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ENVI Committee Meeting

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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Wednesday, December 1, 1999

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The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan (York North, Lib.)): I'd like to call the committee to order.

Today before the committee we have witnesses from the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. I'd like to welcome all of you to the committee today. I understand that Paul Muldoon, who's the executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, will be joining us a little bit later.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we have a study on the management and use of pesticides in Canada, including an evaluation of the performance of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency in preventing pollution and in protecting the environment and human health.

We will be hearing from Kathy Cooper first. Is that correct? Or Loren Vanderlinden?

Dr. Peter Sakuls (Member, Environmental Health Committee, Ontario College of Family Physicians): I'll do a brief introduction to our submission and then Loren will continue.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Good, thank you.

Yes, Mr. Mancini.

Mr. Peter Mancini (Sydney—Victoria, NDP): Before the presentation, could I, on a point of order, ask a question on something we discussed earlier, or would you prefer that I wait?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): On a point of order, yes.

Mr. Peter Mancini: In reviewing some of my notes, Madam Chair, you will remember that we had before us the Urban Pest Management Council of Canada presentation. I don't know if you'll recall—other members may recall—but they presented to us some data. When I asked them about that data, they indicated to me that in fact it wasn't their information, that it came from I think CanTox. I don't pretend to be a scientist on many of these things; I come from a legal background, and there's an old maxim in the law and it is that you go to the best evidence possible to find out information.

I'm wondering, given that so much of this information in fact came from another source, if it might be possible to bring before the committee the authors of this report that came in under the Urban Pest Management Council of Canada, and if we might find time to bring a couple of witnesses from CanTox before the committee just to examine them on pesticides and children in particular, because that related to children—pesticides on lawns and in schoolyards. I ask the indulgence of the chair if that's a possibility.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Herron.

Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC): On that same note, the perspective I think Mr. Mancini is advocating is that in a lot of the evidence that was produced before by the Urban Pest Management Council they referred time and time again to scientific data from CanTox. We know we've had a number of individuals who, out of concern from a human health perspective, disagreed with those perspectives.

So in order to get the clarity of data, I think it would be very advantageous for us to have a chance to talk to CanTox, because they provide so much of the scientific analysis that we're trying to judge any kind of potential legislation on.

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I think Mr. Mancini has brought forth something that the committee should go forward with.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Is there any more discussion on that?

In my capacity as chair, I'll direct the clerk to find some time when we can have a presentation from CanTox.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Thank you, Madam Chair.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much.

Are there any other points of order?

All right. Dr. Sakuls, you can begin, please. I would recommend around 10 minutes or so for each of the witnesses to make their presentation. I understand you're only making a short introduction.

Dr. Peter Sakuls: I'm making a very brief introduction to ours.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Very good. Thank you.

Dr. Peter Sakuls: I'm a family physician and I'm here representing the environmental health committee of the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

For the past few months our committee has been working with the Canadian Environmental Law Association on a study about children's health and environmental standards in Ontario. This submission is a summary of part of this report, a detailed case study on pesticides. It looks at the effects of pesticides on children's health and the regulation of pesticide use by the PMRA.

Based on information gathered in the study from peer-reviewed scientific and medical studies and from previous reviews of the evidence done by our environmental health committee, we have concerns about the health and safety of Canadian children.

There are several points I would like to emphasize. One is most pesticides in use have been tested according to safety standards set a long time ago. These standards did not take into account that, one, children are different from adults in susceptibility and children have different exposures from adults. Secondly, they didn't take into account that children are possibly at greater risk from pesticides than adults and also that children are not always adequately protected from pesticides.

Pesticide poisonings can be acute, such as when a child ends up ill in an emergency room, or chronic from long-term low-level exposure. This presentation focuses mainly on the chronic effects of exposure to pesticides.

Loren Vanderlinden and Kathy Cooper were the researchers on this study and will summarize the findings.

Ms. Loren Vanderlinden (Researcher, Ontario College of Family Physicians): Thank you, Pierre.

I'm the environmental health researcher working with the Ontario College of Family Physicians. The research of that body and the Canadian Environmental Law Association has determined that there's a growing consensus among scientists and medical practitioners around the globe that we should be concerned about the hazards of pesticides to children's health.

Pesticides enter the environment through many sources and lead to the insidious and involuntary exposure of many people. They have been measured in household dust and on objects in the home such as toys and carpets and furniture long after use of the pesticide. Some particularly long-lasting pesticides have been measured in homes for years after a treatment.

Pesticides have also been detected in our food and water supply from agricultural use. So they appear in fresh fruits and vegetables, baby food and dairy products. Although they are there in minute doses, these can lead to significant chronic exposure over time. Pesticides are poisons and they produce health effects of concern at even low levels and with chronic exposure.

An appreciation for how children's health is affected by pesticides and the environment really requires that we focus on children rather than on individual pesticides. We recognize above all that children are not little adults. Children have proportionately greater exposure to pesticides and are more likely to be involuntarily exposed.

Because they play close to the ground and surfaces like carpets or lawns that harbour higher residues of pesticides, they come into contact more frequently with these pesticides. Because of their typical hand-to-mouth behaviour, they ingest more directly the pesticides they come into contact with in their environment.

Because of their smaller body size, pound for pound, children eat more food, breathe more air, and drink more water compared to adults. Therefore, they're taking in more pesticides whenever they eat, drink, or breathe.

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Because they have more of their life ahead of them, they have a longer period of time for exposure and consequent effects. Children also have additional unique exposure pathways that are different from adults'. They can be exposed before birth, in the womb. As infants, they can be exposed via breast milk and through such products as toys and foods and packaging and so on.

Children's systems are also vulnerable to the effects of exposure to pesticides. All the developing body systems of the young are not as well equipped to reduce the harmful effects of pesticides. Immature systems also often allow more pesticides into the body. There are many windows of vulnerability in infancy and childhood during which exposure to such chemicals as pesticides may cause permanent harm.

Finally, in terms of the actual health effects, there's a greater variety of ways in which children's health may be harmed by being exposed to pesticides. Again, this is different from adults' health. These can show up as diseases in childhood or later on in life.

A range of health problems and outcomes are of concern, including birth defects where pregnant women have been exposed to pesticides; impaired neuro-behavioural or cognitive development; improper immune system functioning; improper functioning of the hormone or endocrine systems; reproductive problems; and lastly, cancer. Many of these afflictions also appear to be increasing in prevalence in industrialized nations. Many of these can occur at relatively low exposures, but they represent serious, and in some cases irreversible, effects on the health of the individual nonetheless.

As well, early effects from pesticides may have long-term and far-reaching consequences. They may predispose individuals to other kinds of health problems. The classic analogy we like to use is the exposure to lead's neurotoxic effect, which causes a decrease in IQ and leads to learning disabilities and social adjustment problems. There are societal costs and so on down the line.

There are still many unknowns and gaps in our knowledge concerning pesticides. However, this doesn't exonerate them, and neither should it be used as a reason to delay action. We have information from animal models, from acute human exposures, and also from population studies, or epidemiology, that sheds some light on the potential for health problems from pesticides. Researchers recognize also that children have multiple exposures to different pesticides, and we must be concerned about the possible synergistic or combined effects from several substances.

Two facts are apparent when considering the role of pesticides and their effects on children's health. We are talking about some rather serious health outcomes, as I've listed above, including neuro-behavioural impairment, immune system suppression, and cancer. We're also talking about the opportunity for exposures to affect large numbers of children.

These facts suggest that we can't afford to wait for verifiable, definitive science. The evidence we have now mandates prevention and caution. The tale is really ongoing in terms of science showing us evidence, and it exhorts us to be ever vigilant, especially in light of the disturbing possibilities for harm to children's health.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you.

Just before you speak, Kathy Cooper, perhaps you can identify yourself and your organization for the record.

Ms. Kathy Cooper (Researcher and Editor, Children's Health Project, Canadian Environmental Law Association): My name's Kathy Cooper, and I'm a researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

I'm co-author, with Loren, of this study. Another co-author on the legal side, Karyn Keenan, was almost a lawyer. She is in Peru right now. It's unfortunate that she can't be here, because she did a great deal of good work on this study.

On the regulatory side we took a very detailed look at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which, as you know, is the agency that decides, among other activities, whether to approve new pesticides for use in Canada or to continue to allow these pesticides that have been, in some cases, in use for many years.

We have heard today, and learned in the process of doing this work, a great deal from our medical colleagues that we need to be concerned about the hazards of pesticides in terms of children's health.

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The regulatory lesson is that although there are still many gaps in our knowledge, pesticides are not innocent until proven guilty, and neither should incomplete information be an excuse for delaying regulatory action, particularly cautionary and preventative action.

As we've documented in this study, the federal government has made many commitments over the years to improve the regulation of pesticides. Our study documents how almost all of these commitments remain unfulfilled. Some of these include a failure to fully implement the toxic substances management policy. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency has in fact done more than have other federal departments in moving ahead slightly to implement this policy, but it has yet to be fully implemented.

There's also a failure to develop a regulatory policy on formulants, or the so-called inert ingredients, in pesticides. That's very important. We spent a lot of time in this study looking at what's necessary to properly regulate formulants. There's also been a failure to develop a national compliance policy.

Again, these are all commitments that have been made by the federal government and remain unfulfilled.

In addition, there's been a failure to develop a re-evaluation policy, including a comprehensive program of pesticide re-evaluation. There was quite a scathing report from the environmental commissioner back in the spring about the need for re-evaluating the older pesticides.

There's also the unfulfilled commitment to develop a pesticide risk reduction policy and the failure to create a national database on pesticide use. Again, that's an issue the environmental commissioner raised.

There's been a failure to require mandatory reporting of adverse effects by registrants and a failure to support the integration of pest management with broader environmental sustainability goals, including targets, work plans, and specific agendas for reducing pesticide use across all sectors. Again, that's another commitment that has been made and not honoured.

Our review looked at these prior commitments as part of a detailed review of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Despite its length of more than 80 pages, we'll table the draft today with the committee. It's nearly finished.

This report is not a comprehensive review of the situation. We looked at issues critical to regulation and protection of children's health, but it was difficult because the PMRA's risk assessment and risk management processes are difficult to access and to understand. Sometimes the information appears contradictory, and the lack of clarity is a problem. As we will be documenting in the larger study, of which this case study is a part, we know that risk assessment and risk management have important shortcomings.

For example, although this is a matter for debate, we know from commentators that the risk assessment approach can generate different results depending on the assumptions or best-guess estimates made along the way. More importantly, despite impressive scientific trappings and packaging, risk assessment tends to be quite a blunt and simplistic tool. It can't assess, or is very challenged by assessing, real-world combinations of chemicals in a child's environment and the cumulative or synergistic effects of several chemicals acting together, as Loren mentioned, on a child's developing organs or system.

The failure by the PMRA to explicitly set out its risk assessment and risk management approach in a format for public consumption is one of the key criticisms from our study and a factor that has limited its scope. The overall conclusion we've come to is that the federal government's failure so far to improve its regulation of pesticide use and these unfulfilled and now quite dated commitments to revise a 30-year-old law seriously calls into question the capacity of this regulatory system to protect children's health. A key part of this failure is the lack of political will and the refusal to commit enough money to do the job.

The National Children's Agenda, recently established, apparently expresses a deep commitment to the well-being of Canadian children, but we would conclude from the results of this study that this commitment is empty if it does not ensure that enough resources exist to regulate toxic chemicals, including pesticides, in a manner that is protective of children's health.

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Unfortunately, I think this review of the PMRA finds that Canadians don't have a regulator of pesticides. Industry basically has a customer service department, and that's not good enough, given what the health information is telling us about the effects on children's health—the potential effects and the known effects.

As you can imagine—and hopefully you will have reviewed them—many of our recommendations have to do with the steps that the federal government needs to take to implement the commitments that have already been made—in some cases for many years—concerning pesticides management. I'll just review very briefly the categories of recommendations we have included. We can get into questions on details if you like, but I won't go into a great deal of detail, because there isn't time.

The categories of recommendations have to do with changes to the Pest Control Products Act. We have heard that there is imminently, supposedly, a bill that would amend the Pest Control Products Act. We urge this committee to urge Minister Rock to table those amendments so that we have something on the table to talk about in terms of necessary changes to this quite dated statute. We have a number of recommendations about that.

I think as part of that we can learn a lot from the experience in the United States—not repeat mistakes and problems that exist there—as well as learn from good experience. We have a range of recommendations with respect to the registration process, the risk assessment process, and the setting of maximum residue limits, etc.; a range of recommendations about re-evaluating existing chemicals; a quite detailed list of recommendations about formulas—regulating formulas or so-called inert ingredients that may not necessarily be inert in pesticides; and recommendations on the very important need to have a sustainable pest management approach to reduce overall use of pesticides to reduce risk overall.

Then there are some recommendations about access to information, the need for research and monitoring, etc. Overall, there is a need for political will and funding to expand this agency to be able to do the range of tasks the federal government has committed itself to do over the years and has yet to do.

I'll conclude with that.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you.

Dr. Kelly Martin.

Dr. Kelly Martin (Member, Board of Directors, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment): Good afternoon. I'll start by introducing myself. I am a physician who worked very recently at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario as an emergency physician. I'm presently the medical research coordinator in the department of emergency medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. I am also staff emergency room physician. I was involved in systematic reviews—which is something based out of Oxford in England—during my masters in epidemiology and biostatistics, and I was asked by the Ontario College of Family Physicians to complete a review of the existing studies on the effects of pesticides on human health, particularly pediatric health. As a result, I was invited to sit on the pesticide management advisory committee, the PMAC, and to present today.

I will just very briefly explain the process of the review. It's meant to be an unbiased review, where you take two reviewers, go to the literature, and find all the evidence on pesticides. It uses two people, because people are biased, and you may decide that you don't want to go to the trouble of finding a paper, or that it's published by someone you don't think is a good researcher, or whatever. You don't have that option in this type of review. You take all the papers, you look at them for the quality of evidence, you evaluate them for the quality of evidence, and then you come to some conclusions with the two of you. The methodology is set up beforehand, again, to relieve your bias. This is something we have been using in medicine for the last 10 years to try to come to some conclusions about findings when you have—and you always do have—studies with variable findings.

So this is the approach we used in the pesticide review.

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I tell you who I am not because I think it's of so much importance in itself. Of course, it's important to know who the researcher is and what the likelihood of bias is, but I also think it's relevant to this discussion of pesticide policy.

When we sit in the PMRA, there's some desire to divide the groups who are discussing pesticides into industry and environmentalists. Somehow, I think, to create this illusion makes it a lot easier—you think you have two extreme groups that are biased and will never agree, and you can leave it at that. I think, as a physician, I'm here today to tell you I came to do this review with no previous background in pesticides, with no particular interest in it, and I'm quite shocked at what we found—and the college is quite shocked at what we found—in terms of the human evidence for the risk of pesticides.

I think it's important for you to know that, because you can't divide it—you can't put it into the corner of environmentalists versus industry any more. This is a very big health concern, and as scientists and physicians, and, I think, the general population, now pushes, if not forces, you to do something about it—very much like cigarettes or drinking and driving—pesticides have become that sort of issue. It's out of the realm of the extreme.

I'd like to start by telling you very briefly about some of the medical evidence. I'm sure you've heard it, and as one of the members said originally, you're not scientists or physicians, and you may not have a real interest in knowing each study—and there are lots of them.

I would start by saying this to you. When I sit on the PMAC—it's half industry and half scientists—I hear industry come back on every comment we make by saying these studies aren't really valid, they're soft studies—what we call observational studies. This is an absolute lack of understanding—and somehow the PMRA has come to embrace this—of how we come about evidence.

We will never take 2,000 Canadian children, one in a box and one exposed to pesticides, and follow them for 50 years. It will never happen; it should never happen. It never happened with cigarettes. Ninety-nine percent of our medical research is not done like that. If you have a drug that you know is safe, yes, you can do that. A lot of drug trials are stopped, because in the end they're not safe. We can't do that in medicine most of the time. We don't do it. Every health care decision we take is based on observational trials. Why are pesticides any different?

These observational trials are good enough. They show us the evidence. We look back at kids whose parents have sprayed lawns and those whose parents haven't, and we look at how many of them develop leukemia. That's the kind of study we will always have. So to say let's come up with some hard evidence of cause and effect is just like saying let us do nothing forever. We can never, ever do that. It's impossible. It's just really impossible.

So for you to understand that, for the PMRA to understand that, to move forward to say there are lots of studies out there... I have an office full of animal studies on health effects, studies on kids and leukemia, studies on golfers and farmers. So let us look at them. Let us use the evidence. We did this with cigarettes. We had the evidence in the sixties and seventies, and we sat for 30 years on it, waiting for the study where, what, we have teenage kids smoke three packs a day? It's not going to happen. So let us use the evidence. Let's use the scientific research we have. We know how to review the evidence, so let's move forward with the evidence and stop...

What I think industry probably realizes, although some of them perhaps not, is how impossible the concept is of coming up with what they call cause and effect.

So from the review of evidence that I was asked to carry out, we come to some fairly alarming conclusions, and it's not a conclusion that I, alone, come to. It makes me feel more comfortable, and it should make you feel more comfortable, I think. The U.S. National Research Council, as I'm sure you know, was asked to do a review of effects of pesticides on infants and children. This is a group of 40 toxicologists, pediatricians, risk assessors—people from agriculture and from industry—who in 1993 published a big thick book of hundreds and hundreds of studies that they reviewed. Nobody argues with their findings. Nobody can argue with their findings. They've used good research, and they are people who are unbiased, set out by Congress to look at the policy and the evidence.

They conclude that on all fronts, pesticides are not safe at existing levels for infants and children. They are at great risk of short- and long-term health effects. The present testing of pesticides doesn't include obvious side effects. That would be neurological, behavioural, visual, and reproductive effects. Because we know this is how these chemicals work, this is what we expect as the outcomes, and yet we aren't looking at these outcomes.

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Specifically, they say, one, that infants and children are at greater risk from the effects of pesticides. Lots of studies demonstrate that each of these compounds is more toxic to newborns than to adults. Intuitively, that's not surprising, but again you have to show it with evidence. Their livers don't detoxify the chemicals. Their organs are developing. The neurological system continues to develop until a child is 15. You have a brain that's developed. That's how these things work as toxins. Fifteen years of exposure is a long time, and it's very different from a week of exposure for an animal. It's a very long time. We don't look at the neurological effects in the long term, but in the short term it's quite concerning.

We don't look at any of these in the risk assessment in Canada. Previously, they didn't in the States. They've started to. But we don't take any of this into consideration.

Two, we can't predict the risk of infants and children on the basis of adult evidence. Again, it seems intuitive, but you have to prove it with evidence. There are four really good studies looking at the different effects on adults versus children and animal models and human models. Kids are more sensitive. They need to have different indices, including hormonal and reproductive, and this needs to be built into the assessment of risk. It isn't now. We just look at the adult risks. When we look at what's safe when someone sprays pesticides on a lawn, we take adults who are fully clothed and put them on the lawn and let them walk around. Maybe we test the blood level and see if they have a side effect. Some of them do, and 5% is what we think is acceptable. Is that the same as a six-month-old crawling around the lawn, sticking things in their mouth, and whatever else they do for the afternoon? Of course it's not.

As a physician at a children's hospital, we see these kids come in who were on lawns. We had three cases this summer. The kid comes in with a rash, vomiting, and seizures, and if you check, you'll see that their levels are high and someone has sprayed. We don't do these tests, but as physicians we know these things are happening.

Again, we can't predict the risk of infants based on adult evidence, and we need to incorporate that into our risk assessment.

The use of animal evidence isn't sufficient. We presently use only animal evidence in our risk assessment in Canada. There is human evidence. There are observational trials. That's all there ever will be, and it needs to be incorporated into the risk assessment.

The NRC says that basing acceptable levels of pesticide residues on the risk of death, which is what we're doing when we do risk assessment... This involves giving a pesticide to an animal and finding out how long it takes until they die or have cancer. This isn't what we're interested in for humans. We don't want to know how much pesticide it takes to kill a baby rat or even a baby human. We want more sensitive indices than these. So we need to have those included in the risk assessment. No Canadian is going to be happy for you to tell them, “We can tell you that at these levels we have very few Canadian children dying in the short term.” That's not what we're interested in. We're interested in the cancer and neurological outcomes.

The last point, which was brought up earlier, is that the quantification of infant and child exposure is inadequate. The point the NRC makes in 150 pages, because they can't say it often enough, is that yes, there are small residue levels on fruits and vegetables, in water, in your carpet, and on your sofa, and each of those alone may be safe. In a peach in Canada there are 40 residues of the same organophosphate family. If one of them is safe, are 40 of them safe? We don't test that in Canada, nor do they in the States, but clearly that's what we're interested in. A kid is not eating one piece of fruit a day. They're drinking fruit juice that has maybe 10 or 15 peaches or apples in it, and they're drinking those five or six times a day. Also, they're crawling on lawns, and they're drinking water with residues in it. We know they get about four to five times as much as adults per kilogram of body weight. We don't do any of that in the risk assessment. I can just tell you that most of the time each pesticide on its own isn't going to cause your kid to have a seizure, but 5% of the time they might.

That needs to be changed. It's completely inadequate. We've known for a long time that this needs to be changed. It has been talked about in the States. They've come closer to it, but we in Canada haven't moved any farther toward it.

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Just looking at cancer outcomes, there are lots and lots of studies on farmers and golfers that look at the elevated risk of non-Hodgkins's lymphoma with chronic exposure to herbicides. There's about five to six times the normal risk for a farmer who uses them to develop lymphoma. The National Cancer Institute and Canada's Advisory Committee on Cancer Control report these findings. Again, these aren't things that people are arguing over. These involve dozens of studies done on farmers for quite a long time, because it's quite easy.

What people are arguing about is what's the child risk of using them even in your household. There have been recent studies from the States showing that if you use garden or lawn insecticides, your child has four to five times the risk of developing non-Hodgkins's lymphoma. Also, it's associated with parents who work with pesticides. So these are observational studies. There are five or six of them that are well done and that are published in good journals.

This is alarming. This is used for cosmetic purposes. We allow this. We spray along the canal in Ottawa, and the Government of Canada does it willingly, yet there's accumulated evidence that it isn't safe in the long term.

The other effect is leukemia. Again, we have studies showing a link between leukemia and family use. There's usually a four- to six-fold increase in leukemia in children of families who use pesticides on their lawns and gardens versus those who don't.

With regard to neurological effects, which is what we should be concerned about in the sense that that's how pesticides work, we know that in the acute setting there are dozens of reports and we see kids all the time who after using it either as an insect repellent or for head lice will have seizures and prolonged confusion. That happens all the time. We think that's just an acute effect. But we shouldn't be using it in medicine. Over the long term what does that do? If you can have that effect from putting insect repellent on your infant's head, what happens to your neurological system after 15 years of exposure? We need to be studying it, and we need to be funding the studying of it.

So why haven't we acted on this evidence? I think those in the scientific community often wonder why we haven't acted on it. It's the same with cigarettes. It's easy not to act. It's easy to stay with the status quo.

When you sit on the PMAC, where you have half industry and half medical people, you see what happens. The evidence comes forward and people say, we want clear cause and effect. Again, just to remind you, that just isn't possible.

The risk assessment process needs to be visible to Canadians. In the States I can go to a number of journals and pull up how they do risk assessment. I sit on the PMAC, and since we first started we've asked for the risk assessment process for pesticides in Canada. Allan Rock came to a meeting, and he asked for it. We're now two years into it, and this has occurred about eight or nine times. They haven't come up with it, so we conclude they don't have a systematic approach to it. PMRA really doesn't know how it's being done, and we don't know how it's being done, because it's probably not being done in a systematic way. They can't present anything to us or the health minister on what actually is being done.

So the policy recommendation from the review of the evidence and from sitting on the PMAC is that risk assessment needs to change. We need a clear process that's available to anyone who's interested. They're talking about providing that in 2005 and 2006. What makes it likely it's going to come then if it can't come now? If we're doing it now, let us come up with it now. Let's force the PMRA to put some of these things on paper in a timely manner. Give them a date and not these 20-year moving targets.

It must include very specific measures to deal with the risk for infants and children. It has to use human evidence. It has to mark clear cut-off points for acceptable risk. We have a pesticide called Lindane that was shown to exceed risk. We can't move on it. We have to ask the minister what they think. Five years later nobody has done anything about it. Let's set a clear mark that doesn't move. And it has to be based on the multiple exposures all of us experience on a daily basis.

With regard to the re-evaluation process, we have to dictate to the PMRA timelines on this. We have 20-year-old evaluations on pesticides. If you come to the hospital and I want to give you a drug we used 20 years ago, I hope you say no, because things change. We now know that what we thought was a great drug yesterday, today doubles or triples your risk of dying. And we know those things with pesticides. How do we allow the PMRA to get away with this dragging on for 20 years?

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In regard to the post-regulation monitoring, again, when you tell industry to do something, when you tell those guys who spray lawns that it has to be put on in a certain concentration, what makes us think that's how it happens? We don't regulate it. Nobody's following up.

When we have these cases at CHEO of kids who come in with seizures and who clearly have a toxic exposure, we talk to poison control from the Health Protection Branch and they tell us no, they don't think there's any evidence, they don't know anything about that, there's nothing much we can do, and it probably isn't from that. Well, from the literature, there is a lot of evidence for this.

The next point is, where do we report this? Kids come in on a drug and are having side effects, but we have no method of reporting it, so it's easy for industry to say, well, there's no evidence that Canadian kids are suffering from this. Well, we have a pack of them at CHEO, but we can do nothing with them; we can talk about them, but we have nowhere to report them. This needs to be put in place so that we do.

Precautionary principle: again, the PMRA is quoted as saying that just having to perform studies means implementing the precautionary principle. You think, gee, how can the PMRA not understand the precautionary principle? Having to perform a study to put a toxin into the environment and expose all of us to it—some bare minimum—is not the precautionary principle. This is that we have the evidence, we've done this before, we've been down this alley with all sorts of public health issues, and we need to act on it. We don't need to wait 20 years. Let's use the evidence we have and act in a precautionary way. Let's be sure that the PMRA understands what the precautionary principle is.

The other one is the idea of alternatives. You sit on the PMRA, the PMAC... this is some sort of fuzzy little ball over in the corner that people try to access and can't. There are people from industry, from forestry, and from agriculture who are constantly complaining. They try to submit things and they try to access the alternatives division. This is not a serious division. This is the obvious answer to these things. We will have to regulate them. There are industries that are interested in producing these, so let's make this a serious part of the PMRA.

Just in conclusion, let me say to you as a physician that to do these things, to take the hours it takes to prepare to come here, you have to ask yourself, is this worthwhile? We've had this evidence for so long. Who am I compared to the National Research Council in the States? The evidence is there. I shouldn't need to tell the Health Protection Branch what the evidence is. That's clear. They know it. The scientists within the Health Protection Branch know the evidence.

So is it a waste of time, 10 years later, to discuss this? What we need from this is some clearly imposed action on the PMRA to protect Canadians on a health basis. They are now under the auspices of the Health Protection Branch. They don't know it, but they are. That's their role. Yes, they want to keep Canadians competitive, but they're there to protect Canadians' health interests. When we have the evidence we have, they have to be forced to act in a responsible way.

I leave you today by saying that, as a physician, I hand this little hot ball over to you. I'm here because I feel responsible as a physician, once I review this evidence, to do something about it. We're not paid for it, it takes a lot of time, and I sit with it and feel like something has to be done about it. So it's your ball now, I think. You are paid, you are elected, to do things about these sorts of things. Let's see you do something about it, because I think Canadians will hold you very responsible in the future if you don't do something about it.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much.

We will begin our questions. Each member will have five minutes, including questions and answers.

Mr. Solberg.

Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, Ref.): Thank you very much.

Thank you to the witnesses for their testimony. I admit to not having a lot of background in this area. I appreciate the briefing; it was very thorough.

Just so I understand, Dr. Martin, you're suggesting that at this point we simply have to go on the observational evidence, really, and that there's enough evidence, both within Canada and from the U.S. and other countries, I suppose, such that we should start to move forward and put in place some tougher regulations, I guess. That's really the essence of what you're saying.

• 1620

Now for my question. You mentioned regulating usage. There are some practical problems for people when that happens. I'm wondering if you've given some thought to how that would work. For instance, I come from a rural riding. Obviously farmers use pesticides—a tremendous amount. What are the practical implications for people if some of these pesticides are more heavily regulated? I'm not quite certain what the consequences are. Does that mean that maybe some would be taken off the shelves completely, that some people would have to buy different equipment? What exactly would the consequences be?

Dr. Kelly Martin: There are two parts to that issue. One is cosmetic use of pesticides. I think the farmers would agree that spraying at the side of the roads, over the Gatineaus, wherever you go—all of that—is something we can regulate. Look at schoolyards; it's appalling to see the “do not walk on” signs about pesticides in schoolyards—or in parks. This is one issue. This is clearly something we can do something about. It doesn't impact agriculture.

The second issue is that when you sit on the PMRA, you see that some of the most reasonable people there are farmers or farmers who are now representing some group. They understand that these are exposures to them, and they're quite reasonable about it, like with Lindane, for example. A lot of them took action long before there was any policy of not using it, because they understood the implications.

I know that if you look at the commissioner's report, you see that they talk about the opportunity of measuring in high-use areas. Again, obviously it's not my field, but they say in other departments that there are methods and that there has been discussion about this. The PMRA needs to link up with those other departments.

Mr. Monte Solberg: Okay.

You didn't touch on this, but I noticed that in your report you recommend the creation of a national database on pesticide use. I understand the Crop Protection Institute is on side with that, but they're concerned that people might be skeptical about the information coming from the manufacturers. Do you have any observations or thoughts on that?

Dr. Kelly Martin: I know that in Saskatchewan there's some database on pesticide use and we use it in research because it's the little that we actually have of what is used... I don't know exactly. I know the Saskatchewan database is how much is sold in a certain area; then you can look at health risks and see if it's actually related. Now whether it's all applied or not is a question of concern. But again, in regard to the database, most other countries have them, so I think... We're not in the business of reinventing the wheel and we can decide whether manufacturers or farmers use... whether it's just sales... anything as a basis to be able to relate health effects to use.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much.


Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): I want to congratulate you and thank you for the evidence you have given us today. Your comments will not fall on deaf ears. As members of Parliament, we are confronted to similar problems and we too feel that the PMRA is not doing what it is supposed to do. You are close to the people and have evidence which you claim the agency responsible for evaluating pesticides is ignoring.

Earlier, a witness suggested that we ought to take advantage of the American experience and draw on this experience to amend our PMRA legislation. Would you please set out the points that might help improve our legislation?

I know that the facts are there, and we have heard them from all sources. Today is not the first day we are holding hearings on this issue. We are all aware that this is really a big problem. When it comes to health, money is not a concern as far as I am concerned. The government and its agency will have to take into account all the facts you put forward as well as the studies you referred to, although I do not know if it has these studies already.

• 1625

You mentioned that all stakeholders should have access to a global database where they could find the information they are looking for. You also said you did not know where complaints should be directed to.

As you know, our committee will be making recommendations, and I would like you to tell us on what the changes to the agency should be premised, so that we can support what you told us and provide direction to the agency. Thank you.


Dr. Kelly Martin: I don't know whether CELA or I should reply to that, but certainly the PMRA is now talking with the Americans about what they are doing. There is some discussion with other countries.

The Americans have instituted this National Research Council recommendation for the protection of children, the tenfold increase, looking at measures of looking at multiple residuals and multiple risks on a number of different issues.

So on whether or not there is some access or an actual bank of information from different countries, these things are always available. Again, from the commissioner's report, the PMRA just isn't accessing different parts of government bureaucracy. Of course the researchers are aware of what's happening in other countries.

Mr. Paul Muldoon (Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association): Good afternoon.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Welcome to the committee. Could you give an affiliation, please?

Mr. Paul Muldoon: I'm Paul Muldoon, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

In a study that we presented, we outlined some 45 recommendations. The recommendations can be categorized in a number of ways, but basically they really can be categorized in terms of making sure the assessment of the products that are registered is done correctly and protectively, especially for vulnerable populations; that the existing substances already in use can be re-evaluated where there is evidence of problems; that the database we have is enlarged; and that access to that database is enlarged so that all stakeholders can actually get to it.

One of the more important issues, though, is that we are concerned about pesticide use itself. It would seem to us that the PMRA has an important role in, first of all, formulating integrated pest management and becoming a champion of that in terms of public education, educating all sectors that use pesticides, and using that as a means to supplement its usual mandate.

There is no one simple recommendation that's going to solve the problem. There is a whole host of them: regulatory, policy, education, and information. And one of the things maybe has not been stated as loudly as it could be, and that's just the resources available to enforce the laws on the books and to implement the policies and legislation we do have.

It's a big job, but it's obviously a big problem.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you.

Peter Mancini.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you for an informative, sobering, and I dare say courageous presentation, panel.

Dr. Martin, I accept your challenge as you throw the hot ball to parliamentarians, and I thank you because I think the work you've done is very important.

I have two questions for Dr. Martin and two questions for Mr. Muldoon, who I think is replacing Ms. Cooper.

Dr. Martin, you've indicated that the evidence is clear that pesticides are not safe at existing levels for children and infants, and they are more toxic to newborns than children. In terms of the fetus, in terms of the developing child, is it even more dangerous? I would assume it is, but I don't know. That's the first question.

For the second question, you mentioned you had three cases this summer of kids who suffered obvious rashes and vomiting from exposure. In your practice, do you see any evidence of endocrine disruption? Answer that for me if you can.

And Mr. Muldoon, I have two questions for you. First, the report is very critical of the PMRA. In reading page 8, my question is whether or not there is anything they've done right.

I'm also intrigued by this remark on page 9:

    The lack of adequate resources in PMRA and other departments alongside increased demands and increased private sector influence over research agendas were also noted as problems...

• 1630

Can you elaborate on the private sector influence over research agendas?

Thank you.

Dr. Kelly Martin: Just to attend to those questions, the first was whether there's evidence on intrauterine toxicity. Again, we have animal and human evidence. We looked at the animal evidence of reproductive anomalies. This is the big problem of abnormal genitalia, of infertility. Again, we have these observational animal studies. In Florida, where you have alligators and different animals in areas with high pesticide use, they have what they call “confused genitalia”, very low rates of fertility, and those abnormalities.

In humans, the Health Protection Branch has been looking at sperm counts in infants whose parents are exposed to pesticides in industry. Again, in Montreal, there was just a study looking at leukemia in kids who were exposed intrauterine, and they found about a threefold increase.

These are difficult studies to do. Often you're looking back at kids with disease and are asking the parents, and there's a lot of concern about the validity of the information the parents give.

These are costly studies. There haven't been a lot, and there certainly haven't been a lot in Canada. A lot of our evidence comes from the States, but there are a lot of animal studies that show a concern for intrauterine abnormalities. The biggest ones are neurological, but they're very difficult to study and they take a long time to follow. They haven't been done because there just isn't the money available, or there hasn't been money available. The Health Protection Branch can remedy that, because the funding comes through the initiative of the Health Protection Branch.

The second one is whether or not we see evidence of endocrine disruption. In medicine, we see lots of evidence of endocrine disruption, but we're just not sure what's causing it. Lymphoma has taken off, and this is what started the studies on the pesticides. Why do we have all these increases of lymphoma in farmers, and then in people who are putting pesticides on golf turf? All of a sudden, it comes together for people that there's something in common here.

So endocrine disruption is a big problem. In animal studies, it's well shown that you don't have the development of a penis, or you get something that's somewhere between the penis and the clitoris in animals when they're exposed to pesticides. In kids, we know we have increased rates of cryptorchidism, in which you don't have descent of the testes and you don't have normal sperm counts. We know we have that in society in general. It's a very big problem, but to link it to these things is very difficult. We haven't had the money, so the studies haven't been done. But certainly in animal studies it has been a very big concern, and there's a big push from a lot of people to get more human evidence on this.

Dr. Peter Sakuls: Just to add to that—someone can correct me if I'm wrong—there have been studies that have been showing an increased risk of miscarriage, at about two to five times the usual rate, in women who have been exposed to pesticides.

Dr. Kelly Martin: I think when you review the evidence, there's a huge mishmash. There are probably 300 studies out there looking at all different outcomes in humans, but it's difficult to link with pesticides, to try to break it down into what they've been exposed to. You have to account for smoking and drinking and all the other things, which you can do in studies.

I would say there's concern. There's limited evidence, and there's quite a lot of concern over that. It's not like leukemia and lymphoma, for which we have reasonably good evidence to act on. Breast cancer is the other big concern with pesticides.

Mr. Paul Muldoon: To respond to your two questions, I'm just trying to contemplate how best to respond to the one about what the PMRA does that's correct. The way we looked at this was that of having an agency trying to act in the public interest. We looked at it not from the point of view of what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, but what the systemic barriers are that are perhaps not allowing them to protect further the public interest. That's why we looked at the legislation, the policy bases, and the resources. In my mind, in trying to fulfil the mandate appropriately, the question is what the things are that can be done to enhance the mandate in the right direction, such as integrated pest management.

The research issue is quite interesting. As scientific research funding evaporates generally, of course there's a tendency to move to public and private partnerships.

• 1635

The question in that, which I think we all have to be vigilant about, is simply this. Is there a price of admission? Is there a price to be paid for the introduction of private funding of, in effect, public interest research? And I don't think there's any generic statement we can make that all private research is bad or that all public research is good.

What we're saying is we do raise some alarms when those industries with vested interests in the outcomes of the studies fund the studies, whether it be in the academic environment or elsewhere. We are not pointing fingers to any one study or any one university. What we're doing is raising an alarm. It seems to us there is a need for impartial studies, publicly funded to not only ensure credibility and lack of bias, but to give the appearance of credibility and lack of bias. So those are the kinds of alarm bells we're raising, recognizing that it's bigger than pesticides, it's pervasive, but it's an alarm bell nevertheless, particularly in this area of concern.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Herron.

Mr. John Herron: We heard a fair amount of testimony earlier with respect to the urban use and more agrarian use of pesticides, and I want to concentrate a little bit more on the urban sector issues for a moment.

We know Health Canada has to regulate whether a pesticide is acceptable to be put on the market in the first place and under what category. But we know the provinces regulate the actual usage in terms of how they're actually applied.

Now, say, a lawn care company who's applying a given pesticide has to have certification in order to do that. Yet that same pesticide that lawn care company is using, you can go over and buy at Canadian Tire, or just about any kind of hardware store, and without any qualifications, any... you know, “The more the better; we're going to make sure we kill it this time around”.

So I see that domestic use of pesticides by lay persons to be something that should be challenged. Specifically, we're still waiting for this legislation that allegedly has been written since 1997 to actually be tabled. So I'm just trying to envision what actually might be in it. Have there been some specific regulations in terms of being more aggressive with the use of urban pesticides and their application?

Dr. Kelly Martin: After spending six months reviewing that document to death, there is nothing about urban application of pesticides in the new... This is a 15-year-old document that we've been trying to pass forever and ever, that has very few things that really touch on any of what we're talking about. So as far as I remember—

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Dr. Martin, could you identify for the record exactly which document you're referring to?

Dr. Kelly Martin: This is the pesticide—

Mr. John Herron: The new Pesticides Act that it was mentioned has been written since 1997?

Dr. Kelly Martin: Right. The new Pesticides Act. It was presented to the PMAC, to our committee, a year ago—

Mr. John Herron: A year ago.

Dr. Kelly Martin: —and that we would review it... well, it's 15 years old, so a year here or there—that we would review it and pass comments and try to come to some agreement on it within the PMAC. From my recollection of it, there's really absolutely nothing about urban use. It's a very basic—

Mr. John Herron: My reaction to that is wow. So nothing—nothing to respond to urban use, that kind of component.

My next question is something that I'm a little fearful of, from a protection of farmers perspective. A lot of the use of pesticides by farmers and their families—and farmers are coming into play not only because they're producing a product, but more often than not they actually live and reside in the place they're applying the pesticide to in that regard.

So in terms of access to information, which was brought forward a couple of times, we know that material safety data sheets don't even have to be produced under law for pesticides, a chemical that we design to actually kill—in a controlled way, but we design it to kill. Can you tell me if there have been specific recommendations in terms of databases, or material safety data sheets that have been produced under WHMIS, that kind of comprehensive way, so I should be able to click on the Internet to get an MSDS on any pesticide that's licensed in Canada? Could you tell me what might be in that document about that?

• 1640

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Could we have... Mr. Herron snuck a second question in there.

Mr. John Herron: Oh, did I? I'm sorry.

Dr. Kelly Martin: There's nothing about protecting children or any of these issues in this new legislation. It's rather just a lot of the same. It has some useful aspects. In terms of people being able to go and find out what the evidence is, that's not going to come through this document at all. I think that's something the PMRA should have on their website, that people should be able to access.

When you talk to farmers, as you say, these are reasonable people. They will tell you that when they spray it on their lawns, they ask the guys if it's safe—yes it's safe, there are no health effects at all or we wouldn't be able to do it, and no, it won't be fouling the water.

So I think there has to be public education. It has to be part of the PMRA. It's not coming at the end of this new legislation, nor is much else. So I think you should take a look at it to see that—you know, it's very basic. It doesn't touch on any of these topics we're talking about right now.

Mr. Paul Muldoon: I'd just like to add that our vision of how that would work under the WHIMS plan is outlined in our recommendation that we are forwarding.

Mr. John Herron: It was a good question, though, Madam Chair.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Yes, and actually you're probably only 15 seconds over your five-minute time limit.

Mr. Jordan, please.

Mr. Joe Jordan (Leeds—Grenville, Lib.): Rules are rules.

I'm just wondering, Madam Chair, if this draft legislation exists, is the committee going to see it soon? I don't want that coming off my time.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Well, I'm kind of curious actually, Dr. Martin. You had said the legislation had been drafted 15 years ago and your committee has access to it. I'm just wondering if the environmental legislation and concepts have evolved in the past 15 years, but we'll get into that later.

Mr. Joe Jordan: I want to welcome the guests. I apologize for being late, but we were tabling a private member's bill on the moratorium on the spraying of cosmetic pesticides within municipalities.

I want to ask Mr. Muldoon a question, because we had the municipality of Chelsea before the committee, I believe it was yesterday. They talked about their saga in trying to—well, actually, they have banned the cosmetic use of pesticides.

Prior to that testimony, I was under the impression there were differences in the provincial legislation that would allow municipalities in Quebec to ban on private property, whereas Ontario could only ban on public property. But they gave me the indication that that wasn't the case, that they were both using the same piece of legislation and it's just that no other provinces had done it. Do you have an opinion on that, or do you know about that?

Mr. Paul Muldoon: We're doing some research on that very fact because we're very concerned about the challenge to the Chelsea legislation.

Mr. Joe Jordan: The Hudson, actually, is the name—

Mr. Paul Muldoon: Right. So we're researching that and I'd be happy to send you the results of our research.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Okay.

Mr. Paul Muldoon: But our view at this point, and it is preliminary, is that there will be nation-wide implications of that challenge. But we're doing a more detailed review of that and we'd be happy to forward it for the benefit of the committee.

Mr. Joe Jordan: My understanding is the Hudson decision has been challenged twice and the municipality has won both times. But it could go one more to the Supreme Court, I guess?

Mr. Paul Muldoon: Yes, I think it is going. That's the issue.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Okay.

Dr. Martin, we had a witness yesterday—I don't think I'm misquoting or misinterpreting the testimony—that essentially said one of the issues among physicians was that the pharmaceutical companies, in a lot of cases, are also the pesticide companies. There was a deafening silence from the medical community, the GPs at the ground level that would see these things, that would maybe create a groundswell of support for change. She made pretty much a direct inference that the economics of that was interfering with doctors speaking out on it. I realize that isn't the case with the ones here today. But do you see any evidence of that within the ranks?

Dr. Kelly Martin: Yes, I would say, as we all know, pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies, are very intertwined. Among physicians in general, I guess this takes a lot of time. It takes me 20 extra hours a week, or 30 sometimes, that are unpaid. I think that's the problem in the ranks. You have enough stuff on your table that you're not so interested to get involved.

I don't think so; I don't know that. I know I'm not really answering your question.

• 1645

Unfortunately Mr. Mancini has left, but he was talking about asking for information about pesticides from the presentations from industry on this evidence they have of effect or whatever. When I hear that, I think, “Gee, that's outrageous”. In the medical community ten years ago they produced a wealth of information to show that what we find in drug trials when drug companies pay for them is hugely different from what we find when they're not involved. If you want to publish something now, you cannot have funding from a drug company or it won't be published.

So this information coming from a pesticide-producing company, information on risk or whatever, is something you don't look at. It has to be peer-reviewed. If it's good enough to go to a journal and people review how it's done...

Anybody can be biased. Everybody has to go through the peer review process. Let's see if we think it's done viably and the statistics are valid and the results are valid. And let's not exclude the pesticide industry from that.

There's great evidence in medicine, so now if you send something to the New England Journal of Medicine and some drug company is a big funder, forget it. We know that biases the study. So that would be my concern about the problem. When industry talks to the PMAC, they have all these little studies they've done on their own. I'm sure they think they're valid, but show us through a peer-reviewed process that these are valid. Otherwise they're not evidence and we don't want to see them.

Mr. Joe Jordan: That was exactly the point she was making. She listed about thirty peer review journals that showed clear linkages, and then she demonstrated some non-peer-reviewed literature from the chemical companies. Then she went on to make the direct accusation.

What I'm suggesting is maybe we should hold the ball together as opposed to throwing it back and forth between ourselves. That way we can move this thing forward.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you, Mr. Jordan.

Mr. Reed.

Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.): Thank you, Madam Chair.

I just want to correct the record. An impression was left by a member of this committee that somehow the domestic product that can be bought in a hardware store is the same as is being applied by a licensed applicator. We have been given the evidence already that it is not necessarily the same.

Mr. Peter Mancini: No, no. It can be—

Mr. Julian Reed: Well, it can be misused. I'm not trying to debate that. But I think the record will show, if we look back at the evidence we've been given, that people would have to get a licence to apply the kinds of chemicals that are applied by these licensed applicators.

Mr. Peter Mancini: To Mr. Reed through you, Madam Chair, I think you referred to the testimony we had when we had the meeting up in East Block. That's where that testimony actually came out from the Urban Pest Management Council, in a meeting we had in East Block.

Mr. Julian Reed: Was it?

Mr. Peter Mancini: Yes.

Mr. Julian Reed: I don't remember where it was.

Mr. Peter Mancini: I don't know the exact date, but if you look through the Hansard, you'll see it.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): The record will certainly illustrate whatever opinion is...

Mr. Julian Reed: Yes. We should check the record.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Absolutely.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Reed.

Mr. Julian Reed: When my oldest son was three, he was a very active and adventurous little tyke. One day he got into a locked medicine chest in our house and consumed a quantity of Pepto-Bismol capsules. So we phoned poison control at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and they recommended that he have his stomach pumped, which we did, and so on. The poison in Pepto-Bismol was ASA. I only say that to reinforce a statement by one of your predecessors of a millennium ago, who said every medicine is a poison; it just depends on the dose.

Dr. Martin, you made a reference to the Florida experience where the water animals had genitalia abnormalities. You should point out that that was a result of a train wreck. Barrels, actual whole barrels, of concentrated chemical were dumped in that lake and never retrieved. That caused it.

I only use those stories to suggest that something about dosage seems to be important.

• 1650

The other thing I wonder about is if you feel pesticides have improved over the years. When I was a kid on the farm spraying apples, I was spraying lead and arsenic and mercury and later DDT. Maybe that's what happened to me, why I got into politics.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Julian Reed: But now we have moved on to another school of chemical put-togethers, and many of them, an increasing number, are biodegradable. They're applied, they do their job, and the soil bacteria convert them into original elements and so on.

I don't know how many children presented with lead poisoning or arsenic poisoning in those days. I probably should have been. But a lot of these things now are applied, and within days they're gone and there is no residue. Do you have any thoughts about that, about the evolution of the use of pesticides?

Dr. Kelly Martin: I would respond by saying to you they're not gone. We sit on this panel with people who are researching pesticides for agriculture use and for forestry use, and they present the better pesticides, but they're not talking about pesticides without residuals. These are people from industry or people doing research for industry. So even if it's an organophosphate or whatever the new types are, they're in the water; they're in your food; you're carrying them around. There are organochlorines, and maybe they're not lasting for hundreds of years, or maybe in the end they are. They're different, but they're not going in there and biodegrading—not most of the ones we're using, and not from the evidence of the people who produce them. And they're not pretending they are, mostly, as far as I see it.

The other thing is, with the research when you talk about lead or whatever, if you don't look for things, you don't see them. When we started doing research on kids with lead and looking at the kids in the north, our Canadian kids, they were at very high levels. It affected their learning significantly. We now know that. To have ten drinks and pop in your car was nothing either until we started looking at the evidence of what the implications of that were.

The whole idea of society is evolution. Yes, we have newer pesticides, but let's learn from these mistakes. As with lead, if you don't look for the effects... We're not looking for the effects of pesticides. We don't have anything set up to research these things specifically. We don't know how much pesticide is being used. It's very hard to quantify these things. Until we looked for the effects of lead, nobody was talking about them. If you have fifty dumb kids in the town, well, who knows? They were just born dumb. But no, it was lead toxicity. Unless you looked for it, you didn't find it.

It's the same with pesticides. You start doing the research on it and you realize. At the Children's Hospital, we used to get these kids. If you get a kid with a rash, vomiting, and some seizures, who knows what causes it? When you start doing levels on them, then you start finding things. It's not until we start doing levels or start thinking about it that we even start to realize that this is a problem.

Mr. Julian Reed: Would these things that presented to you be from the use or misuse?

Dr. Kelly Martin: These are from the use. In Ottawa, this was municipal spraying beside the canal by the government. One assumes these guys are spraying properly. It was also spraying from a neighbour. These weren't people who applied it themselves. And they were small kids in diapers out playing for a couple of hours. So this is use.

We're saying we know what the testing is. For an adult in clothing, it's safe. We're not all adults in clothing all the time, and we are not just exposed to that one toxicity during the day. From the American case series, we know this happens in kids if you start looking for it. But who's looking for it? Who's going around in the summer and asking a thousand families, “Has your child had a rash?” or whatever, and “Let us do a level on them”? We're not doing that. We have never done that research.

When kids present, you start to get cases that you can pick up, but if you don't look for it, as with lead or anything else, you don't find it.

• 1655

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much.

Mr. Reed, some of the questions you've been asking with regard to the evolution of pesticide use may be covered off in a paper that has been prepared by Christine Labelle. I just point this out to committee members, that the Library of Parliament has prepared a paper on the history of pesticides.

Ms. Torsney, please.

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.): Thank you.

I want to follow up on this issue of who pays for the studies. Frankly, sure I want to know they're peer-reviewed and properly done and all the rest before we take the results as they are, but why, if I'm a private company that wants to introduce something, should the rest of the taxpayers pay for this? Make them pay—cost recovery and so on—but make sure we review and make sure the work is done. I don't want to pay for some of this stuff out of my tax dollars. I'd much prefer that the companies pay for it.

How do you reconcile those two positions?

Ms. Loren Vanderlinden: I also work at a university, and we have only so many routes we can go to get funding. The publicly funded studies, for reasons that have already been mentioned, are the ones that then go through a very rigorous process of review when applications are made for funding. There's a weighing of costs and benefits there.

For the sake of public confidence in research results, I don't know whether there is any other way around making the taxpayers pay for it ultimately.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: There's no other way?

Ms. Loren Vanderlinden: Well...

Dr. Peter Sakuls: I would just repeat what Dr. Martin said. If I am reading a medical journal and there is a study, and the author was affiliated with or financed by a drug company, I just can't believe the results of that study. That's been very well proven in other studies looking at the bias. It makes an incredible difference. It just changes the results in one direction.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: So let me get this straight. We have limited government research dollars in this country, and rather than deal with the issues of what are the biases, discounted by a certain percentage, or what are the protocols—how do the Dr. Olivieris of the world deal with drug company funding and there being a challenge to the research or something?—rather than deal with all of those issues, you'd rather use precious government resources to do stuff to introduce new products? You'd rather do that than make the companies that are going to profit from those do the research and figure out how to deal with their biases and get the research community to figure out how to interpret the research better and do the peer reviews and everything else? Why would you want to make the government pay for that? That's taxpayers' money.

Dr. Kelly Martin: I don't think anybody is saying we want to do that. I would first say to you that right now the research is all done by industry. When they present their document to the PMRA about a pesticide, either reviewed or not, all the research is coming from industry.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Sure.

Dr. Kelly Martin: What we're doing is questioning the validity of that. I think we can all agree it should be funded by industry, particularly given how much they're making on these things in a certain sense. People can look around the world to see how it's done and come up with something. That's the role of the PMRA.

We're researchers; we're medical people; we're lawyers. We can see that it needs to be validated, the process needs to be open and valid, and the funding, whether it's through cost recovery or however we do it, will take some thinking. Let's set it as a priority and get people together who can see where it's been done other places and come up with a solution. Of course there's a reasonable solution. I don't know what it is, just sitting here. It's something we've thought about at the PMAC. It's not obvious, it doesn't jump in front of you, because there are big issues, but of course there's a solution that the taxpayer doesn't pay and shouldn't pay.

We say pesticides make food cheaper. Of course they do, when the public pays for all the health effects, all the research, all the things a hundred years down the road, because we don't weigh those things in. I think if we did, it wouldn't be cheaper. So they should pay, and how they do it? I think someone who knows more about it should come up with that.

• 1700

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much. If you can indulge the chair with a couple of quick questions, I'm very concerned about access to hazardous effects with regard to pesticides that are registered under the PMRA. I'm just wondering if the two medical doctors would like to respond.

If you have a child who has come in with a rash and seizures and you have a pretty good idea that they have been exposed to some kind of pesticide, how do you get information on hazardous effects of that particular product?

Dr. Kelly Martin: At the Children's Hospital we had these issues. We presented rounds in emergency; we presented grand rounds. I was invited to Sick Kids in Toronto to present the rounds. We have no way of accessing it. I didn't see the first kid; it was one of the other emergency physicians, who then called me at home because he knew I'd done some review. There's nothing on the web and there's nothing in poison control.

We presented a bunch of papers for those people who were there. We shared the information. When I went to Sick Kids, people said they had no idea. They didn't realize you could do a blood level. They weren't even all that clear about how many cases had been reported.

So I think the clear answer—these are the two big children's hospitals in this part of the country. In Ste. Justine, l'hôpital pour les enfants à Montréal, when we did rounds in the last few months... poison control has no information and Health Canada... Dr. Peterson, who's the head of poison control here and the head of poison control for Quebec, sits on the PMAC. It's a huge concern for them. Dr. Peterson will tell you outright that there is just no information, which isn't valid. They don't have access to information and there's nothing for physicians to access.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): We were told by a representative from the Urban Pest Management Council that there was a 1-800 number on each of the products. One of my legislative staff went to purchase two products; one was a fungicide. There was no 1-800 number on that particular product. On the other product there was a 1-800 number. He phoned the 1-800 number and was told he'd have to talk to someone during business hours.

As a medical doctor, have you accessed one of these 1-800 numbers to find out what kind of information they're giving you?

Dr. Peter Sakuls: I haven't tried that.

Dr. Kelly Martin: I know from the Children's Hospital we went that route. In the end, Dr. Peterson from the Health Protection Branch had a discussion about this whole issue. We presented rounds and then we discussed with him the information he was giving from poison control that there was no evidence of this or that. That isn't valid based on the research, and the head of Quebec doesn't agree with it.

We went through all these avenues. The person went to the company that had sprayed their neighbours' property and brought in the product. There was very little information. There was the 1-800 number or you could go on the web and get it—which we did through the hospital. It told you to wash your hands, and if the child drank it you should make them vomit—very basic things. This was not medical information. It didn't give you the probability of them going on to seizures or cardiac toxicity.

One child had a lot of difficulty breathing, had to have help breathing, and had seizures. What do you do? What sort of interventions do you do? There's nothing available on that. From the Children's Hospital we made very valid attempts through mother-child risk in Toronto, poison control, and the numbers and websites. We thought maybe we could find something from pesticide websites from the government, but there wasn't anything.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you.

I have a fairly long question, which I'll save for the second round. I'm going to ask you a short question.

We had a representative from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities before the committee and he said the PMRA was not preventive. It didn't have the resources to act in a preventive way, and its mandate itself was not preventive.

I'm just wondering—other than the resource issue, because I think we've been covering that—if someone would like to comment on whether the mandate of the PRMA is preventive or not.

• 1705

Mr. Paul Muldoon: There are different definitions of preventive, I suspect, but our basic recommendation is to find preventive means of using measures or programs that would wean Canadian society off pesticides—whatever that takes. It will take a whole array of measures. I suggest it start with some legislative measures, public education and incentive measures. Again, the issue is what programs could we put in place, to be championed by PMRA, that would prevent or find alternatives to the use of pesticides.

The inherent problem, of course, is that by the very name of the act—the Pest Control Products Act—pesticides are a product sold. Therefore when we use the term “use” we are suggesting there are products in society that ought to be challenged, and that is something people have a tough time with; we don't.

We think preventive measures that reduce the use and application of these are prudent things to do. Our report outlines some of the more specific kinds of measures that can be taken. Certainly, in our view, at the end of the day that is the best way to go about it, in addition to the other measures that call for better testing, risk assessment, etc.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): On a second round I have Mr. Herron, Madam Girard-Bujold, and Mr. Solberg.

Mr. Herron.

Mr. John Herron: I have another curious question, looking for some kind of insight.

All of you made comments with respect to re-evaluations, so I have three questions. First, is there any kind of tight timeline and sort of pushing the envelope to ensure we have re-evaluations of pesticides in Canada? Does the PMAC see any kind of forthcoming legislation?

Dr. Kelly Martin: The PMRA is talking about re-evaluation by 2005-06. They have 350 pesticides that haven't been evaluated in the last five years. They've done one or two and they're going to do the rest by 2005-06, but they don't have the funding. The funding will come as they recoup costs. I think to anyone, including industry representatives, who argues they refuse to pay for that from funding that comes back, it should go back to them. So to me this is just more of the same.

There's no plan that looks viable for re-evaluation. They're talking about doing it by 2005-06, but they don't have the funding. How are they going to get the funding? People are arguing already. So it has to be pointed out to the PMRA that this will be done in a certain period of time. Let's come up with some definitive way of funding because otherwise it's just never going to happen.

Mr. John Herron: All of you spend a fair amount of time and energy referring to formulas versus just the active ingredients of pesticides. Is it your impression that the legislation we may see come forward, from what we've seen at PMAC, will require full documentation on the potential hazards to human health and the environment of formulants?

Mr. Paul Muldoon: Are you referring to the new legislation?

Mr. John Herron: Yes.

Dr. Kelly Martin: I didn't realize the new legislation was so secretive, but there's some reference to formulas—about the same as pesticides presently. So there's a very brief bit on formulants. People aren't content it is actually full disclosure on formulants, and it could be pushed further. They couldn't come to any agreement, so it was left as it is that formulants would at least be listed. I think that's the basic premise in the new legislation.

Mr. John Herron: We talked about who does the assessments on potential hazards. Right now we have a cost recovery where we actually ask the companies to do the research involved. We're saying that's maybe not the best situation because we don't get the same data as when independents do it as well.

• 1710

As a businessperson, an individual would be able to ascertain, well, we spend 6% of our budget on research on health effects of our products, when we submit them. What's wrong with actually challenging pesticide manufacturers to contribute to a pool? Then an independent would use that pooled money to do that assessment. So it's funded by the companies, but the Government of Canada actually decides who makes the call in terms of who the scientists are who are actually involved. Would that be a third way?

Dr. Kelly Martin: Yes. To me, it sounds reasonable. There are reasonable alternatives. That may be one of them in the PMRA, in the Health Protection Branch.

You have to be cautionary. Yes, they have to be responsible for paying for part of it. No, the money is not going to come from Health Canada, because it isn't there and it hasn't been coming for the research. That's a reality.

So I think that's a reasonable option, and having some part of the Health Protection Branch set up to ensure it's done in some valid way. I think it's just seeing it as an important issue and setting out guidelines. I'm sure there are a lot of reasonable options.


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I would go a little further than Mr. Herron did and suggest that, before a pesticide is approved by the PMRA, it should undergo peer evaluation. Is such a proposal along the same lines as the scientific evaluations you are required to get from your peers? Could these insecticides be subject to similar requirements? Would you be prepared to go that far? Should it be required by law?


Ms. Loren Vanderlinden: I think that's a step in the right direction, at least as a bottom line.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: We would have common resources to conduct an evaluation. We all recognize that Health Canada has no money and is not likely to have more in the future. These companies would be required to incur expenses and have their products reviews by their peers before they can be approved by a PMRA evaluation committee. Would such a process not provide you with the protection you need, since you say you are constantly challenged? Would that not be at a minimum a step in the right direction?


Dr. Kelly Martin: To respond to that, I think there will always be independent research done. You will always have independent researchers outside doing studies, and peer reviews should be used. At present, for evaluation and re-evaluation, it's coming from industry, so they should be evaluated.

Again, there are solutions that people have to sit down and contemplate and work out. I don't know that they're obvious, just sitting here on the table.

To have a pool of research from industry, somehow it would have to be validated. We know with medical and drug companies, which to me are exactly the same—there's really no difference—that has to be regulated somehow. So how do we do it with drug companies? There are a number of ways. There are people who do this. Let them sit down and think about it and come up with a solution.


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you.


Monte Solberg, please.

I forgot to welcome Mr. Solberg to our committee, coming from the finance committee. This is good, because he can bring things back.

Mr. Monte Solberg: Thank you. It's a bit of a leap for me.

I'll digress for a moment. I want to follow up on what Julian was saying earlier. Have pesticides improved in the last generation? Are they more safe than they were?

Surely we've learned something from DDT and those sorts of things. Really, more to the point, with all the liabilities that companies face now, they themselves must be a lot more careful than they used to be. I would imagine there are all kinds of things they reject before they even get to the point where they come to the PMRA, for instance, for approval.

• 1715

I guess the other side of it is that the public has learned something too. Obviously people still come in and aren't careful and make mistakes, but just in talking to friends I know personally, I'm surely a lot more careful about using these things than I was in the past.

I guess I'm making these statements because I want to try to put this in perspective or try to get a handle on the size of the problem. Am I out to lunch on this, or is this a fairly accurate description of what's going on?

If it is, it kind of gives us a sense of where maybe some emphasis can be put. Maybe we need to put more emphasis on just encouraging this trend to be more careful with pesticides and at the same time say to the companies that there are big penalties too if you go awry with what you're doing.

Dr. Kelly Martin: I don't think business is a bad guy. Most of us come from families that have business.

Mr. Monte Solberg: Yes.

Dr. Kelly Martin: They're not. But they're there to make money. I think the cigarette example is a good one. You'll go to all lengths to make money, because your shareholders will force you to if you don't ethically feel like you want to in the first place.

Mr. Monte Solberg: Right.

Dr. Kelly Martin: So I don't think we can expect pesticide companies, production companies, to take on some responsibility. I don't think it's at all possible in the present international business milieu.

Mr. Monte Solberg: One way to make money, though, is not to get embroiled in a big lawsuit, because you poison people.

Dr. Kelly Martin: Do you see the cigarette companies? This has been coming a long time. They're going strong. They'll pay some small amount, but they didn't stop making cigarettes ten years ago, and this was clearly coming their way. So I don't buy that. In a publicly traded company, I don't think they can.

In terms of public education, yes, public education should be a big part of that. That's part of what we think we have a role in as physicians. It's part of what I think the PMRA should have a role in. When the public becomes more educated, I think you'll have a lot more problems, because you can't avoid it. You don't avoid it just by not putting it on your plants in your yard. You're eating it; you're drinking it. It's everywhere.

Mr. Monte Solberg: Right.

Dr. Kelly Martin: You might not be using DDT in Canada, but they are in Mexico and Costa Rica. If you look at the fruit and vegetables you buy in the winter, they're not coming from Canada, and lots of them aren't coming from the United States either.

Mr. Monte Solberg: There's a bigger market for organic foods and pesticide-free foods and that kind of thing, if people were just more sensitive to it.

Dr. Kelly Martin: Yes, there is. If people are educated, I think they may make that leap, but at present they are not being educated. The government is not taking any role in educating them.

I don't think we represent what the general public has in terms of raising it. They can be more concerned and more educated, but where do they get this information? It's little bits and pieces here and there. Maybe PMRA should have a mandate of supplying information or—

Mr. Paul Muldoon: Let me just add, to complicate your question, in the example used, the tobacco industry, if you look at the tobacco litigation, a huge part of the litigation still does focus on the cause-effect relationship between tobacco inhalation and cancer.

Mr. Monte Solberg: Yes.

Mr. Paul Muldoon: And the whole issue has now also evolved into the second-hand smoke issue. That's a causative relationship on which there's an enormous amount of science, and to most scientists it's obvious.

Here we're talking about pesticides, where the effects are much more subtle, at times potentially intergenerational, where there are all kinds of causative reasons that things happen and things get disrupted that lead to an ultimate result. Our ecosystem rules make it very difficult to establish, to a certainty of legal causation, those causative effects.

So we're in a situation where science gives clear indication of harm, of the cause-effect relationship, and the word of evidence suggests that, but it might not still meet at all times the court-driven need to prove it by the probabilities.

So the question for you, as a policy and legislative maker, is, do we wait until the evidence is at such an amount that it satisfies a court of law, or do we take precautionary action now? That's the issue we're putting to you, because the question here isn't just liability; it's the fate of future generations of children.

Mr. Monte Solberg: I understand that.

• 1720

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much.

Mr. Reed, and then Mr. Jordan.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you, Madam Chair.

I thank you for this research that was done on the history of pesticides. It makes me wonder why there are any Chinese left on the planet. They were applying arsenic in the 16th century.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Julian Reed: Just to get back to this evolution, there's a statement in this research that “many of the new plant protection products are completely biodegradable within two weeks of application”. Is that a misstatement? Is that wrong?

Dr. Kelly Martin: There may be occurrences. There's a different committee you could put these questions to, but sitting within the PMAC with people from the crop protection industry, with farmers, there are alternatives. Most of the most widely used herbicides, organophosphates, are not.

Mr. Julian Reed: This is new. They do qualify it by saying “new plant protection products”.

Dr. Kelly Martin: Yes. I think those aren't the herbicides we're using right now. That's my take on it. In sitting with these industry people, I would think if they could make that point, they would be making that point, and they're not.

Mr. Julian Reed: Would that not lead into the question of whether or not we should be speeding up our work with other countries, with the United States, with Europe and so on, so that the research that's done there—and assuming it's solid research—can apply? We do a share of research here and we combine our efforts in order to get these new products on the market.

Dr. Kelly Martin: The PMRA is doing that right now. They have some new agreement with the Americans and they had some European meetings a year ago. So they would use a lot of the American research on pesticides.

I can tell you that this is being forced on us for the most part by the Americans, because we now have levels higher than the Americans. They're threatening that they won't use our products, and all this sort of stuff. So in this we're not leading the way. We're being dragged by the feet to do it. But certainly we should use other research and certainly we do use mostly American research. Anyway, kids aren't any different in the United States than they are here.

But in terms of biodegradable alternatives, which we aren't using very much of, yes, it should be initiated that we should be coming together to do research that we should be using. It's a very small part of what's happening.

Mr. Julian Reed: But it could be larger.

Dr. Kelly Martin: It could be larger if we had some political will to push it to be larger. There are a lot of people and scientists who sit on the advisory committee who are involved in it and say that it could easily be larger if the PMRA had a bigger interest in promoting it.

Mr. Julian Reed: I had one last thing I'd like to ask. We're bombarded with chemicals of all sorts, not just pesticides. I know there was some discussion about the synergistic effects of pesticides that are not known well. But if you go back and look at some of the physiological changes, it seems to me from what I've read that sperm counts, for instance, in mammals, and particularly humans, had been declining for a long time before these new pesticides were on the market. I don't know how well records were kept back at that time, but I'm wondering if we should be doing a study of gasoline.

It's so common. It's as toxic as the devil. You don't want to drink it, and it's probably a product that if it were coming on the market today wouldn't be allowed because it would be too dangerous.

Dr. Kelly Martin: That's fair enough, I think. Drinking and driving was an okay thing to do 30 years ago and it's now not because there are big risks. It's the same with pesticides and with gasoline. If they came on the market and they were tested in a reasonable manner, society would evolve, we hope.

We started using these products like cigarettes without any knowledge of the health effects. We thought we were going to feed the world. There were bigger problems. As you come to know the health effects, we start to question the economic implications of that.

• 1725

So you have to reassess these things. You can't just say that because we have been using them for years we should continue to use them. No, I don't think we have good sperm studies from 50 years ago; we hardly have them from 10 years ago. But it's no argument to continue to use something that we know has such toxic effects, particularly in infants and children. If gasoline has the same effect, or car emissions and air pollution, then we should take action. If we didn't know about it 20 years ago, then we didn't act on it. Now we do know. When we had ten people on the face of the earth, it was a lot different from when we have... you know, the Chinese are reproducing at some wild rate.

Mr. Julian Reed: I don't know how. It's a wonder they're not all poisoned.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft-Sloan): I think if you take a look at the chart on page 8, which Christine Labelle from the Library of Parliament has prepared, I believe, you're talking about organophosphates here, and Mr. Reed pointed out that they're non-persistent; however, they are quite toxic. Whereas something else may be persistent, it may not be as toxic. So I think it requires a careful reading of the material.

Mr. Jordan, please.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Yes. I want to pick up on the point we started discussing of the economics and the harmonization with the United States. We had a witness who had worked both with the PMRA and with the EPA. I questioned her about that and she essentially said there were certain things the EPA do better than us and there were certain things the PMRA do better than the Americans.

Am I to believe from your statement, Dr. Martin, that the same problem with the lack of peer review on the chemical companies' own data persists in the United States as well? Is that a North American problem?

Dr. Kelly Martin: It's a worldwide problem: how to come up with evidence without making the producers of the chemicals wait 50 years to put something on the market.

Mr. Joe Jordan: If I can talk a little bit in defence of farmers, when I talk to farmers, it's an input cost to them. They're not spraying any more of this than they feel they have to. If we follow through with the Herron fund, in terms of getting the companies to kick in to some sort of peer review process, one of the things I think actually happens, or there's a danger of, is... Canada is a very small market, and if it costs a lot of money for the companies to get new products into this small market, they won't.

What may happen, if you marry that with the idea that pesticides are evolving, because we're not re-registering or re-evaluating the old things—there are 400 in the queue and they do about six a year. We may end up hurting ourselves, in the sense that we're putting up barriers to entry of our market, and therefore the people are using older, more toxic or more dangerous chemicals.

I'm not using that as an excuse. What I'm saying is, should we not be looking at expanding the notion of the companies putting the money into a pot past our own border? Does it not make sense to try to push this idea internationally so that we can get good data on the effects? I think it might be rather counterproductive if we just assume that economics doesn't matter, because the problem, as you say, is that we're importing the products from Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico, which are using these products, and it puts our domestic producers at a disadvantage. At the end of the day we haven't done anything to help in terms of the harmful effects of these things. They're still getting into the country. We're not blocking the import of them. In the harmonization I realize there is a risk that what we're talking about is a race to the bottom in terms of standards, but I think the harmonization process does have some merit. It's just a case of the devil being in the details.

Dr. Kelly Martin: To me the harmonization has great merit. It is sharing information. Why are we re-inventing the wheel? I think harmonization in fact is pushing us in risk assessment upward. I think, in general, it probably pushes us upward. In terms of the representative of the PMAC, how many pesticides are actually passed in Canada that have not already been through the process in the United States? I think you could almost say zero. Nobody is producing a pesticide for Canadian use specifically—maybe some alternatives. So in that light, harmonization in terms of research... Of course the Americans will always have a bigger weight. So if we think we want something greater than they have, it will take a lot of political will to do that. I think harmonization is the route to go, with some focus on what research we actually need and want. They are moving faster towards that than we are, so it could be quite helpful.

• 1730

Mr. Joe Jordan: Thanks.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Ms. Kathy Cooper from CELA, did you want to make a reply to that?

Ms. Kathy Cooper: Yes. What you're describing is already happening, to a certain extent, through the NAFTA process. Also, there's a little of it discussed in the submission and I believe some recommendations associated with it—top of mind, I can't remember, but we did get into that a bit.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Thanks.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I want to bring the focus back to children, because I think that's basically where we started at the beginning of our presentation.

I have a paper here. Philip Landrigan was one of the authors. It has to do with children's health, the environment, and a new agenda for prevention research. In his paper, he talks about some of the things they're doing in the United States. Certainly this study Dr. Martin spoke about, which was conducted by the National Research Council and looked at pesticides and the effects on children and infants, had a lot to do with strengthening the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996 as well as with restructuring the federal regulatory process regarding crop pesticides.

One of the things they talked about... they have a children's environmental health network in the United States, and there is also a Canadian children's environmental health network, which is a fairly new network. In Landrigan's paper, the one in the United States has been calling for the development of a comprehensive, national, child-centred agenda in environmental health. It talks about encompassing things like research, risk assessment, health policy formation, and education—and as we were listening to the witnesses today, I think we heard how education can play such an important role.

With regard to research, risk assessment, and health policy formation, those three particular items, I'm wondering what recommendations you would like. I know you have a lot of those recommendations in your brief, but I'm wondering if you would like to, for discussion purposes right now, let us know what kind of recommendations you would like to see, either in the new legislation or within the PMRA itself, with regard to research, risk assessment, and health policy formation for children.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: I wish I had the submission here in front of me. There are specific recommendations with respect to the issues you raised in terms of updating the risk assessment process to specifically take into account children's special exposures and sensitivities. I think we've gone into that in a great deal of detail. Many of these recommendations need to be incorporated into legislative changes to the Pest Control Products Act.

It would be nice to have that bill—if it exists—tabled so that we could have a look at what might be proposed. I think it's long past time that Minister Rock tabled the bill. It does exist...

A voice: Oh, yes.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Dr. Martin says that her committee, the PMAC committee, has already been examining the bill.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: Okay. I have to get my information... is it proposals or an actual bill?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Is it proposals or is it in legislative—

Ms. Kathy Cooper: I think we have proposed amendments, not an actual legislative draft. We'll clarify that.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Perhaps I can clarify that, Madam Chair. Claire Franklin, the executive director of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, said the draft has existed since 1997, in point of fact. I think that testimony came before committee. In fact, I asked a question on that in Question Period.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): It's not before the House; therefore, it's not—

Ms. Kathy Cooper: It's not publicly accessible through the parliamentary process—

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Not as far as I know—

Ms. Kathy Cooper: —which is the problem.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): —because it would have to go before cabinet and all of that.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: Right. Well, it needs to happen.

Dr. Kelly Martin: Specifically to that bill, there is nothing to do with the risk assessment of children in that bill—nothing.

• 1735

The PMRA is saying, well, these things evolve, and we don't want this in policy. It took 20 years for this bill to evolve, and this would be set and we wouldn't be able to change it.

But I think there are key arguments against it that, for instance, the NRC in the States makes, that they have moved towards the FQPA, which you referred to. They are very specifically looking at whether in fact it is a tenfold risk factor that should be built into risk assessment for kids. For those of us who do risk assessment, it sounds as though this is just taking some evidence and drawing a line between some points. You know, you have some mice and some rats, and you look at the effects on those. We're not using human evidence. What do we think the effect would be on children, on human children, who are exposed for fifteen years instead of nine days or a month? Lots of people who are in risk assessment are saying it should be fiftyfold or one hundredfold, not tenfold.

So it should be at least tenfold, and we should be doing pediatric assessments, not basing it on adult assessments. We need to use human evidence, because we have it, and there's no argument against using it. But we're not using it.

Within the act itself, they're now saying that any consensus to be reached on a pesticide has to go with the ministerial decision in Canada, based on the way our Parliament works. We're saying that's ridiculous and it needs to be changed. When you have a pesticide that comes up, we know how long it takes to be evaluated. It sits there for a couple of years, and we have lobbying.

No, we don't have a moving target. This is unacceptable risk. This is a scientific decision. The minister is not in a position to make this decision. Set it in policy, however we go about it.

Those are the things that should be in that act and are not. I think people are concerned that by trying to get some of these things, it would delay it. As it is right now, it doesn't touch on any of these issues of pediatric risk that, again, the NRC, an incredibly conservative body of scientists, has come up with. So let us include at least those as a bare minimum.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): So do you see a mindset or an attitude of acceptance for some of these ideas in the PMRA itself?

Dr. Kelly Martin: Within the PMRA, when we first asked them, they said these things are done in Canadian risk assessment. So I think it's clear the PMRA has no knowledge of what's being done in risk assessment. No, they're not open to a lot of ideas.

I think Mr. Rock was there when we struggled for three hours with Claire Franklin and the PMRA to try to come up with some resolve that we would move forward on these issues. I don't see them as being open about it. I don't see them as being very knowledgeable about it. I think, as the commissioner says, there's no knowledge of what's going on in other departments, and I don't think they have any real resolve. I mean, this is two years since we tabled it as a discussion point, and it's been put off.

So, no, there's no resolve on the part of the PMRA. I don't know how, except through public pressure and ministerial pressure, to change that. I don't see any resolve within the PMRA to move towards it unless harmonization forces them to.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): We've been told by both the PMRA and industry witnesses that they are doing risk assessment based on children's sensitivities.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: Well, we were told that as well, verbally and in letters, but when we looked at the actual documentation, we found subjectiveness. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. We found a process that's not transparent and accessible to us.

We made a whole lot of recommendations about making it much clearer as to whether or not those things are happening, and specific steps that need to be taken to ensure proper evaluation of, specifically, children's health outcomes.

So, yes, they say that, verbally and in letters, but when you look at the actual documentation, it's not adequate. That's one of the recommendations. There needs to be a guideline, probably enshrined in the statute, that lays out the process they apply so that we know what they're doing.

As to formulas, they're not there at all. That's why we went into such detail with this fairly tedious list of recommendations. It's to really tease it out—for instance, show us what you mean when you say, yes, you do incorporate these things, because it's not transparent in the documentation. Frankly, we're not just going to take their word for it. We want to see evidence of a process that actually does...

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Another point I wanted to make is that, as Kelly said, we can learn an awful lot from what's been done in the United States and the mistakes that have been made. It's grinding very slowly, because of lobbying pressure and this insistence on absolute proof. So again, we need to build the precautionary approach into the legislation so that we make decisions on the weight-of-evidence approach, using a precautionary approach to reduce risk overall and prevent harm over the long term.

Dr. Kelly Martin: In looking at that, one point reflects the PMRA. For those of us who sit on this committee, it's unbelievable that the PMRA acts, quite frankly—and I've read in letters that this happens... We had a presentation by risk assessors from the Health Protection Branch, written documents presented to the PMAC. From their presentation, no, they don't incorporate this; no, they don't have a systematic approach; and it depends on who does it and when it's done.

Dan Krewski, the risk assessor from Health Protection Branch who was the main investigator for the Americans, a world-renowned risk assessor, left the Health Protection Branch very recently; he's at the University of Ottawa. He speaks about this. He is the risk assessor. I work with him. He tells you it's not done. This is the PMRA.

Show it to us; tell us. How can you come forward and say you're doing something when you're not sure or you're not doing it? Yet that's the sort of response we're getting from the PMRA.

This is a scientific approach. If you don't have an approach, just say you don't really have a systematic approach, though you do this and this. But that's not how it comes forward. There's this big screen of something behind it, even to the minister, saying, “Yes, we'll come up with that”, and two years later we have nothing, and we will have nothing, because they just don't have a systematic approach to give to us.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you.

Madame Girard-Bujold.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Madam Chair, Dr. Martin keeps referring to a bill apparently introduced in 1997 that neither you or me are aware of. I would like to get things straight about this bill, which, according to her, does address a number of elements. I would like to know which ones in particular.

The information provided to us by today's witnesses was most valuable and will help us make strides. We had an opportunity to discuss what the PMRA should have done but did not as well as what commitment it made but did not fulfil.

I am extremely grateful to you. Your testimony was a real eye opener for me in many areas I was not familiar with. This has been a very productive meeting. Thank you all.

Finally, I would appreciate if you could clarify for me this matter of the bill.


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I think we need a clarification of whether it is actual drafted legislation or elements or proposals for legislation.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: There definitely are proposals that I have dated January 1999.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Yes, and we have that.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: But as far as I know, they are not drafted as a bill, and they have not gone forward for first reading.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): No, nothing has come forward in the House at all. But we'll get that clarification.

Were there any other questions?


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Dr. Martin referred to 1997, and not 1990, as Ms. Cooper just did. We cannot be talking about the same bill.


Dr. Kelly Martin: It's the same proposal. It's just sitting. We haven't had a meeting for eight months, so it was my understanding that it would be going forward for draft as a bill. I don't know where it's at right now. It's just that it's been sitting for years. It's quite outdated, but people are afraid to try to make big changes or any changes to it for fear that it will just delay it another five or ten years.

Ms. Kathy Cooper: We are talking about the same thing?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Yes, you are. I believe the minister has said in the House that the proposals, whatever were before the PMAC...

Mr. Jordan.

Mr. Joe Jordan: I have a procedural point. Tomorrow we're meeting at 8:45?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): The problem is I wanted to discuss that with the committee. We'll finish and I'll raise this as an issue.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Yes, okay.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Were there any other questions of the witnesses?

Some hon. members: No.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I just had one quick little question. I asked you whether there was a mindset or an attitude to look at a more child-centred approach with the PMRA. Does this exist within the PMAC?

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Dr. Kelly Martin: No. Well, does it? You know, PMRA has two advisory committees. One is an economic committee, which is industry reps. The second is the PMAC, which has industry reps and a variety of other representatives. So there's a big argument against that. This feels a bit loaded. Why don't we have a purely medical or a purely science-based advisory committee, because we can't move on anything? The people that are there from industry are paid to be there by industry. Even if you talk to them over lunch and they agree with the topic, they can't move across the fence on these issues.

So is there a child-based approach? There are people there who have interests in children, for sure. But there are just a few of those. And no, PMAC certainly doesn't introduce that to the PMRA. I think it certainly could if there were a medical or science advisory, but that isn't how the PMAC is set up. It's a very... it's just fighting to maintain almost a status quo, and so I think the answer is no.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): We were told by industry reps last week that the PMAC had more than half environmentalists.

Dr. Kelly Martin: That was my reference in my talk.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I know.

Dr. Kelly Martin: They love to divide us into... I work in the emergency room. What's environmentalist about... we're physicians. The head of the public health branch of Calgary is not an environmentalist. There's a farmer who sits in there beside me; who is he? So I think the division makes it very easy for them. They just put people in both corners.

It's half industry. It's well represented by industry, and there are people from World Wildlife and Sierra Club and from a learning disabilities group and different physicians, different researchers from universities that have been invited, and I think the researchers are also put into environmentalist groups. I'm not sure, but I think it depends how you divide the line.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): All right. Are there any other questions for the witnesses?

I want to thank you very much for your testimony. It's been very enlightening.

Just before we adjourn, committee, we have a procedural issue to quickly discuss. Mr. Jordan.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Well, as the only person who actually comes at 8.45 a.m., and I'm getting lonely... We've got to do it tomorrow because we tell the witnesses that, but I would just question the wisdom of the 8.45 a.m. stuff.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I'm not entirely sure how we started at 8.45 a.m., but we did—

Mr. Joe Jordan: I don't think we have yet.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): We haven't started at 8.45 a.m.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Maybe we should bring it up.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I think we should bring it up when the chair is here next week, and we need to bring up the number of meetings a week.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Would you do that then?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Would I do that? Mr. Jordan, you're more than welcome to do that.

A voice: Now he's scared.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Don't let him scare you.

The meeting is adjourned.