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ENVI Committee Meeting

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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, December 2, 1999

• 0851


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan (York North, Lib.)): I'd like to call the committee to order. My name is Karen Kraft Sloan. I'm actually the vice-chair. Our chair is not here.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are undertaking a study of 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.

I'd like to welcome our witnesses here today. We have Dr. Bernard Hill and Dr. Blackshaw from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dr. Pierre Mineau from Environment Canada.

Who would like to go first, Dr. Mineau or the agriculture people? Dr. Mineau. If you could keep your comments to about ten minutes or so, that would be great.

Dr. Pierre Mineau (Researcher and Section Head, Pesticides, Environment Canada): Thank you.

I'm a research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Conservation Service, Environment Canada. I'm also the head of the pesticide section of the National Wildlife Research Centre.

I've been working in the area of wildlife toxicology since 1978. Since 1982 I have been working almost exclusively on issues dealing with pesticides and wildlife. Between 1978 and 1984 I was responsible for providing Agriculture Canada, which was then the pesticide regulatory agency, with the assessment of pesticide impacts on wildlife. I did this for about half of the time. The other half of my time was spent doing research on more generic issues involving pesticides and wildlife. Since 1984 and the advent of the PMRA, the three members of my section and I have continued working on pesticide safety issues and wildlife, as well as on issues concerning wildlife and agriculture more generally.

So today I am speaking to you as an expert in the area of wildlife pesticide impacts and as one who has had a fairly longstanding experience of the Canadian regulatory system and other systems around the world.

Having read transcripts of the hearings of this committee, I know the committee has had a number of questions on the insecticide carbofuran. So not having been given any specific questions to answer, I decided I would address that particular topic. I will give you a brief overview of the involvement of the Canadian Wildlife Service with this insecticide, and I've appended a more complete synopsis to my statement.

I first summarized the evidence against this insecticide in 1987. Agriculture Canada responded by announcing a special review in 1990. A discussion document was published in 1993, which invited comment on the risks and benefits of the insecticide. This was followed by cancellations of some use patterns in 1995 and then again in 1998.

Throughout this period and still today, one point of discussion has always been the small number of bird kills reported in Canada given the large market share of this product. I'd like to elaborate on that. A recurrent leitmotif, if you wish, of my briefings to the PMRA over the years has been the difficulty of uncovering bird mortality even when it's occurring on a very large scale. There are several reasons for this.

• 0855

Finding the evidence of a bird kill involves large, intensive, systematic surveys and searches of the areas that have been treated, as well as a number of chemical and biochemical analyses. The cost of these operations is actually beyond the resources of the Canadian Wildlife Service. We're talking here of studies that may cost anywhere from $125,000 right up to possibly $1 million—and that's for every use pattern.

Even when a large, industry-funded research effort is put in place, the results are far from certain. In field trials that were conducted in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in canola fields, well-trained search teams were only able to find about a quarter of carcasses that were placed there the night before by experimenters. On the subsequent day, they only found 6% to 7% of the carcasses. The success rates are even lower when real kills take place, because many species will seek cover when poisoned. There could also be a substantial delay between when wildlife ingest a toxic dose and when they eventually succumb.

This is why a pesticide risk assessment has to be based not on a single field trial, but on a weight-of-evidence approach of that chemical and of other chemicals like it.

Another recurring point of discussion between ourselves and the agency has been that there is a double standard when it comes to registering pesticides. They are registered based largely on studies that have been generated in the U.S. and in other countries. However, when there is evidence of kills and other impacts in other countries, one tends to dismiss these accounts because they are not occurring in Canada.

I contend that each study and each incident, whether it's foreign or Canadian, has to be considered in light of the Canadian use patterns of the pesticide as well as the Canadian environment. It is based on such a consideration that I concluded in the late 1980s that the liquid formulation of carbofuran, which was mentioned in a few committee meetings, also presented an extreme risk to birds. I still believe this is the case today for most of the continuing use patterns of this insecticide.

In April of this year Environment Canada wrote to the PMRA suggesting what we believe to be a win-win situation and a solution to the continuing debate over the liquid formulation of carbofuran. In that letter, we urged the PMRA to compel the registrant to carry out the monitoring necessary to ascertain whether or not our assessment of the high risk in Canada was indeed correct. Based on the reply to this letter, the PMRA has concluded that the current carbofuran use patterns involve minimal exposure to birds. I've not been able to see the basis for that assessment, but scientifically we believe it is not correct.

We're extremely pleased that the granular formulations of carbofuran have been cancelled in Canada and we're looking for more restrictions on other toxic granular insecticides.

To put granular insecticides in perspective for this committee, data have shown that a farmer seeding a quarter section of canola will leave about 14 million granules of insecticide on the soil surface after he is done. With carbofuran, a single granule is lethal to a songbird. With terbufos, which is the other product currently registered, the kill rate is about 50% following a single granule ingestion. We know that those granules unfortunately are attractive to birds.

Returning to liquid carbofuran, I remain convinced, based on the best available science, that the continuing use, especially in cornfields but also on potato and other crops, will continue to cause regular but diffuse bird mortality in and around treated fields. This mortality will likely go undetected because of the difficulty of detection, which I alluded to earlier, as well as the absence of a comprehensive monitoring effort.

This brings me to a related issue that has also been raised in this committee and which affects our ability as scientists to protect the wildlife resource against specified impacts.

The committee has heard that the responsibility for post-registration monitoring remained with Environment Canada when the PMRA was created. Although language to that effect does appear on documents drafted at the time, I wish to clarify a few points, especially in my area of expertise—the impact on wildlife.

Environment Canada has always had a very small capability in the area of post-registration monitoring. The intent within the Canadian Wildlife Service has always been to conduct generic research on pesticide problems, research that will elucidate general principles and lead to enhanced wildlife protection from all pesticides. With the high number of products in use, Environment Canada is not in a position to be assessing every product's environmental performance once it's released in the environment.

• 0900

We very much believe in the polluter pays principle, as embodied in CEPA. We believe the manufacturer bears the responsibility of ensuring environmental safety. In other countries, such as the U.K., the environmental monitoring of pesticides after they are registered is funding through a levy on pesticide sales.

Here, therefore, is the problem in a nutshell. The PMRA registers the pesticides expecting that Environment Canada will take care of any post-registration problems that arise. However, Environment Canada cannot compel the registrant to assist in this monitoring, either financially or in providing technical assistance.

Incidentally, even if Environment Canada had the resources to do this work, it would face serious challenges.

One, we receive no advance warning of any regulatory decision. We find out through PMRA's discussion and decision documents, just like any other citizen of Canada. By definition, therefore, we would be in a position of trying to mount a surveillance effort at the eleventh hour when all the pertinent decisions on allowable uses and rates have already been taken by the PMRA.

Two, when the PRMA registers new pesticides, it does not currently compel the manufacturer to provide the biochemical and chemical diagnostic tools necessary to diagnose a kill. With some of the new chemicals out today, we would be unable to carry out a diagnosis even if we had the bodies in front of us.

Three, we have no information whatsoever on what pesticides are being used where, making any rational and cost-effective surveillance quite difficult. If the current proposals go forward, pesticide sales data will only be available in a summarized form, which is unsuitable for product-specific monitoring.

Lastly, Canada is probably the strictest country in the world when it comes to protecting data submitted by pesticide registrants. Data endpoints, such as the acute toxicity of product X on species Y, are considered to be proprietary information in Canada, unlike the situation in the U.S. Data surrounding wildlife kills have also been treated as confidential and their use made very restrictive. The requirement that data be used only for the purposes for which it was collected—in other words, to facilitate registration of the pesticide—means that a number of scientific analyses based on comparing field and laboratory data for different pesticides are not possible, or if they're possible, they could land the Canadian researcher in a position of untenable personal liability.

We remain hopeful that we can work with the PMRA in order to achieve protection of the resource for which we have the mandate, but as you can see, there are a number of significant hurdles that remain.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Dr. Mineau.

Dr. Hill.

Dr. Bernard D. Hill (Environmental Chemist, Lethbridge Research Centre, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food): Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'm a research scientist working in the area of environmental chemistry at the Lethbridge Research Centre, which is part of the research branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

This brief contains a short history of my work with pesticides and my relationships with the PMRA. This perspective is that of a working level scientist rather than a management or policy perspective.

While preparing this brief, I've consulted with some of my Agriculture and Agri-Food colleagues who also work with pesticides, namely, Dr. Alan Cessna, from Saskatoon, Dr. Tom Wolf, from Saskatoon, Dr. Neil Harker, from Lacombe, and Dr. Ken Kirkland, from Melfort.

I was hired in 1978 as a pesticide residue chemist in the crop entomology section at Lethbridge, Alberta. My initial mandate was to conduct environmental fate and dissipation studies on insecticides to gather data in support of registration decisions. My experiments were usually conducted in cooperation with entomologist colleagues who studied insect response in the same experiments. We investigated the control of several insects, for example, leaf cutter bee parasites, cutworms, grasshoppers, and Russian wheat aphid.

Often aerial application was used. My task was to measure the amount of insecticide deposited, the location of the deposits relative to the insects, and the persistence of the residues in the environment. The objective was usually to determine the lowest efficacious rate as well as the environmental fate. Often my data helped to explain how the insects contacted the residue, so there was an efficacy component to my residue analysis as well as the environmental fate component.

The insecticides were usually new numbered compounds that had been initially submitted for registration. We cooperated closely with different chemical companies to do this research. They supplied formulated product, analytical standards, information, research direction, and some financial support. Some of the chemical companies were BASF, AgrEvo, DowElanco, ICI Chipman, and Monsanto.

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We also cooperated quite closely with the former pesticides directorate in Ottawa when investigating these numbered compounds. Registration authorities would inform us where there were gaps in the data submitted by the chemical companies and where there were environmental concerns that needed to be investigated by an independent third party. Contact was direct, by phone, and a good working relationship was usually established.

The results of our research were submitted both directly, using pesticides residue report forms, and indirectly, via scientific and miscellaneous publications, to these registration authorities. As well, the pesticides directorate would send evaluation officers to our scientific meetings on a yearly basis for face-to-face consultations.

Since 1991 my research focus has shifted from insecticides to herbicides and from new products to mostly older, registered products, and from controlled efficacy experiments to larger environmental monitoring experiments. I have conducted several experiments on herbicide leeching into groundwater in Alberta. I'm currently investigating the amount of herbicides in Alberta rainfall.

The rationale for my current research is for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to be knowledgeable, responsible, sustainable, and proactive about any environmental problems caused by herbicide use.

My relationship with registration authorities in Ottawa changed significantly starting about 1990, and most noticeably after 1995, with the formation of the PMRA under Health Canada. Essentially, all contact with PMRA registration officials ceased.

The policy seemed to become one of no communication except perhaps when a problem arose, when PMRA would seek data. There was no obvious mechanism for submitting data directly to PMRA. PMRA representatives stopped attending Western Trace Organics Analysts workshops. Explanations of individual registration decisions became difficult to obtain.

In one instance, I made a special effort to submit leeching data about a BASF herbicide product called Accord, or Quinclorac, when it was being considered for registration. In fact, I had difficulty obtaining an explanation of why this product was eventually registered. When I questioned further the explanation I was originally given, I didn't receive a response.

One problem I have had since 1995 is understanding all the different government agencies related to PMRA—how they interact and who among PMRA, Health Canada, Health Protection Branch, CFIA, and provincial agencies is really responsible for what. Another problem is how to contact someone within PMRA, and whom.

On a more positive note, many things about PMRA have improved considerably lately, perhaps in part because of this standing committee. There have been serious attempts by PMRA to re-establish communication. Registration officials have reappeared at our Western Trace Organics Analysts workshops. The PMRA web page is now becoming most useful. The 1-800 number hotline has proven most useful in the past. A good working relationship has been established with the local Lethbridge PMRA regional pesticides officer. I have recently advised the PMRA on certain local compliance issues.

I would like to respectfully suggest some recommendations.

First, on the PMRA web page, I would like to see a list of PMRA staff, their responsibilities, and exactly how to contact them.

I'd like to see a clearer delineation, perhaps also on the PMRA web page, of all the agencies responsible for different pesticide activities in Canada.

One-to-one relationships need to be re-established between independent, by which I mean non-chemical-company, pesticide researchers and the PMRA.

I recommend increased two-way communication between PMRA and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers about gaps in pesticide knowledge and what research needs to be conducted.

There should be re-establishment of a direct mechanism for submission of research data to PMRA in electronic form, with an official acknowledgement that the data was received, followed by some sort of mandatory feedback on exactly how it was used.

I'd also like to support full public access to non-proprietory registration data and I'd like to see the full explanations of how the registration decisions were made be available to the public.

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I have seen evidence that some of these recommendations are already being implemented, and I look forward to a more cooperative arrangement with PMRA in the future.

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

Dr. Blackshaw, do you have any comments you wish to make at this time?

Dr. R.E. (Bob) Blackshaw (Research Scientist, Weed Management, Lethbridge Research Centre, Research Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food): Yes, thanks.

As a research scientist, my research program deals with weed management in field crops grown on the Canadian prairies. This brief contains a short summary of my work with herbicides and my limited relationship with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

I began my career as a weed scientist at the Lethbridge Research Centre in 1986. My expertise lies in the areas of plant biology, plant physiology, and agronomic cropping systems. I am not an expert in herbicides and their various properties. However, over the years I've been involved in assessing herbicides in terms of crop tolerance, efficacy on weed species, and use in integrated weed management systems.

In the past, scientists within the research branch had considerable input into the herbicide registration process. Research data generated by the companies and by government and university scientists on herbicide efficacy and soil persistence was published in the research report of the Expert Committee on Weeds. It was readily available to, and utilized by, the former pesticides directorate of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Extensive discussions occurred at the annual meeting of the Expert Committee on Weeds between pesticides directorate staff and research branch and university scientists on the merits of registering a new herbicide. Registration staff toured field experiments at the research centres during the summer months to see first-hand the activity of experimental herbicides, and frequent consultations by phone occurred.

The pesticide registration process has changed considerably. Now the pesticide manufacturer submits all data directly to PMRA for registration assessment. A manufacturer's data submission package may or may not contain data collected by the research branch and university personnel. Little consultation, if any, occurs between PMRA and agricultural scientists within universities and the research branch. The majority of data is now generated by the pesticide manufacturer.

In recent years, much less direct research on pesticides is being conducted by the research branch and university researchers. Thus, their role in supplying relevant data for assessing registration by PMRA has greatly diminished. This has occurred because of a loss of scientific expertise in this area and the greater emphasis placed on research to develop such alternative methods of pest control as biological control and integrated pest management systems.

Any involvement I currently have with herbicide registration and PMRA is largely confined to minor use registration. In that process, registration is requested by a grower organization. Some of my research data has been used to support registrations.

For example, I have been involved with the Alberta Safflower Growers Association in obtaining registration of the herbicides trifluralin, ethalfluralin, and sethoxydim on safflower, and with the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission in obtaining registration of imazethapyr on dry bean. Processing these minor use submissions has often been very slow, but consultations occurred when needed and registrations were obtained.

The primary focus of my current research program deals with developing effective and economical weed management programs for cereals, oilseeds, and pulses grown on the prairies. That involves developing economic threshold levels so that farmers can determine a number of things—when weed control is warranted; crop rotation; higher crop seed rates; specific placement of fertilizer to allow crops to compete more effectively with weeds; and how to use agronomic practices such as cover crops, green manure crops, and silaging of crops to control weeds. Part of my research program deals with organic farming, where we are developing techniques to produce crops in the absence of pesticides.

Additionally, my colleagues and I are conducting studies on the effect of weed growth rates and environmental conditions on herbicide efficacy at various herbicide doses. This will determine under what conditions weed control can be attained at lower herbicide doses. However, the utilization of this information is restricted by our current registration system, where only one herbicide rate is registered. If a grower uses lower rates, they do so at their own risk and liability. Vendors, custom applicators, or pesticide companies that wish to promote or sell a rate reduction program cannot do so, as only the rate on the product label may be used.

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Thus, my general recommendations are as follows.

First, the issue surrounding the legalities of reduced pesticides rates needs to be dealt with if we are to make greater strides in IPM adoption and concurrent reductions in pesticide use in agriculture.

Secondly, although PMRA was deliberately created to be an independent body, there need to be better lines of communication between PMRA and agricultural scientists within universities and the research branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. This would be helpful to resolve certain issues or to direct future research studies.

Thirdly, a means of submitting relevant published scientific data to PMRA should be re-established. Often these studies provide more detailed information than that contained in the registration data submission package.

Thank you.

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

We'll begin our questioning by members of the committee. Rick Casson is first.

I'd like to mention to the committee that as of yesterday Mr. Casson is no longer with the environment committee. He has been transferred to the agriculture committee. Mr. Casson has been here for two and a half years, and I want to thank him very much for his dedication in his service to the committee. Mr. Gurmant Grewal will be replacing him.

Mr. Casson, you have five minutes.

Mr. Rick Casson (Lethbridge, Ref.): Five minutes? When did that change? Last year it was ten minutes, wasn't it?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): No.

Mr. Rick Casson: Okay. Madam Chairman, thanks for those comments. I appreciate that.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): No problem.

Mr. Rick Casson: I'd like to direct my first questions and comments to Mr. Hill.

I'd like to welcome all three of you, but especially the gentlemen from Lethbridge. It's nice to see some local people here to present your information.

Dr. Blackshaw, I have witnessed first-hand some of the alternative methods you're developing for controlling pests and weeds at the research station, and I'm encouraged by what I see there.

Dr. Hill, you have recommended seven positive things that could be done to increase the efficiency of the PMRA. That's great to see, because that's the kind of information we need. You indicated that in recent times or in the past little while the information flow between you and the PMRA has increased. When did that start happening, or when did you first notice that they were starting to take a little more interest in what you were doing?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Last spring I started to get inquiries from PMRA in conjunction with some publicity that came out on our herbicides in rainfall study in particular.

Mr. Rick Casson: It was about that time that we were discussing the possibility of having a PMRA review, so I can understand that this may have had a little bit of something to do with it as well.

The study you did in Lethbridge indicated that there was a high amount of chemicals in the rainfall. We have a printout. It looks like it came off a website or somewhere.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Just a minute, Mr. Casson. I would like to ask the members of the committee if they have a copy of that.

Okay, thank you.

Mr. Rick Casson: Have you any further information? This had to do with rainfall, but I'm particularly interested in groundwater. Have you expanded on this, or have you gone back to see if this data is as relevant today as it was then?

Dr. Bernard Hill: We began conducting research into herbicides in groundwater in 1991; on the research centre, in fact, is where we started. We reported the first detections of herbicides in groundwater in 1991. Before that, I don't think anybody in Alberta was really aware that it might be a problem.

We studied herbicides in groundwater from 1991 through to 1997, in southern Alberta, as well as in central Alberta around the Lacombe area.

Beginning in 1998 we started to look at herbicides in rainfall to get another picture of what's going on in the total ecosystem. We have conducted more herbicides in rainfall research in 1999. We have a two-year grant, and we will be looking at this issue again in the year 2000.

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Mr. Rick Casson: Okay.

Mr. Mineau, you indicate that you have trouble counting the mortality or finding the mortality in wildlife or wild birds. Do you do any research as to the numbers that are left if you can't tell how many are gone? Is there a decrease in species and numbers that you were studying?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: The closest we've come to that is an analysis of prairie bird populations. There are a number of declines going on in breeding songbirds in Canada, notably birds of open areas, of fields, of agricultural landscapes, and we have been able to link some of these declines to the use of the granular insecticides, to which I was alluding. At least it seems there's a correlational analysis. We cannot prove cause and effect, but certainly correlations appear to be stronger for that factor than for some of the other factors we were able to throw at the analysis.

Mr. Rick Casson: Thanks.

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


Go ahead, Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Dr. Blackshaw, the briefing notes prepared for us by the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament report that you recently returned from an assignment in Australia. I'm not certain what your work in Australia involved. I'm curious to know what you were working on in Australia and whether it can help us here in Canada.

Currently, Canada is experiencing many problems associated with resistance to pesticides. I don't know if you have seen any conclusive studies. Can the resistance problem be attributed to the overuse of pesticides and do we need to find new ways of doing things?

I'm also interested in your views on genetically modified foods.

Thank you.


Dr. Bob Blackshaw: You have several questions there. First I'll talk about my experience in Australia.

I had a great opportunity to go to Australia for a year. I went over there to learn specifically more about herbicide resistance, or weeds that have developed resistance to herbicides, and what the researchers and farmers in Australia are doing to combat that and solve that. They probably have the number one resistance problem in the world, so it was a good place to go to see first-hand what they were doing, and certainly I did learn a lot when I was there.

They are doing a very good job of developing integrated weed management programs. They've put a lot of research dollars into finding new methods of controlling weeds specifically—that's my area of research—and a lot of money extending that information to the growers there, and they are being successful.

That's not to say we're not doing that in Canada as well. I think we are making great strides, and that's the major focus of my research program. But research is long term, and extending information to farmers takes time as well.

Your second question was on doses of products. Part of our work is looking at reduced doses of pesticides—in my case, herbicides. A key theme in any integrated pest management program is to use lower doses of pesticides and in some cases not be able to use that pesticide at all. We know in some of our studies that if we do a number of things, such as increasing the crop seeding rate and having a good crop rotation scheme, a herbicide is not required any more.

My work with organic farmers in Saskatchewan and Alberta has been very enlightening, because obviously they are working without pesticides. Although they still have many problems with pests, they are finding ways to make that work. Working together with those farmers, I think we'll develop new systems over time, and there's no reason why non-organic farmers can't adopt some of those systems into their cropping systems.

Could you repeat the third question?


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I'd like you to talk to us about organic farming.


Dr. Bob Blackshaw: It's quite a different issue in a way. Certainly in western Canada canola is a major crop for us, so transgenic canola has been widely grown in the last few years. I think we're in range of at least 50% to 60% of our canola grown in western Canada this year being transgenic canola. Primarily we're talking about the Roundup Ready canola and the Liberty-tolerant canola.

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I think there is value to farmers in terms of weed control. Canola in particular was a crop where the weed control options were more limited than they were in cereal crops such as wheat and barley with regard to the herbicides we had and with the other ways of controlling weeds. There were certain weeds in canola that were difficult to control. These products have allowed better control, and I think the farmers have widely adopted that practice for that reason.

I guess there would be some advantages in terms of the herbicides that are being used as well. Both Roundup and Liberty would be considered to be probably more environmentally friendly than some of the herbicides that were previously used in canola.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Earlier, you talked about the weed management program that has been developed in Australia and noted that the country's agriculture department passes along information to growers. Is that the way things are done here in Canada as well or is this a new approach that we will be adopting in light of the research you conducted in Australia?


Dr. Bob Blackshaw: We are trying to convey some of the information from Australia. We've actually started a new research experiment, directly from my experiments from Australia, where we're looking at a broader range of integrated weed management practice. That experiment is being conducted at Lethbridge, at Lacombe, Alberta, and at Scott, Saskatchewan. That's a cooperative thing and will be a long-term experiment that will run for at least six years. We have the opportunity to show farmers those experiments. That's probably the best way way to convey information to farmers: to actually take them out into the field and show them that these practices can work.

Besides that, I have written some newsletters conveying what farmers are doing in Australia in terms of managing weeds, and that has been publicized by the farm press in western Canada.

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

Paddy Torsney, please.

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.): Thank you. I have a couple of technical questions.

First of all, Dr. Hill, thanks for your very clear goal-setting. It's a bit of a road map.

I was a bit confused, Dr. Blackshaw, by your last paragraph. Maybe you can explain to us the very last paragraph, where you talk about how:

    ...utilization of this information is restricted by our current registration system where usually only one herbicide rate is registered. If a grower uses lower rates, they do at their own risk and liability.

I'm a city gal, and I'm not sure exactly how that works. Maybe when you answer, you could also tell me what pulses are, because I only know of one kind.

Second, Dr. Mineau, again, I'm not sure I understand how you know you only have 25% of the bird carcasses, although my colleague who is the farm guy tells me that you actually placed the carcasses there. I'm not sure where you get them and how that works, so maybe you could explain the research. I don't understand it.

Also, you mentioned quite clearly at the end of your presentation, I think, that you're asking for a post-monitoring system once PMRA has licensed a pesticide. How do you see that working? You've mentioned million dollar figures per pesticide. What kind of budgets would you assign to it? Who would best do that? How would it work?

Those are my questions.

• 0930

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: Pulses are edible legumes; they are lentils, chickpeas, peas. They're all very nutritious; they're very good for all of us.

In terms of the pesticide dose, usually there's one rate of a herbicide that is registered for use. It's a rate that is intended to cover off multiple weed species. It's intended to cover off multiple stages of weeds and multiple environmental conditions. So it's sometimes a dose that's not at the higher end but it's a dose where we're giving a confidence level to the grower that it will perform, it will be efficacious most of the time. But we know there are situations in which he can lower the dose. If the weeds are very small, they're easier to kill in many cases. If we have good growing conditions, if we have good moisture and high humidity, good growing temperatures, then often the weeds are easier to control as well.

But in our current system it's difficult to talk about advising farmers to do that because really in the strict definition on the label they're supposed to use that one registered rate. When we move into integrated weed management systems, we also know that besides just the weed growth stage and environmental conditions, if we have a very competitive crop and we do some of these other things in specific placement of fertilizer where we're increasing the competitive ability of the crop with weeds, we know there are chances to reduce the rates of herbicides as well. In our current system it's just difficult to promote that to farmers.

In some other parts of the world they have, built into their registration system, more information on the stage of the weeds and the density of the weeds, and more of a sliding scale in terms of the herbicide dose that could be used. Denmark would be an example of that.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: I will go to the other question now. If I'm a farmer and I'm going to be using this, I have to use.... Who's making me use this amount? If it's a really moist year or whatever, and I can change this, who's saying you have to use what's licensed? I don't understand that part.

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: Really the rate on the label is the legal rate to use.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Rick Casson has a point of information. He's going to be a witness for us.

Mr. Rick Casson: When you're dealing with a chemical or a chemical company and they tell you to apply it at a certain rate and you don't, and if the weeds don't die or if you damage your crop or whatever, then you can't go back to the chemical company. So they're telling you on that label that this is how to apply it and this is how much to apply. If you vary from that, then you're on your own as far as results go.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: How do they know?

Mr. Rick Casson: All farmers are basically honest. They'll tell them.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: I knew that part. I think I'm going to have to go to the agriculture committee to understand this. Sorry.

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Your question had several parts.

Yes, first of all, those numbers there were put there for illustration purposes. Oftentimes when a field trial is conducted on a pesticide, carcasses will be seeded in the field. That's just to ask the simple question: If a bird were to die, would I have a chance to find it? So you will take small chickens, quail, whatever, and they're placed there unbeknownst to the searchers. Then they're collected and then you can work out a rate of recovery. Then if you find wild bird carcasses, you apply those rates of recovery to the wild bird carcasses as a fudge factor as to how many birds did die. It doesn't work with every compound. You do that with pesticides where you have a good chance of recovery, usually chemicals that kill fairly quickly so the animals don't leave the area completely.

• 0935

The reason for mentioning all that is simply to make the point that when a farmer goes into his field and says “I don't see any of these dead birds; you tell me it's killing 100,000 or a million birds a year, but I don't see them”—and I hear this all the time—the fact is that even well-disciplined, well-trained search teams have a really hard time finding carcasses. Sometimes dogs are employed. All sorts of strategies are employed. Radio tags are placed on wildlife sometimes to aid and assist in finding them. It is a very difficult task.

Especially with the spring application, you're talking about birds that in some cases have already moved into breeding territories, so they're fairly dispersed on territory. They're small, they're cryptic in nature, and they like cover, all of those things. And they're scavenged very rapidly. That's the other thing the carcass placement does for you: it gives you some idea of the scavenging pressure that is there.

On the question of post-registration monitoring, all I said is that to put together teams like that of trained individuals, house them, find a field, and so on, you're usually talking about a fairly large budget, and it is something that government cannot assume. In my own personal view, the ideal situation is when those requirements are placed at the feet of the registrant who stands to gain from the registration of that chemical.

In different countries, it's done in different ways. As I mentioned to you, I think one of the better systems is the one I'm familiar with in the U.K. where money goes into a pot based on sales of pesticides, and that pot is then used for government and non-government—I think it goes out to bid sometimes—to carry out post-registration surveillance.

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

Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.): Thank you very much.

Dr. Mineau, you've touched on a very important issue, the issue of money and who pays. If we talk to the manufacturer of the particular pesticide, in the scheme of things, Canada is looked upon as an afterthought. The percentage of use is very small, and therefore it's hard for that company to justify spending a lot of money.

The other thing is that if you compare it to other countries in the world, I would suggest it's not even a fair comparison, because government subsidizes farmers in the United States and in Europe to a far greater extent than they do here. So if the load is placed on the manufacturing company and that cost is passed through to the farmer, it renders them even less competitive than they are today. This is a dilemma that I think is important, and it touches at the heart of the whole registry process.

For instance, in the evolution of pesticides, we've gone to gradually more environmentally friendly, or what appear to be more environmentally friendly, pesticides. There are new ones on the horizon that are registered in the United States and elsewhere that are better than the ones we have now, but the process of getting them registered in Canada seems to be held up to a large extent by money.

Can you comment on that?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: I have a few comments on that. I'm not an economist, but I'll give you my point of view on this. I tried to make the point here that, yes, the Canadian use of pesticides is generally small, which is why I advocate that we make full use of data collected in other parts of the world.

As a scientist, I have difficulty with the notion that we use data to register pesticides when that data is collected offshore or in the U.S., but if problems arise with these pesticides, possibly because they have a better surveillance system down there, then we say, well, we don't have any kills in Canada, so we don't have a problem in Canada. I have a problem with that double standard, and I think that addresses the cost issue.

• 0940

On the subsidies, I'm not going to talk about farm subsidies. It's not my area. All I would like to say is that in the research we have done, we've identified that oftentimes in an array of seven or eight alternative pesticides available, if you were to remove the more toxic two or three products, you would take care of 90% of the problems. That would be at no cost to the farmer, or if there is a cost, it's a very small incremental one. So I don't believe placing swift and effective restrictions on compounds that are obviously bad apples, if you wish, in the barrel will be that much of an imposition on our farmers.

The last point you made, about new products being necessarily environmental friendly, I cannot agree with entirely. Yes, there are some new products coming through that are a clear improvement over some of the old ones. However, that is not always the case.

I sit on the U.S. Science Advisory Panel, and I was asked by the administrator of EPA a few months ago to look at a new product being proposed for registration in the U.S. Not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of the other members of the SAP, that product was one of the more toxic, more persistent, more insidious compounds that anyone had ever seen. It's now being proposed for registration in the U.S. It's actually used to a limited extent. According to the EPA, it has also been put forward for registration in Canada.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you very much.

Dr. Hill, as a comment on the phenoxy herbicides you researched in air and water, and so on, do they go away, or do they just accumulate?

Dr. Bernard Hill: They do eventually dissipate and degrade and disappear.

Mr. Julian Reed: Over how long a period of time is that?

Dr. Bernard Hill: We measure things in terms of half-life. That's the time for one half of what you measure today to disappear. Depending on whether you're talking about in water, in air, or in soil, typically the half-life ranges anywhere from something like five days to thirty days.

Mr. Julian Reed: I have one very brief question for you.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Reed, that will have to be in the second round.

Mr. Jordan, do you have any questions?

Mr. Joe Jordan (Leeds—Grenville, Lib.): No, sorry.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Hill, we're going to be checking Hansard from last week, but I thought one of the witnesses had indicated that there were no real issues with drift. Your one-page summary says that herbicides enter the air via application drift, volatilization from plant and soil surfaces, and erosion dust. Maybe you could explain that a little more for the record, please.

Dr. Bernard Hill: As you've indicated, we think there are three main routes by which these products are getting into the air. Drift is just one of the routes. The current literature suggests that the other two are equally as important as drift from the spring application itself.

With volatilization of these products off the treated soil or crops, from the time they're down and dry, let's say two hours after spraying, this volatilization can occur for up to ten days.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Perhaps you could help the non-science members of the committee by explaining volatilization.

Dr. Bernard Hill: The chemical is sprayed in a formulation on the weeds. It hits the leafs' surface. A great deal of it also hits the soil surface. It's unavoidable. The product then dries down, because you spray these chemicals in a water solution. The water evaporates, and you're left with a residue of the chemical. You can't see it. It's minute amounts in the environment.

My job is to find these residues in the environment, but these residues themselves can volatilize directly, evaporate into the air, move from a solid form directly and vaporize into the air. You see this when snow sublimes, for instance, directly into the air. Also, with dew in the morning or small subsequent rainfalls, these products are rewetted, and then as the water evaporates, these products can co-distill, go back up into the air.

• 0945

So you have this process occurring as long as those residues exist and are available. There are also competing processes where you have degradation occurring at the same time. So there's a race to get the residue degraded so that it doesn't evaporate too much into the air.

With regard to the other problem with soil erosion, these products would be attached to soil, and with the winds we have in southern Alberta in particular, it's quite easy for the soil to be whipped up into the air. That soil would be treated soil, and there would be herbicides attached to the dust.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Have any studies been done in cold temperatures with regard to herbicides and pesticides more generally? I know that Dr. David Schindler has been doing some studies out in Alberta and B.C. on the deposition of PCBs in the mountains. Originally, PCBs were just a problem farther north, but they're finding depositions within the Rocky Mountains, which is very close to the water supplies of large urban centres. I'm wondering if you have done similar studies to see if there is more persistence in the atmosphere because they don't degrade as quickly in colder climates.

Dr. Bernard Hill: We've just initiated this work. Last winter we took some snow samples to see if these products were in the air in the winter and whether they were coming down in the snow, and we found very little in the snow in the winter.

With regard to these herbicide residues we're seeing in the rainfall, we believe there are two components. The first component is long-range transport. A fraction of herbicides seem to be in the air globally and moving around all the time, but there's also a fraction that gets there from local spray activities, and that by far is the larger fraction. When we study rainfall over the course of the summer, we see an increase in herbicides in the rainfall in June and early July, which corresponds with the agriculture spray season and the homeowner dandelion season. So I would say that the background levels that are floating around globally, if you like, are about one-tenth of what we see.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): You have answered two of my questions about the long-range transport and the impact of domestic spraying.

Are there questions on the second round, Mr. Casson, Madame Girard-Bujold?

Mr. Lincoln, did you have a question on the first round?

Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.): Yes, I wouldn't mind asking a question.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): This would be on the first round, Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Yes. I would like to ask Dr. Hill a question.

You mentioned in your brief, Dr. Hill, that we should have full public access to non-proprietary registration data and that we should expect full explanations of registration decisions to be made available to the public.

As you might know, PMRA is now preparing new legislation that would give the public access to information except for CBI, the confidential business information of the registrars. This seems to leave a tremendous loophole in public access, because from the papers I've seen, the definition of CBI seems to be pretty extensive. Could you comment on that and on what optimally you would like to see as public information access?

Dr. Bernard Hill: I agree with what you said. It's my understanding that what they're calling proprietary information is too broad.

• 0950

In the early stages of the registration process, the exact structure of the chemical and some of the chemistry would necessarily have to be a trade secret and would have to be proprietary. But with regard to how long it persists in the soil, how long it persists in the crop, when it's sprayed, where it ends up, whether it leaches, whether it gets into groundwater, and what column leaching studies have been conducted, I don't see why that information shouldn't be made available to the public at some point in the registration process before the final decision is made.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Have you made that suggestion or recommendation to PMRA in those specific terms so that your view can be taken into account for the proposed legislation?

Dr. Bernard Hill: No, I haven't. This is the first process in a long time where we've had an opportunity to provide input about PMRA, to be honest with you.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: I suggest, Dr. Hill, that it might be timely for an organization as important as yours to do that. I believe the legislation is being prepared, and I think a lot of people are concerned that access to information by the public will be restricted by the CBI. So perhaps you could make that recommendation formally.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I gathered from your brief that you are saying that PMRA now relies more and more on manufacturers' data and that there is not much of a chance to provide your input and the input of academics and other scientists. In other words, there's more and more reliance on the manufacturers' information and less and less on that of outside parties. Could you comment on that and confirm that your brief transmits that feeling?

Dr. Bernard Hill: In general, you're correct, but in their defence, it's not all PMRA's fault that we're not getting to comment on some of the registration decisions. That was the way PMRA was set up in 1995, to be independent. There was this fear that because Agriculture Canada had been in charge of the registration system pre-1995, it was in a conflict of interest.

A couple of things have happened. Within Agriculture Canada Research Branch, we no longer have a mandate to look at the efficacy of herbicides or insecticides. We no longer deal with the efficacy part of it in our research. So from the point of view of how well the product works, since we're not conducting research on that any longer, we wouldn't have any input.

The chemical companies up for registration are the only ones who are doing that, perhaps along with the odd university researcher.

The other thing that has come into play here is this requirement for GLP, good laboratory practice. Because of some fiascos in the States with the falsification of data in toxicological testing, etc., there is now a stringent requirement as to how the data is collected pursuant to registration. Although it isn't necessary yet in Canada, the chemical companies want to kill two birds with one stone, and they want all data and research that's done on products to conform to GLP. At present most of the government agencies, including our research centre, don't have the resources to do GLP-certified research.

There are reasons we've had restricted input into registration decisions, so it's not all PMRA's fault.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I'll put you on the second round, Mr. Lincoln.

• 0955

Dr. Hill, is it possible to get a copy of documentation of criteria with respect to GLP for the committee? We would just go to PMRA for that?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Yes, there is a lot of information out there on GLP requirements. It's quite onerous.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Is there an executive summary or something, so that the committee members can see what the elements are, as opposed to having something very technical?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Yes, we should be able to get that.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): That would be great. Thank you very much, Dr. Hill.

Second round, Mr. Casson.

Mr. Rick Casson: Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dr. Blackshaw, what kinds of results can we expect from the research you're doing in the not-too-distant future, say ten years out, in weed management or weed control without using herbicides? Are we going to be seeing significant advances in this? Or have you already? How much less herbicide are we using? Do you have any idea of those kinds of numbers?

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: I probably can't quote you specific numbers. Other people may be able to provide that data. Certainly company information may provide some of that over the years.

I think we can look forward to reductions in the future. First of all, I'd like to say that many farmers are interested in reducing rates. Part of that's driven by cost. They're interested in reducing their costs of production. And I would say that most farmers are very concerned about the environment, as well, and they'd certainly like to move in that direction.

In our work we are finding methods farmers can move toward that will be able to reduce pesticides and herbicides. I think there are really two ways of going at it: one is to use a herbicide less frequently or to use lower doses of herbicides in your overall weed management system, and then the other approach is really not to use a herbicide at all and going into really more of an organic cropping system. So as I indicated earlier, research is long-term, and it's going to take another five or ten years to be able to provide some of that information to producers, I think.

Mr. Rick Casson: Dr. Hill, in this one handout we have of the research you did in Lethbridge on rainfall, there's one particular thing, which is that the amount of 2,4-D you detected was an extremely high amount. Why is that? Or have you gone back to see if it's still there? It seems to be really a huge number in comparison to the other things you found.

Dr. Bernard Hill: I agree with you. We use a lot of 2,4-D in southern Alberta. In the County of Lethbridge, according to the latest figures on sales, which is 1993—and I'm going to get updated figures for 1998, but the situation won't have changed much—we have the highest 2,4-D sales of any county in the province.

The other issue that might be going on is we use a lot of the ester formulation in the south because we're a semi-arid region and the ester formulation penetrates the thicker cuticles of the weeds better than the amine formulation. The farmers have learned that they get more bang for their buck by spraying the ester formulation. So the ester formulation tends to be more volatile than the amine formulation. That might be contributing to the uniqueness.

The other issue is our weather. Southern Alberta is a hot, windy, dusty area, compared to other places.

Mr. Rick Casson: It's not that bad.

Dr. Bernard Hill: In particular, we also get frequent rains in June, as you know, and the dryland farmers rely on this to survive. So you have this combination of high 2,4-D use, and you have hot and windy and dusty conditions. Then you have frequent rainfalls in June, small rainfalls cleansing the air and bringing down this 2,4-D that's in the air. June is the spray season for the farmers and for the lawn-care companies and homeowners. So it seems like there's a combination of several things that happen to mesh and appear to give us higher detections of 2,4-D and rainfall than have been observed in other parts of Canada.

• 1000

Mr. Rick Casson: Isn't 2,4-D used in cities on lawns as a weed killer?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Yes.

Mr. Rick Casson: Do you have any idea what was in this study you did that PMRA didn't like so you had to remove this from the net?

Dr. Bernard Hill: PMRA made an inquiry about our herbicide and rainfall study. We had the initial results of our 1998 study on our web page. The difficulty comes in that it's an initial study but it's publicly funded, and we don't want to restrict information or sit on the data. So we made the information available on our website. We have a section called “Questions and Concerns”, not conclusions.

So we're throwing this open for public discussion and for input from people. One of the questions and concerns at the end dealt with the health issue. PMRA questioned whether we had the expertise to be raising questions on the health issue. That's legitimate. That's their responsibility. So that's a legitimate question from them. We didn't really have a problem with that.

But where we're coming from is we have Dr. Paul Hasselback, the medical officer of health for the Chinook Regional Health Authority, Lethbridge, as a full cooperator on our study. He was our source of medical expertise. He has some health concerns about what might be in the air in Lethbridge and area. They're doing independent studies as to what might be on the dust in the air.

I think the word “asthma” is what scares people. As you know, we have a high incidence of asthma in southern Alberta. It's a bit of a leap. We can't make any conclusions in that regard. This was part-way through what's going to be three years of study on this. However, there's no sense hiding concerns and questions. So that's why we had that statement included there.

In retrospect, I don't have a problem with PMRA raising the question about why the agriculture department would be commenting on a health concern. It's a valid question.

Mr. Rick Casson: Thank you.

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


Go ahead, Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Dr. Hill, I'm very surprised by what you said. You stated that prior to 1990, you were in contact with agencies here in Ottawa. However, since the formation of the PMRA, all contact with these officials has ceased and you are kept in the dark. You don't know who to talk to. First of all, why was the PMRA established initially? Was it to assist persons like yourself or was it to derail your efforts? Was it established to provide assistance or to keep everyone in the dark? Have you advised the PMRA that you have problems communicating with it?


Dr. Bernard Hill: Really what happened is the bottom just fell out, in that the contacts I had with the pesticides directorate, the precursor to PMRA, left or changed jobs. They changed responsibilities. Phone numbers were changed. There was just no easy way to know who was responsible for what any more or who to contact.

At the same time, there seemed to be a tremendous drop in chemical companies trying to get new products registered, numbered compounds registered. I think that was because of the slowness of the market. It was also that we did not have insect outbreaks. Once the cutworm and grasshopper outbreaks in western Canada were finished in about 1985-86, there was just a lull in pesticide activity in western Canada, and it takes a chemical company to initiate the new registrations. And all this occurred at the same time.

• 1005

All communication just ceased for a while. We continued to do some research and to publish this research, and it then was up to PMRA to pick up the results of our studies from our publications. But that's a one-way process. We're assuming that they do that, and it's up to them to do that. But it would be much better if we had two-way direct communication, some one-on-one relationships established.

I think this web page would be tremendous. I don't see why you can't have a name and a number and who's responsible for what right there, whether it's a researcher from Agriculture Canada or a member of the public or whoever. And sure, you can't expect to get the guy on the phone every time you dial, and you may have to deal with voice mails, etc., but at least it's clearly laid out as to who to contact.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Madam Chair, I'm very surprised. The PMRA has a complex administrative structure in place. How many persons work for this agency? They must have very specific jobs to do. How is that they cannot communicate with our witnesses? Have representatives of the PMRA ever appeared before our committee and been questioned?


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Yes, we've had the PMRA here; we've had the PMRA twice.

Are we having them again?

The Clerk of the Committee: At this stage no decision has been made, Madam Chair.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): We may call the PMRA back.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: We have heard many people complain about the PMRA since the start of our hearings. Yesterday, one agency catalogued 45 separate complaints against this agency. Maybe it's time PMRA officials appear before the committee and respond to all of the complaints that we have received. Even Dr. Blackshaw mentioned in his presentation that he used to be in contact with officials, but that contacts have now ceased. Moreover, the registration process has changed considerably. Everything is different now. Were you notified of these changes in advance, or were these changes implemented unilaterally, without your being consulted? I'd like you to address that issue.


Dr. Bob Blackshaw: I think that's a difficult question and a difficult one to address.

Dr. Hill mentioned earlier that part of this was done deliberately. Certainly Dr. Hill or myself were not part of those discussions at all. But I think there was some concern over conflict of interest, because the pesticide directorate was being housed and reporting to the Minister of Agriculture, and part of our job obviously is to promote agriculture. So I believe that part of the reason was to set PMRA up as a separate agency so they could be very independent and be seen to be truly independent. And perhaps there's really nothing wrong with that.

I think what happened at the same time is they really cut communication with many of the other government departments, and that's been very slow to get re-established.

Dr. Hill also said that in many ways we don't do the same things in the research branch that we used to do ten years ago. So in terms of supplying data toward registration, really, we just don't have that much data we can supply them any more. I think perhaps where we have a bigger role to play is in the discussion process of certain questions that arise or certain concerns that come up. We do have expertise because we're working around the periphery of pesticide registration and their use. So in some cases we would like to see more dialogue.

• 1010


The Vice-Chair (Ms. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you very much. Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I'm reading your briefs and I'm astounded, because all three of you are complaining about the PMRA. It was my understanding that the agency was established to assist you. Environment officials claim that the PMRA doesn't advise them when it registers a product that is to be released into the atmosphere. All three of you have the same problem. Have you brought this matter to the agency's attention? Has it met with you to discuss ways of easing the problems you are encountering in your respective areas? All I can say, Madam Chair, is that I'm truly flabbergasted.


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Make it a short response, please.


Dr. Pierre Mineau: Yes, we have tried to improve the lines of communication. In fact, a formal agreement was concluded between the two parties, but talks dragged on for more than one year before the agreement was actually signed, largely because we couldn't agree on the process. We wanted to make a number of suggestions, for example, increased sharing of information considered confidential. We suggested that before making any decisions involving the registration of a particular product which could harm birds, an area for which we are responsible, perhaps the PMRA could notify us in advance so that we could discuss with them the wisdom of this decision. Once a product is on the market, we are the ones who have to deal with any problems. Each time we made a suggestion, however, it was rejected.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: [Editor's note: inaudible]

Dr. Pierre Mineau: No. It's just that, as the others mentioned, the agency was created to be an independent body. It has taken its role very seriously, to the point of shutting out others.


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


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Thank you.


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Brian Emmett, will be appearing before the committee. Mr. Emmett has discussed a lot of these issues in different ways in his most recent report on pesticides.

It's important that we bring the PMRA to come back so that we can hear their side of the story as well as trying to understand what some of the problems are. It was my understanding, and I may be incorrect on this, that a number of the individuals who were in the old PMRA followed through with the change and transfer. So you're not dealing with new people necessarily, are you? Or is there a change in faces there?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: I'll address this one, since I probably had the closest working relationship pre-PMRA, since we were actually part of the registration process.

It's quite true that the bulk of the individuals now with the PMRA came from the pesticides directorate of Agriculture Canada, a large contingent of course from Health Canada, as well as a large contingent from Environment who used to be in the commercial chemicals evaluation branch.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): So these are structural changes, not personality changes. You don't have to comment on that.

Voices: Oh, oh!

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Not a problem.

Second round, Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Jordan.


Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Dr. Mineau, could the members of the committee get a copy of the agreement reached between PMRA and Environment Canada? This is a public document, is it not?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Yes. That shouldn't be a problem.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: I've heard that this agreement did not give Environment Canada much room to maneuver in terms of dealing with the PMRA and that the department came off rather badly. Do you agree with this assessment?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: That's my personal opinion as well as the opinion of my team. Let's say that the discussion flowed in only one direction. We were told that if we had any results to submit on product performance further to registration, then by all means we should submit these results and thank you very much.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Could you send a copy of this agreement to the committee? I'm sorry. I see that I...


Dr. Blackshaw, there's been discussion about some of the comments made by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development regarding a herbicide used in irrigation canals, acrolein.

• 1015

PMRA and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were opposed one to the other. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said this destroys fish; therefore it's under the Fisheries Act and we shouldn't be using it. PMRA said no, no, this is purely a herbicide for irrigation canals, and irrigation canals are not a fish habitat. I remember questioning the PMRA and other people, how can something that goes in irrigation canals and kills fish be any good for crops and human health?

What is the position of your department and of you as a scientific researcher on the use of acrolein? Would you say we should stop it?

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: I really know very little about that product. All of my work is based on herbicide use on crops. I've never performed any studies on trying to control weeds in irrigation canals and have no expertise in that particular product. So really I'm not qualified to comment.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Is anybody else?


Dr. Mineau, are you familiar with acrolein?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Yes, I'm familiar with this herbicide. I've already reviewed the data on it. One thing you haven't mentioned, and which concerns me a great deal, is the effect of this herbicide on amphibians, notably frogs. In a number of regions, notably the Prairies, a fairly marked decline in amphibian populations has been noted. Some university studies indicate that many - maybe not all, but many - of the problems affecting amphibians can be attributed to pesticides.

You mentioned that acrolein is toxic to fish. It is equally toxic to all life forms, including amphibians and birds.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: If Environment Canada's scientific research laboratories find evidence that this product is harmful to all ecosystem populations, including fish and amphibians, do you then have any right of review? Are you at liberty to make recommendations that PMRA can either accept or reject? If I understand correctly, both Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada object to the use of this substance.

Dr. Pierre Mineau: I worked with this particular product back when we were directly involved in the data review and registration process. Today, it's unlikely anyone will ask for our opinion.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Therefore, in reality, this department, one of the primary responsibilities of which is to control toxic substances in Canada, has no say in a decision which directly concerns toxic substances and human health. That's extraordinary.

Dr. Pierre Mineau: If PMRA was about to make a rather important decision, it would release a discussion or position paper and we would have 30 or 45 days to comment. I for one have never seen any kind of discussion paper on acrolein. I'm familiar with four or six papers that have been released since the formation of the PMRA. Not one dealt with this particular substance.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Had it not been for the involvement of the Commissioner, people like ourselves, who are not scientists and who do not work in this field, would never have known about these concerns. As I see it, the public is not being properly informed. Furthermore, other departments are not involved sufficiently in the process, and this is completely unacceptable.

Dr. Pierre Mineau: We can always study a particular pesticide once it has been released into the environment. Maybe we didn't examine acrolein closely enough and maybe we're partly responsible for this situation.

However, in our defence, you have to understand that there are 700 registered pesticides in Canada and that I have my own priority list. Carbofuran is one insecticide on my list, along with a number of others. It's impossible to be everywhere. That's why we have a registration authority.

• 1020

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: However, no one is bothering to ask for your opinion.


The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you. We'll leave it there for now.

Joe Jordan, please.

Mr. Joe Jordan: We're developing a common theme here. The next time PMRA comes before the committee, it should get interesting. I would just ask the clerk to maybe instruct them to bring some large pieces of paper and some crayons, because I'm going to ask them some detailed questions on some very basic things.

Dr. Hill, you said you hope PMRA read your research, but it was a one-way discussion. I guess we can assume they certainly go over your web page with a fine-tooth comb. About this notion that they took offence to the reference to asthma, I understand and can respect your view that the health effects aren't your responsibility, but from a public policy perspective, I would have to challenge them to tell me whose responsibility that is and who is doing it. I don't see anything wrong with the reference you've made at the end of that, in terms of your concerns and questions. You're adding to the quality of the public debate, and that's something we should be encouraging.

I want to talk a little bit about the proprietary information restrictions in Canada. One of the things we've talked about with previous witnesses is how the economics and the market forces dictate the rules. A very common complaint is that the large U.S. market and the small domestic Canadian market sometimes lead to situations where American companies won't register in Canada, because the market is too small given the potential costs they might incur.

What I get puzzled by is when the Canadian standards are lower than the American. What market forces lead the Canadian regulatory people to determine that they're going to allow the companies in the States that are the major suppliers of these products to withhold information they have to provide in the States? What's the motivation behind that?

I know this is just a general question, but I don't understand why, when the U.S. standard is higher, we wouldn't adopt it. The market forces argument no longer applies. What do these companies have to gain by not supplying Canada with this information? Is it something to do with the way we use the products in Canada, or is it just that they don't like to give out information as a rule?

Dr. Bernard Hill: What you're asking is out of my area of expertise, but off the top, I don't see why we shouldn't have similar.... The only thing is, the EPA is a big organization in the States, with a lot of expertise and a lot of staff and a lot of resources. That may be a factor. We simply don't have the expertise and the resources to evaluate things to the nth degree.

This is conjecture on my part, and you addressed it as a general question, but maybe we're relying on those decisions to have been made with the EPA.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Which is fine, I guess, as long as we get the information we think we need to make those decisions.

I want to touch on something else. It struck me when you were explaining to my colleague, Mr. Casson, about why the levels of 2,4-D might be significantly higher in that area of Alberta. When the PMRA goes into the regulatory process, what you know of it, do they look at usage patterns? Because it seems to me they might vary quite a bit within Canada.

So when they're registering a product, are they registering it based on how it might be used in Ontario or how it might be used in Alberta? Or do they look at a cross-section and go to the place in Canada where the product's application would be the heaviest? Does that factor into it?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Yes, I believe they do. That's common knowledge.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Okay.

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

Paddy Torsney, please.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Thank you. I have a couple of questions.

Prior to the PMRA coming into existence, did we have the same kind of backlog for assessments and reassessments that exists today?

• 1025

Dr. Mineau, does Environment Canada have the same concerns as Agriculture Canada in terms of too much information being considered as proprietary?

You mentioned the U.K. as having a good follow-up model. Dr. Blackshaw has mentioned Denmark as having a good model for other suggested usages or changes in usages. Rather than reinventing the wheel, are there pieces internationally that we can pick up? What are the forums where you debate these things among scientists? Are you included, or is it just the PMRA that would be present?

And lastly, are we sure we're growing crops that are totally appropriate to Canadian soil, temperature, and climate? I know certainly in California there was some concern that they're growing things that were too water-intensive when they have drought conditions. Is that appropriate? We've seen rice development in northern Ontario because they have a lot of water. Have we figured it out yet, or does there need to be a better debate about that? That would probably be at another committee, not this one.

Those are my questions. You can tackle them in any order you like.

Dr. Pierre Mineau: As part of the answer, I'll actually include a comment to Mr. Jordan on his last question, and this is based on my twelve years of experience at reviewing data submissions submitted by industry.

Industry will only submit the absolute minimum that it has to submit in order to gain a registration in a country. To do so just invites more questions, and more questions invite more time spent reviewing the data, and that means profits lost. Therefore, the scientific rigour of a registration process is dependent on the evaluator saying the data is needed. We have had some concerns recently about the amount of data being requested by PMRA being substantially lower than what we considered to be necessary when we were involved in the review process.

Do we have concerns with the extent of CBI designation in Canada? Yes, very much so. This has been a longstanding issue with us, and one we have communicated to the PMRA on various occasions. I for one consider it a bit abnormal when data are considered here to be proprietary, but I can get a disk and a database from the U.S. EPA merely by asking. If I live in France, I can dial into my Minitel telephone and actually get it online. So there are some real discrepancies there.

My understanding is that data protection is really afforded to industry so that another registrant would not be able to take the data package and do a submission somewhere else. I'm quite understanding of the fact that the entire study, with the necessary detail, would be used by a regulatory agency somewhere else in the world. I quite understand that this might be restricted. However, in my opinion, the content—that is, the end points of how toxic this product is and what the environmental implications are likely to be once it is released—should not be confidential. On too many occasions over the years, I have seen that when the data were confidential, even data that were being gathered by university people were treated confidentially because they showed the product in a bad light. However, if it was a happy story, the company made the data freely available and they were reported at science meetings. So there's a real biasing of data that comes to the public fore if you allow a CBI designation for just about anything.

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

Dr. Blackshaw.

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: I'd like to make a comment on the question you had about crops and whether the crops we're growing are appropriate.

Yes, I think they are appropriate. One thing I'd like to note is that we've made great strides in crop diversification across Canada in the last ten to twenty years. That's been very important to farmers economically, but it has been very important in terms of pest management as well.

Probably the number one principle of controlling pests is crop rotation. We would have the biggest problem if we were to grow wheat after wheat after wheat. We would see disease organisms build up, we would have insect organisms building up, and weed populations would compete with that crop.

• 1030

So a fundamental principle of all integrated pest management systems is crop rotation. Of course, for the grower, those crops then have to make them money. They have to be economical. We've done an incredibly good job, I would say, in terms of getting a number of different crops that we can grow across Canada.

One of the things that does come up here is that any new crop we're introducing into a country, just by the very nature of what I just said, is a small-acreage crop, and it's not economically important to a company to register a pesticide on a small-acreage crop. Thus, in Canada we have the minor use registration system, where some money is allocated towards registering pesticides on small-acreage crops either in the field or horticulturally, in greenhouse crops and so on.

I think that currently stands at around $200,000 per year. It's way oversubscribed. We do not have, to my mind, enough money going into that minor use program. I know many of the provincial governments working in this area would concur with that.

So that would be one thing we could do a better job on.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: The other question was on backlog.

Dr. Bernard Hill: I think the backlog issue has to do with re-evaluation of older registered products, of which there are in excess of one hundred. It's a monumental task, and it will be a real credit if they can get through it, to be honest with you.

This has been neglected for a while. We haven't had this re-evaluation, to my knowledge. I believe trade issues or something have driven it. To be fair to PMRA, it's happened at a time when they're undergoing reorganization and everything else. It's regrettable, but that's just the way it is.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: With regard to other models, what's the forum for debate on how to do registration better? Where do you guys get together, or don't you, internationally?

Dr. Bernard Hill: We need to meet at scientific meetings. In my brief I referred to one meeting I attend regularly. I would say that in the past, PMRA would make an effort to send people to these meetings, where we would establish one-on-one contacts. For a while, because of their reorganization and budget restrictions or the workload they had—I don't really know their issues—these people had to stop coming to meetings. I don't think they're able still to come to meetings to the extent they would want to.

I think it's very important that these people get out of Ottawa and be allowed to attend meetings across the country where issues with pesticides are being discussed at scientific meetings. I don't understand what the issue is internally that they can't, but everything comes down to dollars, I suspect.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: And internationally?

Dr. Bernard Hill: I'm not sure how many international meetings PMRA people attend. I can't really comment on that.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Just on a point of order, could we get some research into what are the forums and what are the other countries that are doing interesting things? Since these guys don't know or can't say right now, can we find out what's going on?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Yes, good point.

Mr. Reed.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dr. Blackshaw, there's an alternative group in PMRA. I don't know much about them other than that they're supposed to be looking at alternatives to pesticide use and so on. Do they consult you?

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: I have virtually no contact with them.

Mr. Julian Reed: Do I smell a turf war here?

Dr. Bob Blackshaw: My first reaction to that would be no. I think some of the lack of communication is unintentional. I don't think it's deliberate. I think it's just something that's happened.

• 1035

I believe many people within PMRA would like to re-establish the lines of communication as well, and I think that can happen.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I wanted to refer to the regulatory directive put out by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. This is their strategy for implementing the toxic substance management policy. There was concern expressed by witnesses yesterday that PMRA is not implementing this fast enough.

I wanted to refer to some of the comments Dr. Mineau made in his brief, particularly with regard to post-registration environmental monitoring.

This information comes from the PMRA, dated March 12, 1999:

    The conditions of registration may include a requirement to provide specific information, including environmental monitoring data.

To any of the witnesses, are you aware of how often conditions of registration are made that would require environmental monitoring data, or is this something that's merely discretionary?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: In the past, probably pre-PMRA, a temporary registration would be issued when information was deemed to be missing. Some of that information might have been some form of environmental monitoring. I'm not aware that this has ever happened with a compound that's received full registration or that it's happening nowadays.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Would Dr. Blackshaw or Dr. Hill like to comment on that? Is that information you would have, or are aware of?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Madam Chair, I didn't quite understand the question. The question is, for a product that's already been registered, PMRA, in theory, is asking for environmental data to be collected...?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): It says in here:

    The conditions of registration may include a requirement to provide specific information, including environmental monitoring data.

Mr. Bernard Hill: Before it's registered?

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Well, with regard to the goal of virtual elimination of track one substances, it goes on to say:

    ...any request for continued registration of the product

—and I believe this allows for some type of five-year registration—

    would be reviewed in light of the required information as well as new information concerning health and environmental risks, and the continuing existence of exceptional circumstances.

Actually, this is a substance that has been registered according to track one requirements and is due for virtual elimination under the TSMP.

Dr. Bernard Hill: I've never been asked to gather environmental information for a product that's already been registered directly by PMRA. I agree with Dr. Mineau that in the past there was a temporary registration process. I've been around for 22 years now, and I have seen instances in the past where they have asked for additional monitoring when a product was temporarily registered, especially in such an emergency situation as an outbreak of grasshoppers. But I haven't been asked lately.

For something that was granted full registration, as far as checking back and being asked to conduct certain studies, I think you'd get into departmental lines.

I mean, I'd welcome suggestions from PMRA on directions for research. That's what I'd like to re-establish.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): If a substance has been identified as track one or moving towards virtual elimination, if a requirement has been written into the condition of registration, I guess the concern I had is that if Environment Canada is not in a position to do the environmental monitoring, then who is?

• 1040

I don't have the information right in front of me, but I believe regulations were gazetted in the Canada Gazette. Maybe I'll wait until I get that information so that I can ask the question properly.

My concern is, if there are requirements for environmental monitoring, who is doing the environmental monitoring?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Thank you for asking two questions of Environment Canada.

There is an issue at present with track one substances, and in fact we have a compound now. A discussion document was put forth by the agency on a new fungicide that does contain a contaminant that is a track one substance. My understanding is that is now under debate, because the PMRA proceeded to do a risk assessment of that product, whereas our department is taking the line that it's a track one substance and virtual elimination is called for. There is a contaminant, 2,3,7,8, tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): And it's also my understanding, from information we were given from the PMRA, that two products that have micro-contaminants of dioxins were approved within the past year. Is Environment Canada involved at all with the monitoring of the effects?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: This may be the case I am referring to; I'm not sure. We're now looking at a discussion document from the agency on the fungicide hexaconazole—it's on public record—which does contain dioxin as a contaminant.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I would like to go back to some of the comments Dr. Hill made with regard to your website. I notice that Dr. Hasselback's name is on here and he is identified with the Chinook health region. So it seems to me if you have someone who has been involved with this particular study who is a health expert, then you are, as they say in the science and academic world, in the position where you can be talking about health issues.

I'm wondering if Dr. Hasselback has documented any health issues or concerns that could be tabled with the committee. We can certainly look into that ourselves, but I'm wondering if you know anything about that.

Dr. Bernard Hill: I believe the Canadian Public Health Association has appeared in front of the committee in the last few weeks, and I believe they tabled some information. I've read their briefs.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Okay. I might have been away that day. Did they refer to the situation in southern Alberta?

Dr. Bernard Hill: Not directly with respect to 2,4-D in air or asthma.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Has Dr. Hasselback produced any documentation on this?

Dr. Bernard Hill: No, he hasn't, other than that he's aware of the incidences of asthma in southern Alberta. He was independently contacted when this issue came up, and he supported the statement that's in the questions and concerns on our website. Without even knowing what the issue was, he supported it 100%.

It comes down to semantics. We're trying to promote public discussion and be open, and it's labelled as questions and concerns. PMRA's concern might have been about its conclusions.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I'm sorry; I missed the last bit.

Dr. Bernard Hill: I think PMRA might have been concerned that we were making a conclusion, whereas in fact we were just trying to be open and foster public debate and public input on it. We tried to label it as conjecture, and that's what it is at this point.

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

The Ontario Medical Association came out with a report linking ground-level ozone and health issues, premature death, and asthma-related incidence. Do you know if the Alberta Medical Association has done any similar studies or studies on health issues related to pesticides in the province of Alberta?

Dr. Bernard Hill: No, the short answer is I'm not aware of any.

• 1045

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

I believe Mr. Lincoln is on the third round of questioning.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Dr. Mineau, I just got hold of a copy of the MOU. Looking at it, it seems as if a lot of territory is covered that would lead to input by Environment Canada. It says here:

    Environment Canada continues to carry out environmental research and monitoring of the presence and fate in the environment of pest control products, and the impacts on the environment of pest control products, of pest management strategies, and of pesticide risk reduction measures. ...

    The PMRA and Environment Canada have independent but related mandates....

    Environment Canada and PMRA...will cooperate and support each meeting their responsibilities in relation to environmental conservation and protection....

    EC and PMRA will ensure...that their environmental protection policies...are complementary and designed to provide effective environmental protection.

    EC and PMRA will foster strong working relations by establishing mechanisms and links to share information....

    For pesticide registration decisions that are preceded by publication of a Proposed Regulatory Decision Document...the PMRA will provide an opportunity for EC to present, in writing and in person, concerns that EC may have about the environmental impact of the decision being considered....

    PMRA will consider the results and conclusions of EC research and monitoring programs in decision-making....

    ...PMRA will provide EC access to confidential registration data taking into account constraints imposed by statutory and common law; and provide EC access to information in the databases which the PMRA will establish on pesticide use....

    EC and PMRA will provide to each...other documents and related media materials on issues of common interest specific to pest control....

And it goes on.

If you look at the wording of the document, EC and PMRA are supposed to be in a very, very close working relationship. Can you tell me in your experience where this has gone wrong, where the wording and the actual reality have become different, and why?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: I will try to, but I'll start by saying we are trying now to improve on the relationship with PMRA. We're setting up regular meetings with their environmental effects session to try to foster this dialogue.

A number of things in the fine print of what you have read are impediments. For instance, the sharing of CBI is subject to statutory requirements. As I mentioned in my brief, one of those requirements is that the information be used strictly for the purpose for which it was gathered. That immediately puts a very narrow possible use on that information. That's one example where they feel they are bound not to release information. We have had situations like that in the past.

Another is the fact that we are able to provide guidance or opinion, but it is after the decision documents or the discussion documents are put out, as for any other citizen of Canada. Again, we have a situation where since the creation of the PMRA, I'm aware of about six of those documents. I'm sure a lot more products have been registered by the agency in that period. We've tried to obtain a list, unsuccessfully. So we are commenting on those issues we can see, when we're given the opportunity.

I should say here that even though we used to be part and parcel of the review process, it's not our intention to sit on the shoulder of the PMRA and do their job for them. We don't want to do that. We have plenty of other problems out there to work on. The only thing we want is some assurance that our resource and our mandate are being taken care of.

• 1050

So we're hopeful that the day will come when we don't have to scrutinize every decision made by the agency and that they will make decisions based on the risk to wildlife or the risk to the environment in general.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: I understand you said that if we could take care of one or two of the major pesticides, a lot of the problems would be eradicated. Can you tell me which ones you had in mind?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: I can do better than that, if you wish. I just wrote a research article and a review that goes over all of the documented kills of raptorial species—raptors, eagles, hawks, for instance—in Canada and the U.S. and the U.K., where I compare and contrast and ask specifically that question, to see which products cause problems and under what conditions. Why do we see problems here, for instance, when those problems are not seen in Europe? It boils down to the fact that we here are using a handful of very toxic insecticides that have been largely regulated or banned or cancelled or put to very small uses in European countries. That's the source of a lot of the problems we see.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Then why don't we ban them here? Is it a decision that's consciously made not to ban them, or do we wait for a review?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Well, we are attempting to do that. As I mentioned in my brief, in 1987 we identified carbofuran as being the number one product responsible for bird deaths in this country. I believe it is probably number one in the world, because problems have been documented virtually everywhere people have seriously looked for them. We're now in 1999 and we still have registered users of that product. It is registered. And something that is of concern to me is that it continues to be registered throughout Latin America, for instance.

So that's the only part of my mandate as a protector, if you wish, of the migratory bird resource. We may work for a decade or more to get regulatory relief here in this country, only to have our birds killed when they migrate south for the winter.

I was involved quite closely with one situation that arose recently in Argentia, where a number of our species.... One species in particular, the Swainson's hawk, was being killed in great numbers on the Argentinian Pampas following some grasshopper control operations. That one was a success story. We were able to put influence on the agriculture department in Argentina to actually get a very swift change in the situation. They have now banned the product altogether.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Thank you. We have three more people on our list. You have generated a lot of very good questions this morning, and I want to thank you for that.

We have Paddy Torsney, Rick Casson, and Julian Reed. You have five minutes amongst yourselves.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Okay. I just have one question. If PMRA had a problem with the fact that you asked the question, could the herbicide amounts in the Lethbridge area have chronic effects on public health, increased asthma, why didn't they just ask you to take that question off? Or would you not have taken that question off? Why does PMRA issue instructions on Agriculture Canada's website? Surely there's some independence. If they're independent, you could be independent.

Dr. Bernard Hill: They in fact asked that we remove that one statement or remove the whole thing from the website, and management chose to remove the whole poster from the website. Posting research in progress on the website is now fully under discussion at our research centre, because there are a lot of implications. We'd like to be totally free and open, and there's the public's right to know, but you have to contrast that with scientific credibility and peer review. So we have a dilemma. We have to find a balance. Right now we're grappling with that issue.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Maybe you just need a disclaimer at the top of “Concerns and Questions”.

Dr. Bernard Hill: We've talked about that.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: I think it's a very valuable tool, and people are interested. It shows that we're providing a public service so people can make better decisions. It was fascinating to read the things that you're tackling, and you're engaging people in the issues.

Dr. Bernard Hill: Thank you.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Casson, did you want on the list?

Mr. Rick Casson: No, I'll pass.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): All right. Mr. Reed, please.

• 1055

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you.

I have just one very brief question, Dr. Mineau. How long ago were the issues that you deal with taken into consideration for the approval of pesticides? How many years ago would this have started?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: When I started working on pesticides in 1982, there already was a person in place in the Canadian Wildlife Service who participated in the review of industry data to assess the safety to, I would say, wildlife in a broad sense.

Mr. Julian Reed: Would it have grown out of the DDT experience?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Very much so. It started, I believe, at a federal-provincial meeting when there were a lot of concerns over DDT and over contamination of birds and the disappearance of some birds. At that point there was an agreement by all concerned—the environment ministers of the provinces and the federal government—that the Canadian Wildlife Service would carry the torch, if you wish, and investigate and do research in this particular area on behalf of all of the provinces. It's under that mandate that my section has carried on ever since.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I have just one quick question. How long was the interval between the observations of negative effects from carbofuran and the decision to ban the granular form of carbofuran? When you first saw these effects, how long did it take to ban the granular form of carbofuran?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: There is a detailed synopsis attached to my statement. It's a little bit complicated because there are different formulations of the granular and problems became apparent at different times. But it's fair to say that we're talking about a ten-year period.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): A ten-year period. Without putting words in your mouth, I assume you would think this is a rather lengthy time period. Do you think it was too lengthy?

Dr. Pierre Mineau: When I started working on this product, I had a full mane of hair, so that might give you some indication.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): So you started to grow it on your face? That's what happened.

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Right.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): How do you think this could be shortened? You have an issue with liquid carbofuran right now, but if this were to be—

Dr. Pierre Mineau: I think in large part the regulatory agency—and I'm here speaking in very general terms—responds to pressures and public perception and what they believe is the common will out there. I mentioned U.K. as an example. There is a country where the welfare of wildlife in general, but birds in particular, is taken very seriously by a large constituency. Therefore problems that arise because of a single incident somewhere involving dead birds is immediately acted upon by the regulatory agency, and usually relief comes within a matter of months.

As for other countries, I look at the U.S., where they might have evidence of bird kills with some products for quite a while, and nothing is done until there is a feeling of a groundswell there for change. In other countries of Latin America that I have dealt with, of course there is very little concern for the welfare of birds in fields, and we have to do much more educational work there.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Sometimes I think our blessing of abundance is a bit of a curse. Sometimes I think we think we have too much wildlife and too much natural space and so we can afford to lose—

Dr. Pierre Mineau: Well, unfortunately the statistics are that in this country, as well as in the U.S., as well as in Europe, birds that inhabit farmland are in sharp decline. So I think that abundance is rather ephemeral.

The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Okay, thank you very much. We've really enjoyed your testimony today.

I adjourn the committee.