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ENVI Committee Meeting

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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Wednesday, December 8, 1999

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The Chairman (The Hon. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib.)): Order, please!

Good afternoon, Ms. Girard-Bujold. Welcome to the committee.


Thank you, Mr. Lastewka, for coming so early, and to both of you for permitting the committee to sit and hear witnesses who have come a long way to appear before us. In unusual circumstances, we are holding this meeting with a minimum quorum.

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I would like to welcome both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Drost, who are appearing before us.

Would you like to make your presentation, possibly keeping it within ten minutes or so, so that questions can be asked? Without further delay, I proceed by giving you the floor and thanking you for having taken the trouble to come such a long way.

Mr. Bill Drost (Deputy Minister of Technology and Environment, Government of Prince Edward Island): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. My name is Bill Drost. I'm the Deputy Minister of Technology and Environment for the Province of Prince Edward Island. With me is my associate, Clair Murphy, who's our director of water resources for Prince Edward Island.

I appreciate your taking the time to meet with us today, given the very difficult circumstances, which I'm sure you couldn't predict, that have been brought upon you here in Ottawa.

I bring regrets from my minister, Minister Murphy, who is dealing with some of his own issues in the legislature. Our legislature is open in Prince Edward Island, and a number of ministers are away from the legislature at this time. In fact a number of ministers are in Ottawa here. So the premier last night made a decision that Minister Murphy should stay in the legislature, given that a number of the other ministers had hopes of bringing home some money from Ottawa. He felt it was very important that they go and that he maintain his position in the House so that they had numbers there.

This nonetheless does not diminish the importance of the message we bring you today. If you have perhaps watched the papers, you may have seen that over the past number of months, Prince Edward Island has suffered a number of fish kills as a result of pesticide runoff. It has been very topical in our local media, and it's also made some national headlines, and even international headlines. It concerns us greatly, for a number of reasons that I won't go into today, in the interest of keeping our presentation short.

I'm going to ask Clair Murphy to give you a short presentation. We'll certainly take questions and would like your questions and comments afterwards, but before we begin, do you have any questions for us?

The Chairman: We would be happy to listen to you first.

Mr. Clair Murphy (Director of Water Resources, Department of Technology and Environment, Government of Prince Edward Island): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. While my last name is Murphy, I'm certainly not the Minister of Technology and Environment for Prince Edward Island.

Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee this afternoon. We have forwarded a prepared text, and I will follow that text and go through it as quickly as I can. I hope to not exceed the fifteen-minute preferred time by much.

While our department does not have the responsibility for our provincial Pesticides Control Act, we've become involved in many aspects related to pesticides. I wish to address the committee on recent events that are of concern to all residents of Prince Edward Island.

Prince Edward Island has experienced a number of pesticide-related fish kills in the last few years. In the five years between 1994 and 1998, four pesticide-related fish kills were reported. The summer of 1999 was a particularly bad year; there were eight pesticide-related fish kills during the growing season.

High concentrations of pesticides were found in water, sediment, and fish tissue samples collected during these investigations. It appears the pesticides involved in fish kills were applied according to label directions. We have no evidence to the contrary. These incidents raise concern about the adequacy of the existing pesticide regulations, both provincially and federally, and undermine public confidence in the pesticide registration system.

I recognize my presentation time is limited, but I wish to highlight some of the background information to provide perspective on my comments.

The agriculture and agrifood industry is an integral part of Prince Edward Island's economy, generating $310 million annually, with approximately half of that coming from potato production. The global marketplace is changing rapidly, putting additional pressures on existing production systems. Adapting to these changes while striving to achieve environmentally sustainable production methods presents many challenges.

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Potato production on Prince Edward Island has responded to these global pressures. Between 1989 and 1999, total potato production has increased by 66%, from 68,000 acres to 113,000 acres. Whether environmental sustainability has been sacrificed to allow for these changes is a topic of much discussion.

Currently, the land base available for potato production on Prince Edward Island is approximately 250,000 acres. With 113,000 acres of potatoes grown annually, this results in an average crop rotation of just over two years. A rotation of three or more years is considered necessary for sustainable production.

In its current form, potato production on P.E.I. is highly dependent on pesticides. There may typically be twelve to fifteen pesticide applications in a single season. Couple this with the fact that P.E.I. soils, if not properly maintained, are highly erodible, and that climate change suggests the variability in our weather conditions will increase. With more frequent and more intense storms, it appears the potential for pesticide wash-off from agricultural fields is not going to diminish, but may in fact get worse.

Government, industry, and the general public all recognize that significant challenges exist in ensuring that potato production is sustainable on Prince Edward Island. Efforts are currently under way to address many of these issues. The Action Committee on Agricultural Runoff Control was formed in response to the fish kill incidents this past summer. The action committee made recommendations that are currently being implemented to minimize the potential for future fish kills. Examples include funding programs to assist growers to develop environmental farm plans, and to provide incentives for implementation of soil conservation techniques.

I have brought copies of the action committee report in case anyone would like to look at the recommendations further.

Another very important initiative on P.E.I. is the Prince Edward Island Food Strategy, an initiative to brand and market high-quality P.E.I. products produced from an environmentally sustainable production system. As we move in this direction, which aims to both improve the economic return from the agrifood sector and ensure that sustainable practices are used, it is all the more reason to ensure that we eliminate the unintended consequences of pesticide use, including damage to aquatic life.

In providing this background material, I want to make it clear that we recognize the issue of fish kills on Prince Edward Island is a multifaceted problem requiring action on many fronts. The province is currently pursuing many options. A couple of examples would be that the province, in June of this year, passed comprehensive buffer zone legislation. It's now necessary to recognize buffer zones on all water courses and wetlands. In addition to that we are fast-tracking the development of codes of practice for various types of farming activity.

However, our experience indicates that improvement in the federal regulation of pesticides is also needed to arrive at a solution. To this end, we have identified seven main issues to be addressed today. The first of these is the access to information held by the PMRA. During the investigation of the various fish kills on Prince Edward Island, information requests were made to the PMRA. In some instances the PMRA did not have the type of information we required. As an example, pesticide residues were found in fish tissue during our investigation, but there was no information available from the PMRA on what impacts these levels would have had on the health of the fish. There is no post-mortem diagnostic information available.

In other cases, the information was provided, but not always in a timely fashion. We were aware that a special review had recently been completed on a pesticide that we were investigating, but it took approximately one month to have the report released.

However, the most frustrating and disturbing aspect was being told that the information we requested exists, but that the PMRA was unable to provide the information because of confidentiality agreements with the pesticide manufacturers. We were told we would have to request this information from the pesticide manufacturers themselves. In this case, the company was in California. There is a problem when we must rely on the willingness of the company that manufactures the product that we are investigating, to disclose information that could potentially be detrimental to the company and the image of its product. Mr. Chairman, with all due respect to the confidentiality issue, there must be a way found to allow investigative authorities like ourselves access to such critical information such as toxicity information on these products.

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We recognize that a new Pest Control Products Act has been proposed and that it may address some of these issues. We urge that it be passed and implemented as soon as reasonably possible. All data related to health and environmental fate aspects of pesticides, whether they be new or old products, should be made readily available by the PMRA.

Another serious shortcoming in the information base is the lack of information on synergistic effects of a range of different products that are known to exist in the environment at any one time.

A second area of concern for P.E.I. is the need for re-evaluation of older products, as well as an increased emphasis on environmental concerns during evaluation. Many of the pesticides currently in use are older products that were registered at the time when the regulatory requirements were not as stringent as they are today. We support the PMRA's current initiative to re-evaluate all pesticides registered prior to 1995. We encourage that this process be accelerated if at all possible, to complete the re-evaluation sooner than the proposed date of 2006-07.

The re-evaluation process will, we understand, rely to a significant degree on reviews conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If concerns are raised about the safety of a pesticide in the U.S. review and additional restrictions are placed on the product, we would like to see a fast-track mechanism in place that will ensure that similar appropriate action is taken quickly in Canada for similar uses of the pesticide. Much of the emphasis in this re-evaluation initiative seems to stem from food safety issues both in Canada and the U.S.

We have concerns about the weight being given to environmental impacts when, in recent evaluations, highly toxic products such as carbofuran received continued registration, over the strong objections of the Canadian Wildlife Service branch of Environment Canada. Our provincial government has been called upon to act in regard to concerns raised by the Canadian Wildlife Service about carbofuran. It is clear that individual provinces do not have the resources nor the expertise to act independently of the PMRA, and that these concerns must be clearly addressed by the PMRA. We would request that PMRA ensure that the potential environmental impacts posed by these pesticides receive equal weighting in these evaluations.

Another issue that we see as important is the registration priority for low-risk pesticides. Replacing older, highly toxic pesticides with newer low-risk products that increase specificity and lower toxicity to non-target organisms should also be a priority. My minister has written to Minister Rock, the minister responsible for the PMRA, requesting that he ensure that the PMRA strengthen its commitment to giving a high priority to the registration of new low-risk crop protection products. We would like to echo those comments to the committee today.

Post-registration monitoring of pesticide residues is also a concern from our perspective. The PMRA should require pesticide manufacturers to conduct additional post-registration monitoring when a pesticide is registered for use. Prince Edward Island has spent many tens of thousands of dollars over the past decade in terms of monitoring both ground and service water for the presence of pesticide residues. Pesticide manufacturers whose products are involved in monitoring efforts were approached to provide funding assistance for this monitoring work. Minimal assistance was received from only one single pesticide manufacturer. We feel more onus should be placed on the pesticide manufacturers to conduct post-registration monitoring in high-use areas to confirm that these products are not adversely affecting the environment under real-world use or worst-case conditions. Assuring the general public that their drinking water supplies and aquatic systems are safe in terms of pesticide residues should not be the sole responsibility of the provinces.

We are also concerned about the narrowed focus of the PMRA, and about the fact that funding for pesticide research, monitoring and public education initiatives is no longer a part of its mandate. Research and monitoring programs are conducted by other federal departments, but this work is one of many mandates within other federal departments and must compete for scarce resources.

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A strong commitment from the central agency responsible for regulation of pesticides in Canada is needed to identify and fund pesticide-related projects that may not fit neatly in a niche research area within another federal department.

From all accounts, the pesticides that caused the fish kill in Prince Edward Island were applied according to the federal label. This suggests that the label needs to be changed to become more restrictive in terms of the type of agronomic practices that should be followed before a pesticide application will be permitted.

In our province, my department has been called upon to enforce our Environmental Protection Act more strictly with regard to pesticide kills. We are already using a zero tolerance policy for these investigations and stricter enforcement is not possible.

Another point to remember is that enforcement of our Environmental Protection Act is initiated only after the damage is done. Increased enforcement alone cannot effect meaningful change in reducing the potential for fish-kill incidents. What is needed is more proactive and preventive action in regard to labelling.

We are also concerned about the lack of federal inspection staff to monitor and enforce the label requirements for pesticide use. We feel that the federal responsibility in this regard is not being adequately supported on the ground. Again, the responsibilities are falling to the provincial authorities.

The final concern I wish to highlight today is in regard to PMRA involvement in pesticide incident investigations. We appreciate the efforts of PMRA to assist in the P.E.I. fish-kill investigations by providing information where possible, and we appreciate their participation in the 1999 Action Committee on Agricultural Runoff Control.

However, we encourage them to become more directly involved with the provinces in investigations to identify the causes and effects of and potential solutions to any future pesticide-related incidents in any region of the country. Their direct involvement is needed to ensure that the federal legislation has not been violated and to determine whether changes are necessary in either labelling of the products involved or with the registration and product evaluation system itself.

As mentioned at the start of the presentation, I do not intend to leave the impression that pesticide-related issues that prevail on Prince Edward Island should be solved solely by the PMRA. Many groups on Prince Edward Island, including government, producers, and the pesticide industry, are working together to address these issues. However, while there are certainly provincial responsibilities that we must accept, we also need strong leadership and involvement from the PMRA to ensure that the application of pesticides in Prince Edward Island can be done in a safe and sustainable manner.

I've tried to highlight in the presentation some of the areas in which we feel federal regulation of pesticides can be improved. I want to reiterate the important and unique strategic direction being taken by the Prince Edward Island agricultural sector with the support of the provincial government and, hopefully, the federal government.

We intend to show Canada and North America a new way forward in combining the interests of our agricultural economy and our environmental quality. This will not be an overnight transition and will only be successful if we work diligently in collaboration with our federal colleagues to ensure that the tools used by the agricultural sector, including pesticides, are designed and used in a manner that ensures the environmental quality is protected.

That concludes our prepared presentation, Mr. Chairman. Again, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee today. Between Mr. Drost and myself, we'd be happy to try to address any questions the committee might have.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Murphy. That was quite a marathon that you took us through. You brought out a number of very important points.

One would be inclined to think that you're not one of the hottest admirers of PMRAs, but we'll see during questioning what may transpire.


Ms. Girard-Bujold, are you ready? Please go ahead.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Thank you both for being here. We apologize for looking a little tired, but it's because of what is going on right now.

I realize you are not here to judge the PMRA. You're telling us that some things within the PMRA must change and that you have specific problems on Prince Edward Island. You have said that there are specific problems with fish and agriculture related to pesticides. You realize that our committee is currently studying what the PMRA is doing at that we will make recommendations regarding the bill which will be tabled.

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You have raised many issues in your presentation. You said that you have provincial responsibilities, but that there is not enough money and that the federal government should show leadership in the area of pesticides. I would like you to tell us what the major changes should be to the PMRA's mandate and to what degree you need the agency to help you meet your provincial obligations.


Mr. Clair Murphy: Okay, I'll try to answer those questions.

We're here specifically to see if we can promote changes in a number of issues related to the approval and assessment of pesticide products. We would like to see lower-toxicity products become more readily available, more quickly. That's one of the key areas.

The availability of information with respect to toxicity on the compounds that are presently being used is a serious issue when we become involved in investigations. And we were having a significant problem getting information on those issues.

Also, the third area is the fact that although these products are being applied in accordance with label specifications, we're still having problems in the real world. Some of our land and soil management practices probably aren't according to the best code of practice. Neither is any other land use in this country, that I know of.

So it seems to me that is the real world. There are certainly things we can do to improve our land management practices, but in the meantime I think the real world suggests we have serious problems with the toxicity of these products. It's actually leaving the target plant, being washed off, and causing significant impacts on the aquatic environment.

I guess those are the key issues we're here to talk about today.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Why is it so hard to get information from the PMRA? Aren't you in regular contact with the Agency? Or are you speaking with the wrong people? Whom should you be trying to reach? Are you telling us that you don't know who the right contact is? You've told us about the problems. You even said that you had requested information on a pesticide and that you were told to call the manufacturer. You really have a big problem. I don't understand why the PMRA could not give you the information. Today, with the Internet, it's possible to get all kinds of information, but they were not even able to find what you were looking for. Is there a problem with the people you're dealing with?


Mr. Clair Murphy: No, it's a matter of a confidentiality agreement between the registrant—the pesticide companies—and the PMRA. As I understand it, when this toxicity information is provided to the PMRA for review and assessment during the registration process, the approval-for-use process, on agreement they're not allowed—for confidentiality reasons and for business reasons—to disseminate or release this information. So that's the problem. It's a matter of confidentiality. It's not necessarily that they don't want to release it. In one case I mentioned, they sent us to the manufacturing company in California, because they considered it to be their information, and if they wanted us to have it, then we could get it from them.

But we have some difficulty with that approach. The information should be readily available from some central agency so that jurisdictions like ours can simply acquire it. Get it on the web, for that matter, and have it readily available, so that when we're investigating a serious situation, we're not held up for several weeks looking for information.

So it's a confidentiality issue. But despite that, and with all due respect to that, I think we have to find some way to make this information available to jurisdictions like ours. Maybe we should be treated differently from the general public, in some way or another, so that we can have access to this type of information.

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Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Can you tell us exactly what you mean by “treated differently from the general public”?


Mr. Bill Drost: I think our point is that we are also an enforcement agency. In Prince Edward Island, for example, we have about 75 people in our department. It's a small department, with maybe over 100 in summer.

I think Environment Canada has one person on the ground, but neither Environment Canada nor my staff have access to this information as regulatory agencies should have access to that information. Instead, the information is protected by confidentiality agreements because of trade secrets between the PMRA and the manufacturer. The manufacturer has no obligation to provide us with information, and we have no way of being assured that if we do receive information from them it is in fact accurate information.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Are you saying that the PMRA could give you that information? You are the ones doing the actual implementation of the Act and you are saying that there are not enough federal officials to help you on site. You're telling us you have problems. You say you have information, but that the PMRA does not want to provide you with any data. Do you think that the agency should become a data provider? When there is a problem, the PMRA should help you instead of falling back on a confidentiality agreement it signed with manufacturers to withhold information. How can we solve this problem?


Mr. Bill Drost: It's our suggestion that the relationship between the PMRA and the pesticide manufacturer must change, such that the PMRA has access to the information and can share the information with other regulatory agencies. So if there is a problem, if it's in Prince Edward Island or with another province or another agency, PMRA can share that information readily and quickly, and we'll know we're receiving accurate information. Instead, the position the PMRA is in now is that they protect the trade secrets of the pesticide manufacturer before they are mandated to protecting the environment.


The Chairman: Thank you, Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


The Chairman: We have Mr. Lastewka, Mr. Herron, and the chair.

Mr. Walt Lastewka (St. Catharines, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank the witnesses for their report. I thought it was right to the point despite some of your criticism, but I think you've taken the right approach.

I have a number of questions about your report, for definition. You said in item one, at the last bullet, “These incidents raise concern about the adequacy of existing pesticide regulations, both provincially and federally...”. Could you expand on that a little? What do you mean specifically when you say they should be changed?

Mr. Clair Murphy: There we were trying to address several other issues that we addressed during the talk. One specifically related to labelling requirements under the federally regulated process. We have a provincial Pesticides Control Act, but again, we deal with process and application of these products and certification of applicators and not so much on the toxicity side or on placing regulations or making specifications on how they're used. It's more about training and certification of applicators to ensure that they're trained to handle these products. I guess it's a combination of those two factors that we see as the solution in the long term.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: You as a province—I may be corrected by the chair—have your own regulations, and you could have more stringent regulations in the use of pesticides in your province. Is that not correct?

Mr. Clair Murphy: That's correct. And an example—

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Why are you not doing it?

Mr. Clair Murphy: I'll use the carbofuran issue as an example.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Okay.

Mr. Clair Murphy: Certainly that's been an issue with many residents of Prince Edward Island and with the environmental groups. The Canadian Wildlife Service strongly recommended a ban on that product, and when it didn't happen at the federal level they came to the province and put the pressure on our ministers and government to ban the product. But we are not in a position to develop the database and the field information that would be necessary to ban those products. We certainly would be in court in a very short time. Somebody would wonder what authority we had or what information we had on which to base our regulation of those products.

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Mr. Bill Drost: If I could add to that, we did in fact look at that approach. Aside from the very big task for a small province—or even for ten provinces and three territories—to try to tackle this individually, the issue also came up that our legal counsel advised us that if we were to do it unilaterally as a province and the other provinces were not to do it, we would likely be challenged by the pesticide manufacturer for a number of reasons. One is that the other provinces had found it acceptable to use the product in their ecosystems, but we did not. In addition to that, pesticide manufacturers would not want one province to start the ball rolling and then have other provinces jump on board with that same approach. Therefore, as far as capacity reasons are concerned, and in terms of our technical means to deliver on assessment, as well as in terms of national consistency, we feel that responsibility must stay with the PMRA, where it is now.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: But provincial ministers have meetings and federal-provincial meetings are conducted. I personally don't see why that can't be discussed there and be moved in that direction.

Let me go on to the next area.

A year and a half ago I was in P.E.I. to visit with a number of companies and farmers. As you pointed out in section two, overuse was a problem at that time, and it continues to linger. Just for my own information, what has been done in the last year and a half to attack overuse and less rotation, which could also cause other problems for us down the road?

Mr. Bill Drost: There have been a number of new initiatives in Prince Edward Island in the last year and a half. I don't want to go back through Prince Edward Island's history of farming, but we've had explosive growth in the agricultural industry, and that has in part brought us to why we're here today with this problem.

We're not discouraging increased potato production, but we're certainly not encouraging it. In fact we're encouraging sustainable agricultural production by giving very strong indicators and encouragement to farmers to develop environmental farm plans. In fact most provincial dollars—or all that I know of—that are going into the farming community, whether they be subsidies or moneys that try to help to promote them to do new and innovative things on their farms, are attached to the fact that they must bring forward environmental farm plans.

From a legislative point of view, we passed very progressive legislation last spring, in the spring session of the legislature, that had implementation dates of 2000 and 2001 on a number of the initiatives. This fall—in fact, I think it was done on Friday—a bill was entered into the House to amend that bill to bring the dates on a number of the legislative issues forward by one year. A number of those legislative issues are already in place, so we've approached it with both the carrot and stick approach from the farming community's point of view.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: In line with that, I want to talk about the high-risk pesticides compared to the low-risks that you mentioned earlier. Have you had any situations in which you've had a problem that's solely a P.E.I. one, and for which you have not been able to get manufacturers to come to look at the situation and to provide a product because it would be solely used in P.E.I., given the prohibitive costs of getting to that point?

Mr. Bill Drost: Not really. Prince Edward Island's potato industry is more than those of New Brunswick and Manitoba combined, so as far as capacity and size goes, we grow more potatoes than any other province. We are a substantial marketplace for these manufacturers, and we certainly are not off the beaten path when it comes down to the pesticide manufacturers' perspective on Prince Edward Island.

I hope I answered the question.

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Mr. Walt Lastewka: Let me follow up, and maybe we can agree on something.

My concern has been that it takes $200,000 to $300,000 to get a product to market. Sometimes manufacturers hesitate to make advances because of the cost, because it might be only used in P.E.I. I just wanted to make sure that's not happening.

Mr. Bill Drost: No. In fact my personal background is in the potato industry, and the industry does not vary significantly, from a pesticide point of view, from Idaho to Prince Edward Island or New Brunswick or whatever. We're all dealing with aphids, Colorado potato beetle, blight, and all those other types of issues. Our problems are not unique in that nature.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Okay.

In one of the bullets you talk about your action committee report. I'd appreciate it if you could leave a copy for the committee.

The next area I want to talk about is your access to information. Your key points I've heard about the PMRA concern service and responsiveness, and being able to somehow get into the confidentiality agreement or be an extension thereof. If they're not going to provide the support at the ground level, why can't you be an extension of them under their confidentiality agreement? Did I read that right?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Yes, that's our point.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: The objective there, as I understood from you, is to be able to get timely information so that you can resolve the problem and not be held back due to lack of information. Am I correct on that?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Yes, that's correct.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Okay.

You made the statement that we have a problem with erosion and it's going to continue. You mentioned that with more frequent and more intense storms and so forth, the wash-off will continue and will get worse. That's a surprising statement to make in a ministry, without an answer to it.

Mr. Clair Murphy: Environment Canada are telling us the incidence of erratic rainfall, storm events, during the summer is likely to get worse. That's what the pattern seems to be at the present time. It's not that we didn't, for as long as I can remember, have summer thunderstorms. There often have been periods when you'd have two or three inches of rain in 12 hours or 24 hours. That's happened. We have recorded history of that. But what they're telling us is the incidence of those erratic-type weather patterns is likely to become more prominent in future, and that is bad news from the perspective of wash-off during critical growth periods.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Isn't it more critical now to have a proper provincial land use plan? I'm involved in an agriculture area where farmers were using right to the borders, right to the ditches, never leaving their buffers, never taking care of their wash-off areas, and never sharing with other farmers what they'd learned so that farmers weren't making the same mistakes and were learning. We have a network of work being done in that area to stop exactly that. Is that onus back on you, to make sure that's not happening in your area? I know it is, because I saw it a year and a half ago.

Mr. Bill Drost: You're absolutely correct. There's a role for everyone to play here. If you look at the track record in the last year to year and a half in Prince Edward Island, we probably have the most progressive legislation in the country when it comes down to land use in a number of areas. It's not in the farming area, because land is very scarce in Prince Edward Island. There are 1.4 million acres in the province. You take out municipalities, other types of farming, and golf courses of course—can't forget those; I'll get a plug in while I'm here—and the land mass available for all those activities is very scarce.

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As a result, from a management point of view, as well as a regulatory point of view, as well as a programming point of view, we have what we believe to be one of the most, if not the most, progressive policies, as well as legislative framework, in the country as it comes down to agricultural land use. However, we certainly acknowledge that we, as a provincial government, have a significant role to play there, and we've passed that legislation and have put those programs in place. And we are encouraged by some of the words recently of the Minister of the Environment, David Anderson, and his commitment to some of the environmental issues we're facing. We've yet to see substance, but we're encouraged by the words he's given us so far.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: I'd like to conclude by saying thank you for your report and your responses. As you said in your summary, we need to somehow work together with this problem and face it head on, which I think would be the way of resolving it. So I want to thank you for that.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Mr. Herron, please.

Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

It's indeed a pleasure to welcome one of my cousins from Atlantic Canada in that regard. I come from a neighbouring province, New Brunswick. And also, I don't know if I'm in a conflict of interest here, by any means, but—

Mr. Walt Lastewka: You're a small potato grower.

Mr. John Herron: That's right.

Mr. Drost has been a very good friend of mine for a number of years, and it's indeed a pleasure to welcome him to this committee. My apologies for being late. Hopefully, the orders I used to deliver to you weren't as late, in that regard.

The Chairman: Mr. Drost, this is quite normal with him, so you needn't feel offended at all that he's late.

Mr. John Herron: Having said that, when it comes to the federal-provincial partnership, in terms of your role in terms of administering pesticides, in terms of the regulatory regime, in terms of the application, I'm hearing you as saying you're quite capable of doing that, yet you expect the federal government to do its job in terms of assessing the potential health risk, and in terms of the science in terms of whether a pesticide is safe or not. And you, as a provincial government representative of the residents of your area, should have the right to have the access to the information about the potential health risks to human health and the risks to the environment. Is that what I'm hearing? Are you saying you'll do your job, if the federal government does the health job?

Mr. Bill Drost: Thank you for the warm words of welcome, Mr. Herron. It's been a while since we've seen each other. Since he's entered politics, I haven't seen him much in Prince Edward Island. He used to sell us a lot of stainless steel and anything that was going. He was a great salesman.

Mr. John Herron: I appreciate that.

Mr. Bill Drost: As I'm sure he still is.

You're in fact correct. Our regulatory role is more than asking how do we store pesticides, or how should they be transported from storage to the field and what training should the operator have and so on. And that program is actually administered by our provincial Department of Agriculture, not the provincial Department of the Environment. It's something we certainly should be reviewing on an ongoing basis, as a province, in terms of whether we are doing our job there adequately or not. However, when it comes down to environmental health issues and knowledge of products and which products should be acceptable for use, we feel the federal government is in the best position to do that and the federal government is mandated to do it. We encourage the federal government to follow some of the recommendations we've brought forward and perhaps enhance the activities they're currently undertaking.

Mr. John Herron: On that same vein, in terms of bringing recommendations forward, we know that the Pest Management Advisory Committee hasn't met since June. We've been told here at this very committee by Dr. Claire Franklin, who's the executive director of the PMRA, that essentially draft legislation has been in place since 1997, yet we haven't tabled a bill to replace an act that's 30 years old.

So my comment is that you've made some very specific recommendations. I would trust that you folks have seen those draft proposals, in terms of legislation, that may be coming forward.

Mr. Clair Murphy: No, I can't comment. No, we haven't.

I understand that the issue of availability of information is addressed, to some extent, in the proposed amendments to the pest control products legislation. Some of these issues may in fact be addressed in that legislation, but we haven't seen a draft or anything like that. We understand that it's—

Mr. Bill Drost: We've not seen a draft, but if one were available for us, we would certainly welcome reviewing it and providing our comments to you, or the legislative drafters, if that's the case.

• 1620

Mr. John Herron: I'm a little alarmed here. So in terms of the spirit of cooperative federalism, Mr. Chair, you may know that I asked a couple of questions on pesticides just last week and the minister told me in the House that they were still consulting individuals before tabling information. At the time we were told that the Pest Management Advisory Council hadn't even met since June. Now I know that a provincial minister for the country hasn't seen these draft proposals, so I'm curious about who he's consulting now if he's not consulting provincial ministers and he's not consulting the Pest Management Advisory Council.

Would I be taking the right assumption that the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment have not seen any draft proposals for this legislation that's been ready since 1997?

Mr. Bill Drost: I've been deputy minister of environment since September 1997. In my recollection, that's correct, in that through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment forum I have not been party to that information. And in addition to that, as an individual jurisdiction, I would say that to my knowledge here today, no, we've not had that information nor been consulted in that capacity. Again, we'd certainly welcome that information and welcome an opportunity to participate and provide our comments.

Mr. John Herron: Perhaps I should wait for the second round, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: If you have an additional question, you're welcome to the time.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Please continue. You still have some time left.


Mr. John Herron: The House business isn't exactly moving these days all that fast, so maybe it's actually a nice refuge for it to finish today.

My question is that you've had some specific recommendations and concerns for the federal government in terms of addressing the access to the information, in terms of being able to be “treated in a different way”, I believe was the term you used. I think being treated responsibly might be the best way to do it in terms of a cooperative federal-provincial approach.

The recommendations you've put forward you've put forward to which minister?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Our minister has written to the Minister of Health, to Mr. Rock, who's responsible for the PMRA.

Mr. John Herron: And just out of curiosity, has Mr. Rock written a letter back?

Mr. Clair Murphy: The letter just went out a couple of weeks ago, so I haven't seen a response at this point. I expect we'll get a response.

Mr. Bill Drost: If I could, in fairness to our federal colleagues, we're all learning a lot from this process. If you had told me a year ago that we would experience what we've experienced in the last six months, I would have said you were crazy. Occasionally we've had a problem, but now a number of factors have combined together, resulting from pesticides, resulting from weather, resulting from a number of issues. We're learning as we go, but we're learning a lot about deficiencies in our respective systems. We're here today to point out what we think might be some constructive criticisms of the federal system and how some improvements might be made, such that the federal government is in a better position to respond to some of their responsibilities.

Mr. John Herron: My last question, Mr. Chair, is off topic, but it's about a project I'm working on in New Brunswick in terms of tidal barriers in the Petitcodiac causeway, which is essentially a watershed with an ecosystem that has been totally depleted because of an artificial tidal barrier that's risking the whole watershed.

I'd like to compliment the Government of Prince Edward Island in terms of what they've done in more recent years in terms of the removal of three causeways, replacing them with structures, essentially bridges, that have been able to restore three watersheds. It's an experiment that's proving to be successful, and I hope my New Brunswick cousins adopt it in short order as well. So bravo to that.

Mr. Bill Drost: Thank you very much. You'll actually be glad to know that we have another one in progress right now. The Vernon River causeway is coming out and a bridge is going in as well. As funds allow us, we'll continue that work.

• 1625

Mr. John Herron: That was a prelude to maybe a potential visit by the committee to Petitcodiac at some point in time, Mr. Chair.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Herron. We know you love to travel.

Before we start the second round, there are a few questions from this end as well.

We are told that in Prince Edward Island there has been an increase in the use of pesticides in the range of 500% over the last fourteen years. Is that a correct figure, roughly? There has been a considerable—

Mr. Clair Murphy: Certainly in the last 25 years, potato production has more than doubled. I can't comment on that particular figure with any accuracy, but 500% probably doesn't surprise us that much.

The Chairman: Do you have data that you could supply to this committee?

Mr. Clair Murphy: No, we don't have it at hand. It would be available, though.

The Chairman: At home?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Yes.

The Chairman: Could you supply us with a background chart or whatever on the increasing use?

Mr. Bill Drost: If I could comment, I don't know the percentage, but it's fair to say pesticide use has certainly increased. In addition to measuring the amount of increase, I think you also have to look at issues such as toxicity and those types of issues combined, not only just in the volume of pesticides, but in what the pesticides are being used for. There have been a lot of changes there over the years, as well. We can certainly provide that information to you, but I think it's a fair comment to say there have been substantial increases.

The Chairman: The reason for asking you this question is to find out whether you have any observations you can make as to the effect that extensive monocultures have on the consumption of our only requirement, the need of pesticides. Is there a correlation, in your view?

Mr. Bill Drost: I'm not sure if the data are available to substantiate or argue that perspective, at least from the P.E.I. experience. We know there's a certain degree of disappointment, certainly, in the agricultural community in Prince Edward Island that it appears that genetically modified foods are not going to take off as quickly as possible, if at all. That is certainly one answer to better crop management. Prince Edward Island has developed a variety of GM potatoes that resist the Colorado potato beetle, which is one of the reasons for the pesticides that we need. They're required in order to deal with that particular pest, and that pest is common across the world in any potato-growing area.

The decision by McCain a couple of weeks ago not to process genetically modified potatoes was purely a marketing one, not a science one, and everyone will readily admit that.

We feel we certainly have to look at alternatives to pesticides, whether it's GM foods or whether it's better rotation. We're currently trying to move our farming community to a three-year rotation, with one crop of potatoes every three years. For that, you need more land or you need to grow fewer potatoes. So these are difficult issues we're currently facing.

So we would agree with what I think you're saying, and that's that we need to look at the whole system, not just the pesticide application.

The Chairman: So is your conclusion that you have not been able to observe any correlation between extensive monocultures and the increased use of pesticides?

Mr. Clair Murphy: I'll try to comment on that.

I think there probably has been an increase in the use of pesticides, and particularly the insecticides used to combat the Colorado potato beetle. In olden days, when a farmer had a field of potatoes he didn't go back to that field or perhaps anywhere close to it for a number of years, so there was no build-up in the culture of those insects in that area. The way we do it today, many fields are planted perhaps year after year. At least, if that field is not planted, the one next to it is.

Certainly in some areas of the province the issue of the Colorado potato beetle is a very severe one. We're promoting strip cropping and contouring, where you have potatoes, grain, and hay, and then potatoes, grain, and hay again. There's no question that the continuity of potatoes in that general area is having an effect on the overall population.

• 1630

Another factor that has come into play in the last few years is that our winters have been very mild, relatively speaking. We've had no amount of frost or snow, and the survival rate of these insects over the winter has been quite high. All those things—monoculture and the prevalence of potatoes in a general area where insects can move back and forth—are certainly issues that have been recognized.

The Chairman: Thank you.

To put it mildly, as already commented upon by Mr. Lastewka when he took you over the bullets that you have on information provided by the PMRA, it would appear from your presentation that you are not very happy about the PMRA's performance. Is that an understatement?

Mr. Bill Drost: I wouldn't say that necessarily. I would say there's room for improvement. We recognize that in our own system there's always room for improvement. As I said earlier, from our perspective at least, we're on a learning curve as we move forward. I think we've learned a lot about the PMRA and how its system works, and how it affects our ecosystem in Prince Edward Island, our agricultural industries and our ability to deal with these issues. We are bringing this information forward for this committee's consideration under that pretence.

The Chairman: That's fair enough. Would you say, then, that the PMRA's weakest performance is in the field of information, judging from what you have put down under item three, namely that information is provided “not always in a timely fashion”, or that the PMRA does “not have the type of information”, or because it is “unable to provide information because of confidentiality agreements”?

Mr. Clair Murphy: In many cases the delay in information is related to confidentiality and getting permission from the company to release it and so on. In some cases we have to go directly to the company. I think that's a confidentiality issue.

On the issue of information simply not being available, we have experienced that. As I mentioned, we were unable to find, and still are unable to find, any information or data that relates fish tissue data to the actual impacts on the fish. There simply doesn't seem to be any significant amount of data available.

It's a little bit of both in terms of it being slow at getting good quality information, and in some cases the information simply not being available. Again, though, that's one of our issues. If we wanted to leave a couple of key points, I think they would be that we would like to see more rigorous assessments of these products in the real world, in the field. And with P.E.I. growing the most potatoes anywhere in the country, at the highest density—

The Chairman: All right, let me ask you this question, and if you could, give us a precise answer: How would you prevent the fish-kill problem?

Mr. Clair Murphy: How would I prevent it?

Mr. Bill Drost: There is no silver bullet, if that's what we're looking for. Following our recommendations for the PMRA is not solely the answer. The buffer zone issue that we've mandated provincially is not the answer solely, by itself. The education of the farming community is not solely the answer. And a better regulatory environment provincially and federally isn't the answer. There are a number of other issues out there, and I think we have to take a comprehensive approach to this whole thing. The PMRA issues are one small piece of the greater puzzle, but that piece is an essential piece that has to be dealt with in order to pull this together.

I guess if I were looking for an answer, I'm not really sure, because there's certainly not enough information available to us all in order to come up with a conclusive answer on how we absolutely, positively guarantee there would be no fish kills again that were related to pesticide runoff. I don't know if anyone could really provide a conclusive answer, but I think the solution is looking at all the factors and addressing each one of them, including the PMRA issues.

The Chairman: That's fair enough.

In your brief, there is not one mention of integrated pest management. Do you have IPM programs in P.E.I.?

• 1635

Mr. Clair Murphy: Yes, one of the recommendations of the action committee is that the province develop a pesticide reduction strategy and an integrated pest management strategy for the island.

The Chairman: When will that take place?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Within months, within the next—

The Chairman: Why has it not happened in earlier years?

Mr. Clair Murphy: I can't speak for why things don't happen—

The Chairman: It's not a new invention.

Mr. Clair Murphy: —especially when we don't have total control of it in our department. This is an initiative of our Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and they are responsible for the Pesticides Control Act in our province. But I think we're moving in the right direction.

The Chairman: Could you then explain your last bullet of item one, where you raise the concern about the adequacy of existing pesticide regulations? Where would you put your emphasis if you were to write new regulations, Mr. Murphy? It seems to me that it's a key observation on your part, and it's very helpful. If you were to write the regulations, how would you do that? What would you want?

Mr. Bill Drost: Are you referring to the text of—

The Chairman: I'm referring to the text by the Honourable Mitch Murphy.

Mr. Clair Murphy: That's the first item?

The Chairman: It's in item one, and it is the last bullet.

Mr. Bill Drost: Could you perhaps just read the bullet again for us?

The Chairman: It says:

    These incidents raise concerns about the adequacy of existing pesticide regulations both provincially and federally and undermine public confidence in the pesticide registration system.

Mr. Clair Murphy: I think what we're referring to there, Mr. Chairman, is the issue of label regulations and the adequacy of the label regulations vis-à-vis testing in—

The Chairman: So what does a label regulation mean, in your mind?

Mr. Clair Murphy: When there's a label put on a product, the user of that product is obliged by law, by the federal regulations, to implement or use that product in accordance with those regulations.

What we've found—or we haven't found evidence to the contrary—is that those products are in fact not used in accordance with those label regulations. We have to assume they are, because they're very expensive and people don't use any more than they have to in normal cases. But that's still really not the issue, even if they did use a little more. The fact of the matter is that these toxic chemicals are being washed off through normal rainfall events. High-intensity rainfalls are normal on Prince Edward Island, and these chemicals are washing into streams. We're saying the label regulations are inadequate to deal with the toxicity or the protection of the environment with respect to some of these compounds.

The Chairman: So they fail to convey sufficient information.

Mr. Clair Murphy: It's not a question of sufficient information, but one of being rigorous enough to prevent—

The Chairman: But how can a label be rigorous? A label is just a label. It cannot be rigorous.

Mr. Bill Drost: If I could maybe draw an analogy to you buying a product for your home, whether it's a cleaning product or it's a bread-maker for the kitchen, if you use it according to the manufacturer's recommendations—in this case, the labelling requirements are actually part of the law—and you are hurt or someone in your family is hurt or killed, we would say there is something wrong with that system. We've used it in a normal practice, we've followed the directions to the letter, and then something terrible has happened at the end of the day.

We're saying the same thing about the labelling requirements of these products. We are using them, our farmers are using them, in the normal accordance of doing their job normally in the real world, but still we receive disastrous results at the end of the day. They certainly do kill the insects, but given an untimely rainfall, they also kill fish.

The Chairman: So what was missing on that specific label?

Mr. Bill Drost: I don't know if there's one particular issue that I know of specifically that needs to go back to one particular label, but I think the overall labelling requirements need to be more rigorous. For example, it could be “Do not apply this product if the weather forecast says there is going to be a rain event within 72 hours”. That could be one thing that comes out of this. But until we sit down and look at each product, its impact on the ecosystem, and its impact when it's applied with another product that's provided by another manufacturer and commonly used in the farming environment, until we have that data available, I don't think anyone's in a position to actually know what needs to go on that label.

• 1640

The Chairman: By “rigorous”, you mean more comprehensive, more detailed, and with better information, so as to prevent accidents.

Mr. Clair Murphy: Mr. Chairman, I think that with more rigorous field-testing of these compounds in some cases, some of them might not in fact qualify for use under certain circumstances like the P.E.I. situation, where soils are erodible and so on. In another case, we might require that the land be managed in accordance with a strict code of practice that might be adopted in terms of soil and soil conservation. Those are the types of things that need to get on the label and need to become a condition of use for some of these products.

The Chairman: Have you come across a good label, in your opinion? Have you come across a label that you would recommend as being rigorous? If so, can you supply us with a copy of that label?

Mr. Clair Murphy: No, I probably can't. Just to give you an example, we did some—

The Chairman: Is it because it doesn't exist?

Mr. Clair Murphy: I'm not sure it doesn't, but I can't give you an example. All I can say is that we are finding residues of many pesticide compounds used in Prince Edward Island at this time. In some of our research work, of the 23 compounds that we tested for, we found residues of 12 of those compounds. Some of those compounds were found in excess of the Canadian guidelines for the protection of aquatic life.

We know that they're there, they're prevalent, and they're pervasive in the receiving environment. There are some we didn't detect, and maybe those have labels that are okay. I don't know. Maybe they're a different quality of pesticides. Maybe they're less leachable and attach better, whatever the case may be.

It boils down to more rigorous field-testing of these products so that a label can be developed that suits the product and protects the environment from any off-site implications.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Murphy.

Second round, Madame Girard-Bujold.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I'd like to talk about point 7 of your brief. You talk about the PMRA's shrunken mandate. Have you ever spoken with the Agency regarding your concerns in that regard? You also said that you were surprised that public awareness was not part of the Agency's mandate. You also said that the PMRA committed itself to reviewing pesticides before 1995. You agree with that, but in your opinion the 2005-06 deadline is too far away. If there is a new bill, how can it help move up the pesticide review deadline? When do you think that should actually happen?

You also say in point 5 that low-risk pesticide registration should become a priority. Is this crucial to the mandate you were given by the province or should it also be part of the PMRA's general mandate to help you register new products?


Mr. Clair Murphy: What we're recommending there is that the registration and approval of newer, lower-toxicity products that are more target specific be moved through the approval process more quickly, that the PMRA place priority on approval of these lower-toxicity products. We certainly don't have any mandate or any ability to approve these products. That's the PMRA's task. But we're just promoting priority being placed on the approval and getting these products on the marketplace so our farmers can use them.

• 1645

Mr. Bill Drost: If I may, I'll answer the part of the question about what would we like to see in legislation. We've covered a number of issues here that relate to access to information and sharing of information, at least with other regulatory authorities, and we feel that would certainly be important. Also, I think, a mandated requirement of pesticide companies to be more responsible for the products they're putting into the marketplace is something that needs to be addressed as well.

Other issues are related to the legislative part of the issue. If you look at some of our comments related to information and the role of the PMRA, I think those are the two main issues. Also, at some point with the PMRA, perhaps it's a resource issue more so than a legislative one.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: It's the companies which manufacture pesticides and list their ingredients. Do you think these companies should be obliged to provide the funds necessary to assess these pesticides? If that were the case, the Agency, the provinces and those companies would have to work together. Do you think it's a good idea to force those companies to contribute money towards such an evaluation system?


Mr. Bill Drost: I think that's a very good suggestion. We certainly promote that. I think that also promotes environmental responsibility on the part of the companies themselves. If we compare this to the packaging industry, say, which is moving both from a regulatory point of view as well from as a code of practice point of view in development of packaging materials—paper, plastic, and so on—the manufacturers are now looked at as being responsible for those materials from the time they produce them to the time those materials enter the landfill—or hopefully don't enter the landfill. I think a bit of that approach needs to be taken with the pesticide industry, perhaps, as you're suggesting, in that they need to be more accountable for their products after those products leave the shipping dock of their warehouse.

Mr. Clair Murphy: If I might just add to that, we don't mean to imply that the companies do not provide a lot of good toxicity information when they present their product for approval to be registered in this country. I agree that they certainly do. PMRA approves these products based on the information at hand and it's probably good information.

From what we're seeing in the field, we're saying that there needs to be more rigorous field-testing and field-monitoring of these products. We definitely agree that it shouldn't be PMRA's responsibility, nor should it be the province's responsibility: it probably should be with the companies.

Maybe there should be a system under the new act whereby, if incidents like this are recorded anywhere on the continent—in Canada or the U.S. or anywhere—the product then triggers some sort of a review process and the company has some responsibility to go back into the field and try to find a solution to the issue that has been brought forward. We're not suggesting that it's the PMRA's responsibility to collect this data, and it certainly shouldn't be the provinces'. It has to be the responsibility of the companies that put these products on the market.


The Chairman: Thank you, Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Mr. Lastewka.


Mr. Walt Lastewka: I want to be brief, Mr. Chairman, because I know we have another witness waiting.

I want to ask just one question. It expresses my concern on the amount of pesticide use and the type of pesticide use, and it gets down to the discussion that we have on health risk. What is the definition of “health risk”? We see words like “acceptable risk”; I'd like to understand exactly what that means. We hear about things like safe residue limit and post-use. From your standpoint, how would you define a health risk? When someone comes to you, how would you explain that? What would you say?

Mr. Bill Drost: That's a tough one.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: That's why I asked the question.

• 1650

Mr. Bill Drost: Yes, I know. I'm sure you've asked that before of witnesses.

The answer is obviously very difficult. I guess I made a choice this morning when I got up that I was going to endure a health risk, and I drove to Charlottetown and boarded an airplane and came to Ottawa. But I made a judgment call that that was going to be an acceptable risk for me in my life. When it comes down more specifically to issues of pesticides in our food system, that's a bigger question.

You've probably heard the argument before that an acceptable use of pesticides is warranted, in that without producing healthy crops and a multitude of crops, our available diet as Canadians and citizens of the world would not be available to us. Because we're able to produce more crops and more food, we can eat more healthily. Therefore the use of pesticides is warranted, even though there is a health risk by using the pesticides. Perhaps it's better to eat an apple that has a bit of pesticide residue on it than not eating an apple at all. That might be the analogy there.

I really don't know. That's a tough one that's entrusted to the Minister of Health, who has to make that decision in consultation with all Canadians, not just with us in the province. We see this as a multifaceted issue. It's a health issue. It's an economic issue. It's certainly an environmental issue. I don't think there's an easy answer to that question.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Mr. Murphy, would you like to come up with a clearer definition?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Well, we don't promote a no-risk environment necessarily, but what we do look at when we find these products in any medium is, are there any obvious impacts and are there guidelines, such as those produced by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, for these compounds? When these guidelines are prepared and researched, risk factors are developed into the guidelines. So if we find anything in our drinking water or if we find something in our surface water, then the first thing we look at is whether there is a drinking water guideline, a freshwater aquatic life guideline, or whatever the case may be. That allows us to do an assessment of whether that's a reasonable risk or not. We don't develop guidelines in the province, again because we're a small province and don't have the resources to do so. Many of the larger provinces do.

We wouldn't be able to discharge waste water into our receiving environments if we weren't prepared to accept some reasonable modification of ambient water quality conditions that's going to carry some risk associated with it.

So we accept that there are going to be some risks if we're going to grow potatoes in Prince Edward Island, but it shouldn't be to the extent that we kill fish every time it rains.

The Chairman: Mr. Herron.

Mr. John Herron: In your brief in section 3, you make a very distinct comment. You say:

    There is a problem when we must rely on the willingness of the company that manufactures the product that we are investigating to disclose information that could potentially be detrimental to the company and image of their product.

You go on later to say:

    All data related to health and environmental fate aspects of the pesticide, whether they be new or old products, should be made readily available by the PMRA.

Was that a clear recommendation that you put forward to the minister in your note?

Mr. Clair Murphy: That was certainly one of them, yes.

Mr. John Herron: You say in that section that you've already written to the PMRA. When did that take place?

Mr. Clair Murphy: Probably within the last two weeks, three at the most.

Mr. John Herron: I have two last quick questions. One, in section 5 you mention the need for registration priority for low-risk pesticides. This argument, which has come forward a few times from a number of witnesses, makes a lot of sense, but they've never been able to bring forward an example. Do you know of a pesticide that's right on the cusp of being approved, that we know is low-risk, and that would replace something we perhaps don't want to use as much? They've never been able to cite an example. Can you help me with that one?

• 1655

Mr. Bill Drost: Perhaps if I could speak for previous witnesses, we are not chemists and we are not pesticide experts. We are the people who generally have to deal with the problems after a problem has occurred.

One of the suggestions that might aid in answering that question is that the U.S. EPA have a number of products that become listed before they become listed in Canada for acceptable use. Generally speaking, they're using them in the same applications, the same products, the same crops, for the same insects or pests, and in virtually the same ecosystem. There's a lot of valuable data there. We have a geographic and a political difference obviously from the Americans, but good science is good science no matter where it is.

Mr. John Herron: Has a particular farmer ever come forward to the Department of the Environment or Agriculture and said “They're doing this in Idaho. It's approved by the U.S. EPA. How come we can't fast-track this?” Have you ever had an example?

Mr. Bill Drost: I think so, but I can't specifically cite a product.

Can you?

Mr. Clair Murphy: No, I can't.

Mr. Bill Drost: I can certainly give you an example of products that have become delisted in the U.S., and the delisting in Canada has not been as quick. In fact one product that was deemed to be a culprit in fish kills in Prince Edward Island, which I think is called azinphos-methyl, has been delisted in the U.S. for I think two years now, if I recall—I could be corrected on that—but it's still available for use in Canada. So the response time of our system, whether it's accepting products or delisting products, is very important.

Mr. John Herron: That's a natural segue into your next bullet you put forward.

Switching topics, not related to agriculture as much, we've heard a fair amount of testimony about a fair amount of concern in terms of human health and the environment, but more from a health perspective, with urban pesticide use. Given how agrarian the island is, anytime you can lessen the amount of pesticides being consumed, do you try to encourage or deter, or even have tougher regulations for, urban pesticide use?

An example commonly used is that a professional lawn care company has to take courses and be qualified to apply a given pesticide. On occasion, they may use a very low-end pesticide that can actually be purchased at Canadian Tire or any other lawn care store. The person applying that same pesticide doesn't have to have any kind of training in any shape, way, or form. Can you tell me what P.E.I. is doing from an urban perspective?

Mr. Bill Drost: Prince Edward Island, as you pointed out, is a province that's very close to its agricultural roots. I forget the percentage of islanders who are only one or two generations away from the farm, but it's a very, very high percentage. But even in Prince Edward Island, the public acceptance and tolerance of urban pesticides for mainly cosmetic reasons and for lawn use is becoming far less than it was before. Even before we experienced this rash of incidents with fish kills, we saw a number of people in the public and environmental groups come forward and ask for a ban on these products, particularly around everything from school yards to neighbourhoods where a lot of other residents are close by and so on.

That's a tough issue, but it's also an issue that's quite manageable. We have the same regulations in place as most places in Canada: people have to be trained to work for those companies and so on. But you're in fact right. You can go down to Canadian Tire and buy a lot of the same products they're using and apply them according to the labelling requirements. Maybe they are safe to use, but they're no less toxic; that's for sure.

Mr. John Herron: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chairman: I'll be very brief, because as Mr. Lastewka has reminded us, we have another witness.

• 1700

Do I understand you correctly then, going back to carbofurans, that if, as in the case of carbofurans, you have a scientist attached to the Canadian Wildlife Service who warns about the danger posed by the use of that substance, you are not in a position to ban it because you feel you might be taken to court? Is that correct?

Mr. Bill Drost: Yes, that's correct. That's certainly one issue. We have been advised that we should be careful.

The other issue stems from the fact that it's also not our regulatory responsibility as the division of responsibility is currently outlayed. It is now currently a federal responsibility. We think that is the most appropriate role in that ten provinces and three territories should not be developing their own set of rules in this particular area. It really needs some national standards, with strong leadership from the federal government.

The Chairman: So even if there was an authoritative source, a scientist giving a warning about a substance, you could not take any action unless it was transmitted to you by PMRA?

Mr. Bill Drost: No, we certainly take action. The provinces enact legislation and regulation all the time, and sometimes they do extend into areas that are federal responsibility. That sometimes creates a whole new set of problems not only for the two levels of government but also for people who are practitioners in the field, trying to understand what set of rules they work by.

In our particular case in Prince Edward Island, we are a small province, as I said, and in order to properly assess, to properly regulate, to properly control, to properly inspect, we would have to establish a complete infrastructure in order to effectively do that. We don't think that's an effective use of Prince Edward Island taxpayers' money to do that, especially since it would not be an effective use of Canadian taxpayers' money. Every province might have to follow and do the same thing in their particular case.

The Chairman: To conclude, then, do we understand you correctly that in P.E.I., municipalities do not have any powers to ban pesticides, as they do in the province of Quebec, and that you expect the federal government to exercise the power of banning the substance?

Mr. Bill Drost: No, that's not correct. We believe we have legislative powers as a province. Municipalities can enact their own bylaws to restrict—

The Chairman: Have they been given enabling legislation to do so?

Mr. Bill Drost: I believe the legislation's in place for municipalities, but the problem we're experiencing does not normally occur within the boundaries of a municipality. It's usually in the rural parts of our province, where it's under provincial jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction, not municipal.

The Chairman: But in the case of urban lawn substances, as raised by Mr. Herron, municipalities have the powers to ban it right now?

Mr. Bill Drost: Exactly. Yes, that's correct.

The Chairman: They do but choose not to?

Mr. Bill Drost: I assume so. I can't speak for any municipality here.

The Chairman: Fine.

In the case of other substances, do you expect PMRA to proceed and impose the ban or do you feel you have sufficient powers at the provincial level to ban them yourselves?

Mr. Bill Drost: We have the power to ban products but we have neither the capacity nor the resources to do it. We also look to PMRA to do this, because it is in fact their responsibility in order to work in this area.

The Chairman: The vice-chair of this committee has prepared seven questions in writing, and another member of the committee who could not attend because of the voting has also prepared quite a series of questions. Would you be willing to answer those in writing if we gave you the text of both? Some of them overlap, so you will have to carry out some editing yourself. Would you mind doing that and then transmitting it to the clerk for the benefit of the members of the committee?

Mr. Bill Drost: It would be our pleasure.

The Chairman: Mr. Drost and Mr. Murphy, thank you very much. We appreciate what you have done here to improve our knowledge and understanding.

• 1705

Mr. Bill Drost: I extend thanks from Prince Edward Island as well. I'm certainly pleased to see the level of interest this committee has in this very important issue, and we look forward to seeing the results of your work. Thank you very much.

The Chairman: Thank you.

We invite Mr. Rubin to come forward while we still have a quorum.

Mr. Rubin, we apologize for the delay. Would you please start. Time is of the essence.

Mr. Ken Rubin (Individual Presentation): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee.

I've already circulated copies of my brief. I'm not going to read it, but I will make a few comments.

I'm a public interest researcher. I'm also an organic farmer. I've certainly listened with interest to the fact that you are largely concerned about transparency. It's an area to which I've devoted a lot of time in terms of access to information.

Let me start by saying that we're almost at the year 2000, which was a target date for a lot of things—for instance, reducing toxic substances, pesticides, and child poverty. Unfortunately, we haven't met any of those targets. We may have short-term concerns, such as Y2K solutions, or some people may be suggesting that $46 billion should just go out the door and that government shouldn't be doing certain things. I'm of the opinion, though, that we have a crisis and a problem. We can put back targets as much as we want, but we had better start grappling with those problems.

The fact of the matter is, as written in today's Globe and Mail, pollution emissions are up in this country. You have a situation, as I will be saying further in my presentation, where you have whole new generations of genetically engineered pesticides being fast-tracked onto the market.

As the gentleman from Prince Edward Island said before me, you have a problem with fish kills. Well, that's just a symptom. The fact of the matter is, you have a greater problem, because they're looking at short-term solutions. They don't seem to put two and two together and say that the huge increase of pesticide use on the island is going to lead to certain dramatic problems.

I mean, we're not even talking about climate change and how Prince Edward Island may not be here after a while. We have very serious environmental problems. One has to look beyond one's nose in these cases.

As some of the witnesses whose testimony I've read have said, it's very important that the most vulnerable group in our society, the next generation of children, be protected.

The Minister of Health certainly feels that way when it comes to cigarettes. He's targeted advertising to underage kids. But then the Crop Protection Institute comes before your committee and hands you their annual report, which is full of nice-looking pictures of kids. They have nice brochures on gifts for your lawn, with a mother and a kid or the family standing outside on their chemically induced lawn.

• 1710

Why isn't the Minister of Health and our government concerned about what is happening now? You've heard presentations from the physicians from the Canadian Environmental Law Association about the effect of long-term pesticide use on our children.

I think the value I have here today is maybe talking about it, because you're interested in it, in terms of transparency. But there's also the damn hypocrisy in this country, when it comes to conflicting mandates in terms of smoke and mirrors, in terms of agencies like the PMRA saying they're going to do something or not do something. I think it is very important to have a differing viewpoint on this.

The Chairman: Sorry for interrupting you. You have some excellent points. Would you mind perhaps focusing on your main points?

Mr. Ken Rubin: I'm going to do that.

I think the first point I was trying to make in my introduction is that we have a crisis on our hands. Our environmental commissioner has certainly reminded us of that, but it's not new; we've known it for many years. When I say the targets have not been met, I don't think the integrated pest management solution to sort of wean us off chemical pesticides and look for alternatives has been really successful. Nobody has actually done much measurement of it.

When all of a sudden, partly because of American pressures, perhaps because of the commissioner of environment, the PMRA decides to have an internal review, are we all supposed to say the problems will be resolved? I would strongly suggest that review is not the answer.

I will, in concluding, make a recommendation that a much broader-ranging inquiry is needed, because the agency has too much self-interest to properly conduct such a review. They are still registering pesticides. They still aren't doing testing in certain areas, and they still aren't releasing a lot of information.

I gave you one of the clippings I had from The Globe and Mail last May. The fact is, from an Agriculture Canada study, that pesticide use domestically for fruits and vegetables grown in Canada is up, in terms of the detectable levels, and we don't necessarily have the most sophisticated equipment for detection.

I can see, when I go around my neighbouring farms and city lawns, this problem hasn't gone away. If anything, perhaps it's increased. We see things increasing, like fish farming, that require pesticides. We see in Prince Edward Island, obviously for the potato economy and others, the increase in pesticides. We see problems with pesticides in northern food sources.

We had an international symposium here recently that started to link breast cancer and pesticide use. We have our own federal government that still uses pesticides for lawn maintenance, parks, and indoor pest problems. We have a lot of toxic dump sites right in this city that were created by the federal government. So don't look beyond yourselves, as they say.

In the current regime of pesticide management, if we can call it that, it appears to me that the only maximum residue level or tolerance levels established or compromised are to some degree in the food area. I don't see the same thing applying where the pesticides are leaching into the soil or waterways. No real solid studies have been done, and there are no tolerance levels, but we do see continuous studies about our Great Lakes, and one of the sources of the toxic problems is pesticides.

The first point that I certainly want to make is that we're in a state of crisis. Do not expect the PMRA to have the solutions—they're part of the problem.

• 1715

Now I'll move to an area I know, which is transparency and accountability. I think maybe you, as a committee, learned quite a lesson, because the Canadian Environmental Protection Act has been emasculated. One of the parts that was emasculated, through the industry lobby, was the degree of secrecy—more than any other act in this country—that is allowed for those toxic substance products. It completely overrides the Access to Information Act. Ministerial discretion comes into play, trade secrets, and everything else.

Why should you expect the PMRA or the next guy to listen if they've already got through Parliament one of the fifty-odd pieces of legislation that overrides the Access to Information Act in the most important area, which is the safety area? It's one thing to protect commercial confidentiality or national security, but here we're talking about health and safety protection for Canadians.

I know that when I put in Access to Information requests under Health Canada—this particular administration—anything is a company submission and is verboten. It's like it's a trade secret. You cannot find out very much, and what you do find out is surface level. We've even asked for a list of pesticides that are applied to tobacco. You have to ask the right questions or you don't get much of a list. I got a list showing there was a considerable amount of pesticides for all kinds of tobacco products—one poison on another poison, so to speak—and there are people who smoke. Do they know about that added risk or the potentially added risk?

Provinces like Prince Edward Island that don't even have freedom of information acts—I heard them say they have test results. I bet your bottom dollar that those test results have not been released to the public. This is part of the problem. We have federal-provincial arrangements that say “We'll share this information with you, but not the public”. It creates a problem. If you're always going to deal underneath the table, you're going to continually have a problem. I don't think the balance is there.

Now you've put the administration in with Health Canada, which has a number of other problems when it comes to health protection. I'd be more than happy later to talk further about transparency, but when people talk about transparency they're not necessarily talking about transparency for the public. They're not talking about a really radical change. For instance, on drug secrecy, I'm in court right now on drug submissions and so on. I'm arguing, you show me the proprietary right for the trade secrets there. Maybe you make a pill in your plant with a certain dimension and so on, but what about the safety submissions that were submitted toward the toxicology of that drug, the efficacy of that drug and so on? Is that proprietary information? No. They're submitted to a regulator for safety reasons.

Let's get over the mentality that the pesticide industry has convinced everybody and hoodwinked them that everything is a trade secret because the regulator, supposedly PMRA, is there to regulate. The material they're submitting is not just the secret ingredients, it's the safety results of what they've done—or let's hope part of the material is. There's this sort of taboo that you can't get certain information because everybody's been bamboozled in that way.

The Chairman: Excuse me, Mr. Rubin. Because of the vote taking place in the House of Commons and the fact that we have to go back, it would be helpful if you could now begin to—

Mr. Ken Rubin: That's fine. I would like to touch on at least two other areas.

One area that's very important for the committee, which I have a little insight into, is the conflicting, inconsistent, and unconnected mandates here. Health Canada has the PMRA, but they also have set standards for the safe limits of residues in foods. You're mixing trade and safety in so many areas there under one roof. That is problematic.

• 1720

The fact of the matter is that by placing various mandates for poison administration under Health Canada for hazardous products, for tobacco, for narcotics, and so on, you're taking away what the prime emphasis could be: to protect and emphasize the health and safety of Canadians.

When you put conflicting mandates together, the outcome can be that what you should focus on is not focused on. I feel—as I say in my brief—that you must look at this area, because I've heard them say, “Well, we have draft legislation. It's been there since 1997.” Well, they have draft legislation for the Health Products Safety Act. They have draft legislation for the Canada Food Safety Act. What are all these pieces of legislation supposed to do? They take away and minimize government's regulation. They limit government's regulation.

I heard the witnesses in their dialogue before saying give companies more responsibility. What about government's responsibility? Where's the legislative input? We'll move toward a risk management kind of solution instead of universal protection for Canadians.

The legislative base is being eroded. I think your committee should be well aware that Health Canada is the leader in all the legislation they're putting forward on this.

I will briefly touch on the fact that—as I said before—new pesticides have come on the market that are from genetically altered food. I think the problem there is still the same problem as with pesticide registration—that is, how thorough is the testing? What about after the product's on the market? Is there really any market surveillance? Is there any testing? Is there any real information that can be there? I don't, from my experience, see very much of that.

In the case of the GE products and the story I did last week that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, the fact is that when you compromise a so-called safety process to fast-track two Monsanto genetically altered potatoes, and you bring in the political level, you bring in the potato industry.... That's not who normally comes in. If a company like Monsanto has a deficiency, let them talk it over with the particular officials. You don't bring in these people who say—as one of the agenda items there said—we want to see what we can do about the commercialization of NatureMark products, which are the biotechnological products of Monsanto.

So we have a problem here—a credibility problem. I can remember in the early 1980s, when the lab in the States, a lot of the pesticide testing they were doing.... I know you're going to be hearing from Cantox; you should question them seriously about whether they're doing authentic testing too. The fact is that the lab in the States was proven to have falsified the testing, and we're living with some of those test results still. We have a crisis in that regard too. The public trust is definitely at stake here.

Mr. Chairman, I know your committee—this will be the last point before concluding—had concern, and was put off by the officials, about fish feed, which I've looked at for several years. These fish farms are a multi-million-dollar—billion-dollar, probably—industry now, and were helped and encouraged by the government. It took a long time for the federal government even to look at pesticide limits or residue limits. The fact is that there is an environmental twist to these. What's happening in Ottawa—and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, of course, doesn't help it any more—is that Environment Canada as a check and balance is being placed out of the loop. If they introduce legislation, I'm sure it will replace the pesticide reviews.

The environmental assessment regulations that they are currently trying to sneak through would prevent Environment Canada from doing a double-blind type of test on food products for food safety. It would be left to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to do the animal feed and the environmental release studies, and it would be left to Health Canada to do food safety.

This is a problem. And as I understand it, your committee has said you want to look at pest management. It isn't just a boxed area for Health Canada or the health committee. It concerns us, because it has environmental consequences. It has a human health and environmental health consequence. I feel that one cannot just look at things like fish feed and pesticides with that narrow realm that is currently in vogue in Ottawa.

• 1725

The challenge that lies ahead is not only to improve the regulation. I know you had a message the other day—which is a bright spot—from some of the sustainable organic groups. There are alternatives to the traditional use of chemicals. They may be a little difficult, just like democracy may be, too, but the fact is that they have some economic basis.

McCain's did not just decide.... The previous witness said the science base is still solid, but I don't think it is. I don't think McCain's decided because of public pressure. They decided because those genetically engineered potatoes are not good yielders. The Colorado potato bug—I'm a farmer, and I've put up with them—is going to outsmart those little cell-inserted pesticides. That's just a fact and a reality.

Any business judgment should be that you're not going to go with something if it's not going to earn you profit. Unfortunately, the pesticide industry's been allowed to get away with too much.

In concluding, because there are too many problems and conflicts inherent in the current administration, I think it's high time that the committee recommend a fuller public inquiry than the one that's going on now into the state of pesticide and toxic substance management in Canada. Better protection and better transparency is needed to protect not only our foods, but also our soils, waters, and airs. They're all interconnected. This is something we must do.

Thank you.

The Chairman: Mr. Rubin, thank you very much for the very broad background of information you've brought to the committee.

The fuller investigation or inquiry that you're proposing would postpone legislative action by several years. The fuller investigation is what this committee is able to do in a limited time. It will not be full, but it's better than nothing, and hopefully it will trigger government action sooner than anticipated. That's all we can do in terms of protecting the public interest.

I appreciate very much the points you've made, and I'm sure that Madame Girard-Bujold and my colleague, Mr. Lastewka, have questions.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Mr. Chairman, I don't have a lot of comments or questions because Mr. Rubin's presentation was exhaustive. He summarized everything that was said by previous witnesses before the committee.

It's true we should recommend a public inquiry, Mr. Chairman. After everything we have heard over the last few weeks, it's high time we took action. If Canada and the provinces don't look into the matter, the situation will only worsen. We might even reach the point where it will not be possible to help protect the public's health anymore.

Sir, in your opinion, who should head the public inquiry and what should its mandate be? Thank you.


Mr. Ken Rubin: That's a difficult one. I remember years ago when I was with the Science Council of Canada—which is no more—I always thought that what we needed in Canada was an independent body that would assess technology and scientific advances as they came. It gave us a broader picture, an early warning system, if you will, of what could be done. That body doesn't exist. I know we have this cumbersome royal commission route, which I don't recommend, but we do have scientists who aren't on one side or the other who could lead an inquiry.

I think part of the problem—getting back to the transparency—is what we might find if we really had more open, over-the-counter information. We might find that there isn't information, that the information is very shallow, highly incomplete, that there are gaps like there were in the rBST drug process. We just might find that we do need bodies like that, which are much more independent than a CanTox relationship is with the government, that will really truly assess, take our interests to heart, because if we don't, we'll never have a system where we'll do it.

• 1730

Perhaps, as the chair says, an inquiry will take too long, but what we need in place for certain is better protection. Unless we have a means of permanently referring things to some kinds of scientific panels that are impartial, that don't have conflicts of interest or some device like that, we are going to keep bumbling along. I don't see that in the promised land, at least in the chemical pesticide area, that the decrease has been as much as people talk about.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I haven't had time to read your entire brief, but I will do so with interest later. You say that things have to change, but that there is no process in place to trigger such a change. On the one hand, you say that, but on the other, you say that a public inquiry would take too long. I personally don't think we should have one. There have been provincial inquiries, but these were not major undertakings designed to bury the issue, as has happened before in Canada.


Mr. Ken Rubin: No, it could be that.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Every witness before the committee identified the source of the problem. You said that the PMRA did not fulfil its mandate. I don't know if its mandate was clear to begin with. What action can we take immediately? We've heard a lot of things. We have the power to make recommendations. What will I recommend? I will recommend everything you have said, but what then? How can I get people to act?


Mr. Ken Rubin: It's a fairly tall order. I am pointing out what I consider to be some of the deficiencies and realities. There could be more modest inquiries started. It may be on a particular group of pesticides; it may be on the newer pesticides that are being tested on genetically engineered foods. We have 42 now. Let's sit down and take a look at what's been done. Let's strategically look at particular areas. Let's look at some of the leading pesticides, like 2,4-D and Roundup, or perhaps at the leaching of pesticides into places in Canada where well water is prevalent.

Let's look at the priority areas. I know in the toxic substance area you're supposed to look at priority areas, so let's look at what's happened there. I think there are the means and devices to do that, and if there's the will, which I don't see right now, then there would be....

If they hadn't dismantled the Canadian Environmental Protection Act I'd feel a little more confident in saying that we could move ahead quicker. You're up against a really solid lobby here, and people have been bamboozled on the trade secrecy. You have to push that window open. They've been bamboozled on the fact that it's a separate agency and it shouldn't be interrelated to other things, it shouldn't have conflicting mandates. Right now it's a sales trade mandate more that a safety mandate. That has to be rejigged; it has to be changed. And some of these things are legislation and some of these things are public discussion.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Sir, in your brief, you refer to the Law Reform of Canada of 1987. You say that when officials found out about the contents of the Law Reform Commission's report, they basically decided to ignore it. Was the report ever made public? What did it contain? Can you tell us a little more about it?


Mr. Ken Rubin: Yes. While it was merely a study paper, it had quite a few interesting people on it. There was a high hope when the pesticide management was put in agriculture that this integrated pest management idea would work, where there would be a transition from more toxic pesticides, where you would look for biological alternatives. Some of the environmental groups that partook of that exercise after this review was done were not pleased with what the end result has been, or else they wouldn't be back in front of the committee and say they were....

• 1735

It started a process, but it was taken over by Agriculture Canada, by industry people and by nice-sounding words like “integrated pest management” without strong enough initiatives either in the transparency area or in the toughness of the regulations. If I understand it correctly, in Prince Edward Island I thought municipalities, perhaps it was before 1997, had the right to do their own bans on chemical lawn use in cities, as you do here in Chelsea.

Give the power back to the people. Give the leverages back where you can. If you don't create the checks and balances, certain interests will walk all over you. That's just the way it is. They have a different motivation from the public interest.

The Chairman: Mr. Lastewka.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Mr. Chairman, I only have one question because of time priorities, and that's exactly what I want to talk about, priorities.

If there are two messages you would like to leave with this committee, could you be succinct in your two messages?

Mr. Ken Rubin: The two that I feel most comfortable with.... If the committee is recommending greater transparency, as I think they're heading to, and they don't go the route, for instance, that....

Mr. Walt Lastewka: What you want to do, not what.... Be succinct. What are the priority items of action you want to leave with this committee?

Mr. Ken Rubin: I'm saying the priority in that particular respect is much greater disclosure, not everything being a trade secret, where applications are discussed, they're peer-reviewed, where there's independent testing and there's follow-up afterwards. The transparency is important.

The second issue is to remove the mandate of regulating pesticides from conflicting interests and to put it where it should be, to put it in a clear context. If it's the Minister of Health, then that mandate is understood to be his mandate. Someone else might look after the trade and registration. It's a safety issue. It's not a trade or commercialization issue. It's not just a registration issue.

Mr. Walt Lastewka: Thank you.

The Chairman: Dr. Rubin, what you are saying is that agencies that have a dual mandate cannot perform in the public interest because they have to ride two horses running and now galloping in opposite directions. Is that a fair picture?

Mr. Ken Rubin: I think so. We're moving more and more to balancing factors to risk management instead of to the precautionary scientific principle, which some of the previous witnesses have talked about. You sacrifice a great deal.

I have used the Monsanto case, where you were in essence doing a safety review and all of a sudden trade considerations and pressure planting next year became more important, even though they said they corrected the deficiencies and met the timelines.

When you have certain things over your head, then it's more difficult. I've heard several people say in their briefs that we need less regulatory burden or overlap. We don't need Environment Canada in on the environmental assessment regulations or the cross-checking of it as well. That's short code for let's get on with marketing these products and let's forget about the environmental consequences of the safety concerns.

The Chairman: So in answer to Mr. Lastewka's question, your recommendation would be that dual-mandate agencies be replaced by single-mandate agencies?

Mr. Ken Rubin: I think so. I would be much more comfortable—not that they've been strong departments—if Environment Canada and Health Canada were more the lead agencies without certain of the conflicts that seem to be happening there.

I really feel that the environmental considerations, which your committee is considering in the current context, are being given short shrift. Unless there's some move to bring them back in, then we will have a problem, because it's the environment in the end and then back to human health that will suffer as a result.

• 1740

The Chairman: To conclude, Mr. Rubin, on page 3 you make a statement that really struck me. You say:

    The tolerated limits of pesticides in foods, as crafted under Division 15 of the Food and Drugs Act, remains based on unscientifically arrived-at maximum residue limits (MRL).

Can you expand on that? Why do you say “unscientifically arrived at”?

Mr. Ken Rubin: I will be the first to say I'm not a scientist, but I've read some of the literature and I've seen some of the controversy.

The fact is that, first of all, certain foods do not have any limits whatsoever. Some are set universally under division 15 of the Food and Drugs Act. I think it's 0.1 parts per million. The question is whether that's too high. When you're going to measure it on fruits and vegetables primarily, are you only looking at one pesticide and its effect? You're looking at the interaction of these pesticides. Who has set these goals and benchmarks? Should they not be re-evaluated? Some people are saying they're not based on good science, yet that's the residue level.

I think I've also said in my brief that when people exceed those limits—and it isn't Health Canada that does the inspections any more, it's Agriculture Canada—it takes me months to even find out who the violators are in what's called the compliance list. It is an eye-opener in Canada. This is not just for imported products. Regularly on those month-to-month lists, when I get them eventually under the access act, are violators. Some of them are small companies, and some of them are big companies.

So you have a problem if they're exceeded, but just as with everything else, I think you have to look at these again. As I think I also said, where are the tolerance levels for the soils, for the trees, for the waters and so on? It's one thing for the—

The Chairman: Mr. Rubin, excuse me for interrupting, but the maximum residue limits are the heart and soul of the business that we are exploring right now.

Mr. Ken Rubin: That's true.

The Chairman: When you come here and you say the present MRLs are unscientifically based, you are putting a bomb in our midst. Therefore, we need some help here in clarifying this statement, because this is a devastating observation. On what do you base it?

Mr. Ken Rubin: Division 15 has been there for a considerable number of years, but when I've asked for documentation I've never seen any re-evaluation of it. It's universal to many different products. It seems to me you can't just have that. Are people like Sam Epstein, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who have been very critical of this—he's the author of The Politics of Cancer

The Chairman: Are the limits imposed arbitrarily? Are the limits defined arbitrarily?

Mr. Ken Rubin: This what I'm questioning. It appears they're so universally applied, with exceptions, that you have to wonder. Take an apple: it doesn't just have one chemical, it has over forty chemicals. So how are you doing this maximum residue testing? This is the problem. I don't think anybody.... I would urge the committee to make sure they look at this further, because every time I—

The Chairman: We will be at it for five years, then. This is quite a labyrinth. The fact that you conclude that the limits are arrived at unscientifically is very disturbing.

Mr. Ken Rubin: Well, it's because I do feel something that has been left to sit there is so prevalent with so many products. It doesn't take into account that there are some groups, like children or like people in the north who are eating off the food sources, are more vulnerable. There's only one game in town, one residue level. I don't think that's realistic for the health and safety of people like pregnant women or whoever, who are the target vulnerable audiences.

I think science is capable of being more sophisticated at detecting residues and adjusting them to the particular health situations and environmental situations at hand. All I'm saying is that I don't see any effort to really re-examine them. They've just been sitting there for years, unquestioned and untried in many ways. The testing, which is done by sampling, is very small, and it's sort of done product by product. I don't get the feeling that it's done in a good, systematic fashion, in a fashion that sees vulnerable groups and interests taken into account.

• 1745

I'm no expert, but I am saying that if these are the guts of the system, then heaven help us. The fact of the matter is that if trade secrets and other things about what they say are in those ingredients—either in inert ingredients or active ingredients in those pesticides—and if we don't know anything about hardly anything because they haven't been tested, or if we don't know much about what they're putting in the cells for the genetically engineered things, then I'm not the expert to then say this level or that level is good.

I am saying you'd think somebody would be evaluating, would be keeping mind of the shop, would be keeping track of the fact that certain people seem to be affected more by the environment or respiratory problems or pesticides or certain cancers or what not.

I know I felt very terrible when I was approached by some groups here in Chelsea. They knew I was an organic farmer. They said some of their members have breast cancer, and asked what I know about the interrelationships with pesticides. I'm not the expert on that, but they did hear experts in the symposium.

People are starting to question. They're not willing to accept what people in the administration have said when those administrators have said that's a tolerance level, accept it, it's good for you and it's good for me. Well, why are they still feeling this, or why are they actually making some links between certain diseases? This is just not on farms where pesticides are sprayed a little too carelessly. This is prevalent throughout different groups in society.

I don't know. I wish I had the answers here. But I feel that partly my role in getting documents and digging information is to be my own early warning system, because I'm afraid a lot of people just go to sleep without looking at what's developing here.

As I said in starting, here we are at the year 2000. We had all these great targets, including ones for toxic substances and for reviewing so many by a certain time. I can remember when Ross Hume Hall was involved in the 1970s, along with other people. They started to review them, and there was a struggle in getting dioxins and a few others reviewed. The snail-paced review of these and the assessment of them is just pathetic.

Why is that the case? We can put billions of dollars into other things, but we can't seem to manage something that is going to be very important to us? For instance, on Prince Edward Island, where there's a small economy and where the pesticide level has increased, they're going to have a serious problem in a few years. I would like to see them helped, along with other people who are more vulnerable.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Rubin. I appreciate your help, your input and your interest.

Mr. Ken Rubin: Thank you.

The Chairman: The next meeting will be Monday afternoon, with the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Mr. Emmett.

The meeting is adjourned. Thank you very much.