Substitution (pesticides)

(adapted from work conducted by Julia Langer, Vijay Cuddeford and Rod MacRae for WWF Canada during the early 2000s and from MacRae et al., 2012)

Significant adoption of sustainable practices has occurred at this point in the transition.  The substitution stage involves significant amendments to existing legislation and regulations, many of which were actually debated during Health Committee hearings in 2002.  That they were not adopted speaks to many of the deficiencies of parliamentary processes (see MacRae et al., 2012).  Most of the amendments were rooted in measures adopted in the US and Europe where controls on pesticide registration and use are more in line with the themes and principles of this site.  The focus shifts towards legislative and regulatory measures that support pesticide use within an IPM context (see Goal 5, Sustainable Food, Efficiency, Sustainable production protocols), in other words, the creation of a sustainable pest management act.  This was proposed during consultations in the late 1980s, but rejected by the government (see MacRae et al., 2012).  Legislative and regulatory amendments of this kind are typically medium to long term undertakings because legislation in Canada is typically amended infrequently.  Some minor amendments to the PCPA came into effect in January 2019 as consequential amendments regarding administrative penalties and schedules associated with the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

Although the preamble to the Act names sustainable pest management and the precautionary principle is identified under provisions related to cancellation and amendment (20.2), the legislation is weak on both accounts.  As a result, WWF-Canada proposed a series of amendments to the PCPA that focus on altering many provisions across the bill to bring both sustainability and precaution to the forefront in the legislation.  If implemented, they would have the effect of transforming the legislation to sustainable pest management.

The proposed amendments are inspired, more specifically, by the following considerations:

  1. The overriding purposes of the Act should be clear - to protect human health and the environment from unacceptable risk of harm from pesticides.  The precautionary principle, pesticide reduction, and public involvement must be specified as the key approaches to achieving this. Including a clear and unequivocal purpose section in the legislation will ensure that uniform, consistent and predictable principles guide all decisions relating to the use of pesticides in Canada, a benefit to all interested parties, be it applicants, registrants or the public.
  2. Legislation should clearly establish the required content of an application, how it is to be evaluated, and under what conditions a pesticide should be granted or denied registration.  In particular, the legislation should require the establishment of maximum permissible limits, or cut-off criteria, relating to various indicators of harm, beyond which no pest control product will be registered. In the PCPA, too much of this is left to interpretation, regulation or administrative process.  A range of OECD countries, including Germany, the U.S.A., Sweden and Denmark have pesticide legislation which provides a greater degree of guidance than the current PCPA. The proposed amendments strike a balance, recognizing that Canada's legislation tends to be enabling rather than prescriptive.
  3. Legislation should dictate that maximum residue limits are determined with regard to the most sensitive indicator, while taking into account aggregate and cumulative exposure, the possibility of increased toxicity through chemical synergism, and exposure to whole products, including all formulants, derivatives and other components.  The U.S. Food Quality Protection Act requires new approaches to pesticide evaluation and risk-management with particular attention to dietary risk.  The U.S. Food Quality Protection Act pioneered cumulative and aggregate risk assessment. Cumulative exposure refers to the possibility that more than one pesticide, with a common mechanism of toxic action, could be present on a food product, and should also be concerned with chemicals contained within a pesticide formulation that could have an additive or synergistic effect with the active ingredient, increasing its toxicity. Aggregate non-occupational exposure considers additional exposures to a pesticide from several sources, e.g. food, drinking water, residential exposure, dermal, air.
  4. It is crucial that current information be available, to both the Minister and the public, regarding the use of and the risk of harm posed by all registered pesticides.  Therefore, substantial mandatory reporting must be part of the legislation.  Furthermore, as the reporting must be meaningful, the Minister must be required to review and consider the reported information and, in appropriate cases, take action to reduce or eliminate the risk of harm.Information pertaining to the health effects, environmental impacts and other hazards posed by pesticides should be available to Canadians.  So should robust  information on pesticide use, including how much of what pesticides are used where.  What is deemed proprietary information should be narrowly defined and protected.  Canada's current approach is much more restrictive than most other OECD countries and should be more on par with the USA.
  5. Many commonly used pesticides were registered  decades ago, when testing requirements were less rigorous.  The legislation must require a comprehensive and thorough re-evaluation regime, with a view to the purposes of the Act.  The Act should specify those grounds under which reviews must be initiated, for example on a regular basis or when new information comes to light.  It should structure the review process and spell out the possible outcomes.  For the purposes of reducing risks due to pesticide use, the availability of effective and less harmful alternatives to the substance undergoing review should be considered when making a re-evaluation/re-registration decision.  Pesticide legislation and policy in several European countries, including Sweden and Denmark, provides a good benchmark on these aspects.
  6. In addition to re-evaluation , the legislation should also include a requirement for periodic re-registration.  While pesticide registrations expire every five years under the current law, this has not been used as an opportunity or trigger a review.  Re-registration every ten years would ensure that information on health and environmental impacts is regularly examined.
  7. The Legislation must contain effective and meaningful opportunities for public involvement at all levels of pesticide management and regulation in Canada.
  8. The legislation should set out a mechanism for objections to Ministerial decisions, including the manner in which an objection may be filed, the procedures and options for the Minister to respond, and the opportunities for public input.

These amendments to the PCPA would then have to be reflected in the  regulatory directives and protocols that guide the work of the PMRA and AAFC. As with any significant legislative shifts, this is lengthy and time consuming work, but the following are a few key dimensions.

1. Regulations regarding biopesticides, micro-organisms, semiochemicals and pheromones would be  improved so that there would be substantial numbers of them on the market for a wide range of pest management challenges.  Regulatory directives to be amended would include:  Regulatory Directive: The PMRA Initiative for Reduced-Risk Pesticides and Regulatory Directive: Guidelines for the Registration of Microbial Pest Control Agents and Products. Regulatory Proposal PRO2002-02, Guidelines for the Research and Registration of Pest Control Products Containing Pheromones and Other Semiochemicals.

2. Well elaborated regulatory improvements would be made to the approval process for very low risk pesticides, botanicals, and plant oils modeled on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) provisions of the USA.  Such products are currently regulated in Canada under Regulatory Directive DIR2012-01, Guidelines for the Registration of Non Conventional Pest Control Product.

3. The provisions of the PCPA review and assessment processes are progressively tightened so that very few "traditional" pesticides would remain on the market.  In other words, most products would fall into the reduced risk category.  The main mechanism for this is improving the data packages submitted for ecological risk assessment and raising the threshold for approval. A key weakness is the test methods that industry employs to generate data.  Many of the test target organisms are inaccurate proxies for many other species.  Often the testing protocols do not actually mirror real field conditions, including that often only the active ingredient is tested rather than the commercial product.  There is sufficient debate about the statistical procedures employed that regulators often accept conclusions with questionable statistical treatment.  As part of this, adverse effects are sometimes treated as outliers when they should not be.  Data gaps are common and sometimes ignored by regulators.  All these problems must be fixed (for a wide ranging set of proposals, see Citizens for Science in Pesticide Regulation 2018)

4. It would also involve adopting the EU system of hazard-based cut-offs (EU Regulation 1107/2009), a mechanism to implement the precautionary principle.

According to Annex II of the regulation, “an active substance, safener or synergist” cannot be approved if it is carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction, or endocrine disruptive for humans. For the environment, it cannot be a POP (persistent organic pollutant), PBT (persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic), endocrinedisruptive to non-target organisms or toxic to bee colonies. These are known as hazard “cut-off” criteria because if the substance has any of these properties, as revealed in scientific tests, it must be automatically banned. However, in certain cases, “derogations” are permitted. (Citizens for Science in Public Regulation, 2018:5)

The mechanism could be improved by adding additional hazard cut-offs, "including neurotoxicity or immunotoxicity during the early life stages of mammalian development" (p.6).

Products that are manufactured, but not permitted, in Canada for reasons related to lack of need or lack of compatibility with sustainability requirements should also not be permitted for export.  This is to comply with Goal 10.

Changes required to provincial legislation to be consistent with a new PCPA

The provinces and territories have some responsibilities for pesticides related to agriculture and land use, including transportation, sales, use patterns (shared with the federal government), storage, disposal, spills, permitting, compliance and enforcement, training and certification of licensed applicators and vendors. In some provinces municipalities have limited authorities through by-laws that have some impact on food producing areas, especially those with cosmetic use bans that may be applied to urban food producers (a partial list of municipalities with bans is available here).

Table: Provincial pesticide regulatory instruments

Jurisdiction Approach Key Acts Key changes
Canada See above PCPA, FDA, Plant Protection Act See above
BC Standard provincial authorities; phytosanitary rules IPM Act, Plant Protection Act IPM Act misnamed, just creates an advisory committee; must explicity encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
AB Standard provincial authorities; phytosanitary rules Agricultural Pests Act, Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
SK Standard provincial authorities Pest Control Products Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
MB Standard provincial authorities; phytosanitary rules Environment Act; Plant Pests and Diseases Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
ON Standard provincial authorities; phytosanitary rules Pesticides Act; Plant Diseases Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
QC Pesticides Act has provision for IPM and alternatives Pesticides Act; Environmental Quality Act; Crop Health Protection Act IPM could be expanded
NB Standard provincial authorities Pesticides Control Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
PE Standard provincial authorities; phytosanitary rules Pesticides Control Act; Plant Health Act PEI has active IPM program but not strongly linked to Act, except training and certification
NS Standard provincial authorities Environment Act (pesticides regulations) Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
NL Standard provincial authorities; phytosanitary rules Environmental Protection Act; Plant Protection Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
YU Standard territorial authorities Environment Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
NWT Standard territorial authorities Pesticide Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use
NU Standard territorial authorities Pesticides Act Must explicitly encourage IPM plans and reduced risk pesticide use