticides.
The absence of a reference to the precautionary principle in the preamble and mandate sections is of great concern. Safety evaluations of pesticides are fundamentally estimates due to our inability to know the real differences between animals and humans, to quantify the interactions between exposures to different chemicals and to adequately predict long term effects. Canadians need an act and an agency committed to erring on the side of health and environmental protection in the face of these uncertainties. The precautionary principle needs to be included in the preamble, mandate and registration sections.
Though the proposed act’s objective is to reduce “unacceptable risks,” it does not take a preventative or pollution prevention approach to pesticides. Given the scientific uncertainties related to the safety of pesticides, the goal should be an overall reduction in pesticide use. In addition, the bill does not specifically target substances of great concern like persistent organic pollutants and hormone disruptors. A new PCPA should commit the government to pesticide reduction and the elimination of pesticides that are persistent pollutants or hormone disruptors.
Non-essential or Cosmetic Use
The proposed act makes no commitment to reducing, phasing out or banning cosmetic uses of pesticides in homes and gardens. Section 8(1)(a) states that on registering a product, the Minister can specify the use of the pesticide. Though cosmetic pesticide use is a small percentage of overall pesticide application it, it causes greater human exposure. It is possible to deny the registration of cosmetic pesticides under Section 7 due to a lack of “value” but there is no guarantee that this aspect will be adequately weighed. The proposed act should therefore include a commitment to restrict the use of each pesticide’s home and garden use to public health needs.
Section 7(9) allows the Minister to take into account the risks and benefits of other pesticides registered for the same use when deciding whether to register a new product. Making such comparisons is optional however, and agency staff at the Minister’s briefing on the bill stated that the tool would be used “judiciously.” Though there is a commitment to facilitating access to lower risk pesticides in the preamble and mandate sections of the bill, there is no mechanism for this in the act. The proposed act should work toward the replacement of higher risk pesticides with safer ones by making risk comparison a mandatory part of evaluations and by facilitating the registration of lower risk products.
The proposed act mandates re-evaluations of registered pesticides every 15 years to reflect changes in scientific information, rather than the 10-year period recommended by health and environmental groups [s.16(2)]. There is however no timeframe for completion of these re-evaluations. Present experience shows that re-evaluations without completions deadlines can be meaningless; some re-evaluations already in progress are uncompleted after more than 10 years. Mandatory re-evaluations of pesticides should be done every 10 years and must have completion deadlines.
Although section 13 does call for mandatory reporting of health and environmental information, what constitutes reportable information is left vague and at the discretion of the Minister. In addition, although the Minister must determine whether a special review of a product is necessary, the reported information will only be made public if the Minister has decided there is a health or environmental risk. This precludes public oversight of these decisions. The mandatory reporting section must specify what kinds of information need to be reported and the Minister should make public all instances where the environmental or health risks reported have been considered insignificant.
Access to Information
The creation of a public registry where pesticide information will be posted is a very positive step. Of concern is the fact that a pesticide’s ingredients and contaminants are considered confidential business information unless the Minister considers them to be a health or environmental risk [s.43(5)(b)]. This does imply however, that substances designated toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act will need to be listed. Knowledge of the formulants and contaminants of a pesticide are important for public oversight of pesticide evaluation. Access to information in the proposed act should not exclude formulants and contaminants.
Specific requirements for public consultation and the public right to ask for special reviews are important improvements in this proposed act [s.28 and s.17(4)]. The agency must still demonstrate however that public participation will be meaningful and that public input will have an effect on decisions. Though the public advisory council has been mentioned, it is neither mandatory, nor are there terms of reference, while the Economic Management Advisory Committee, on the other hand, is not in the bill [s.5].The public advisory council must be mandatory and the majority of the membership should be citizens and public interest representatives. The Economic Management Advisory Committee must also be open to public participation.