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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

COMITÉ PERMANENT DE L'ENVIRONNEMENT ET DU DÉVELOPPEMENT DURABLE

EVIDENCE

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Monday, December 13, 1999

• 1515

[Translation]

The Chairman (Mr. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib)): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we will continue our study on the management and use of pesticides.

Today we will hear from Mr. Brian Emmett, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

[English]

We welcome you, Mr. Emmett. We know you have a tight schedule today, so we will listen to you right away and hope that we can have a good round of questions before you have to leave.

Can you indicate to us the time at which you have to leave?

Mr. Brian Emmett (Commissioner, Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada): Yes, about 4:30 or so, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: All right. Well, we have a good hour and a quarter. Thank you for accepting our invitation. We are most anxious to hear you. The floor is yours.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman.

This afternoon I would like to make some brief introductory remarks. Then I would be more than pleased to answer your questions.

With me today is John Reed, a principal in my group and project director for our work on toxic substances. The focus of my remarks today will be on pesticides, and I will base my remarks on chapters 3 and 4 of my May 1999 report.

[Translation]

Chapter 3, “Understanding the Risks from Toxic Substances—Cracks in the Foundation of the Federal House” emphasized the importance of good scientific information when making decisions on the risks posed by pesticides and other toxic substances. We found weaknesses in inter-departmental coordination of research, fragmented departmental programs and conflicting agendas, incomplete monitoring networks, and a growing gap between demands placed on departments for information and their ability to meet those demands. Cumulatively, these cracks in the foundation threaten the government's ability to detect and understand the effects of toxic substances, including pesticides.

In chapter 4 of my report, “Managing the Risks of Toxic Substances—Obstacles to Progress”, we reported on continued departmental infighting, a lack of action against established commitments and government-wide policies, voluntary initiatives in need of strengthened accountability, and weak performance monitoring and data tracking. We concluded that the government was not adequately managing the risks posed by existing toxic substances.

Since we tabled our report, we have been following the hearings you have been conducting with great interest. Based on the transcripts I have read, I believe our findings are still relevant. I have seen nothing that causes us to change our views or that assures us that the major problems identified are being addressed in a systematic way.

[English]

In addition to the broad issues identified in chapters 3 and 4, there are a few specific key issues I would like to emphasize.

First, research and monitoring work underway in federal departments has the potential of providing a unique Canadian perspective on the presence and impact of pesticides, but generating good research and monitoring information is a moot point if it is used ineffectively. In this regard, my report raised significant concerns about the lack of cooperation and sharing of information between the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the PMRA, and the departments that undertake scientific research, such as Health Canada, Environment Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans. This situation must change if the federal government is to use its full expertise to make decisions on pesticides and to consider the precautionary principle.

• 1520

Second, our concerns with the re-evaluation process and special reviews of pesticide are twofold.

First, the government's track record with pesticide re-evaluations is alarmingly poor, both in relation to long-standing domestic commitments and in comparison to other countries, where re-evaluation seems to have been taken much more seriously than in Canada. Many pesticides used today were approved when standards were much less stringent than they are today. In some cases, standards were approved over 40 years ago. Second, the ground rules for conducting re-evaluations and special reviews are unclear and need to be clear.

I realize that you have heard from many witnesses on this subject, therefore, I will not say much more on this except that I would like to stress that our work did not address the initial registration of pesticides.

[Translation]

The third key concern raised in our report was the absence of an overall policy direction or strategic game plan within the PMRA for pesticide risk reduction. Risk reduction in this context refers to a host of different activities—such as reductions in use, adoption of alternatives, or less toxic pesticides—aimed at reducing overall risks for people and the environment. Governments worldwide have specifically enacted such policies and programs. The Canadian government even directed the PMRA upon its formation to develop a risk reduction policy. It has not yet done so and needs to.

Another area of concern is the inadequate tracking of toxic releases and pesticides. You know from my report that I place a high value on the measurement of such releases. My specific concern was the lack of a national database on pesticide sales and use, despite explicit direction and previous commitments to establish one. Unlike many OECD countries, Canada does not have one, undermining our ability to gauge reduction efforts.

The last area I would like to address is the use of voluntary instruments. As my report noted, these are used extensively in the management of industrial chemicals but not as extensively for pesticides. That will likely change. Although I believe that properly designed and implemented voluntary programs can help achieve risk management objectives, members know that we made several recommendations aimed at strengthening the accountability, reporting and monitoring provisions of existing instruments. If voluntary initiatives are a subject of interest, the committee may wish to refer to the relevant sections of our report.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the main message in my May report is that there continues to be a substantial gap between talk and action on the federal government's environmental and sustainable development agenda. As a result, we are paying the price in terms of our health, environment, standard of living and legacy to our children and grandchildren.

[English]

I would like to leave you with three thoughts.

First, although we fully recognize that toxic substances and pesticides are a complicated issue for the many reasons cited in our chapters and by witnesses, I am not convinced that the problems we identified are rooted in the complexity of the issues. On the contrary, for me, many of the problems have a very familiar ring to them and, in my view, they are very solvable.

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For example, we have seen, first, gaps in applying the fundamentals of good management: planning, doing, checking, and improving. Second, we have seen a lack of implementation against stated commitments and policies. Third, we have seen unclear working relationships, roles, and accountabilities. Fourth, we have seen competing mandates and compartmentalized thinking—a very fragmented approach. Finally, we have seen a lack of performance measurement.

Second, in my view, solving the issues and concerns identified in our chapters and raised by many witnesses cannot be done in isolation from broader issues. The need for coordinated research, effective monitoring networks, consistent application of the precautionary principle and pollution prevention, robust voluntary agreements, and effective tracking of results are examples of the types of issues that I would hope would be included in your recommendations.

Third, as I've said several times before, the work of this committee, Mr. Chairman, is vital to Canada's success in meeting its environment and sustainable development goals.

Chapters 3 and 4 of my May report made a series of recommendations aimed at improving the assessment and management of toxic substances and pesticides. Most of these were directed to several departments simultaneously, reflecting our belief that improved working relationships among departments are needed. We were naturally pleased that six federal departments were able to agree on a single high-level response and commit to take action on our recommendations.

However, the price of such solidarity was specificity. There are no specific commitments made by departments. This is where I believe the committee can play a key role. If the committee agrees with our observations and recommendations, it can hold departments accountable for developing and implementing specific action plans and for reporting progress periodically.

In closing, I would very much like to thank the committee for its ongoing interest and support. John and I would be more than pleased to answer any questions you may have. I should add that we will revisit chapters 3 and 4, toxic chemicals and pesticides, in the year 2002 as part of a normal follow-up process to see if the people who responded to our report have actually implemented their recommendations. We do have a normal program for follow-up, which is embedded in our work.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Very well. Thank you, Mr. Emmett.

We have a good hour. We'll have a good round, possibly two, of five minutes each. We'll start with Mr. Jaffer, followed by Madame Girard-Bujold, Mr. Reed, Madame Kraft Sloan, and Mr. Lincoln, so far.

Mr. Jaffer or Mr. Chatters, please go ahead. You have five minutes.

Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for coming before the committee. I haven't been involved from the beginning in this whole pesticide issue, so I'm perhaps a little behind on some of the issues behind it.

It seems to me that repeatedly—since I've been here, at least—issues of the interpretation of science, of how governments interpret and use science, and of the coordination of that science in government policy seem to be a problem. We've seen that certainly in the collapse of the Atlantic fishery and in health issues, with the blood products and those kinds of things. We've seen it, I think, in this whole science around this climate change issue.

It seems to me you're saying that the same problem exists when we're dealing with the whole pesticide question. Our party has long advocated for some kind of office for a scientific ombudsman—for lack of a better term—who would coordinate and interpret science for governments. That office would do many of the things that you seem to be proposing. What do you think of that idea?

The Chair: Mr. Emmett.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

That's a challenging question. One of the roles originally conceived of for the office I have was ombudsmanlike in nature, albeit not scientific. Many of the issues you raise are ones of taking the results of science-based investigations and making policy and political judgments based on them. Speaking as an individual and as somebody who has occupied a job like this, I don't think you can take the policy or the political element out of these calculations by vesting that in an individual who could conceivably have the capacity to look at all points of view and reach an absolutely unambiguous decision where there is ambiguity.

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The way I look at it is that there are two elements to thinking about risk. One is scientific—the risk that fish might not come back, the risk of climate change, the risk that pesticides might harm your health, etc. Scientists can tell us a lot about this. So there's calculation, but then there's judgment. What do we do with that information? What risk are we willing to take? When you look at something such as the collapse of the Atlantic fishery, you have to balance on the one hand the scientific information available with, on the other hand, the vital importance of that resource to a community that has few other alternatives in that region. So I think for risk there is calculation and judgment.

To me, the calculation should be made by scientists, and it should be peer-reviewed and as high quality as possible. The judgments need to made by well-informed, elected representatives of Canadians, who we put in place to make just those sorts of judgments about what society's priorities are. I don't think an ombudsman can address that problem.

Mr. David Chatters: The track record of politicians making sound decisions based on scientific evidence has not been great. One may wish that would be the case, but it seems to me that whenever politics and science come into conflict, the political side wins out. With regard to the Atlantic fishery, certainly there was a concern about the welfare of those communities, but in the long run those communities were deprived of their resource anyway, because the political side ignored the scientific side.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Right. But, Mr. Chairman, if I may respond, I think you could almost put it in reverse as well. If it had been made solely on scientific grounds and not accepted by the communities that were dependent on the resource, one might have had a policy failure as well. The issue is achieving this balance.

I agree that the track record could be better and that we need to get better at this. On the other hand, I'm very reluctant to see final decisions about the lives and futures of Canadians vested in appointed as opposed to elected officials.

Mr. David Chatters: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Chatters.

[Translation]

Ms. Girard-Bujold, please.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Mr. Chairman, it is with great interest that I read the presentation the Environment Commissioner made before the committee this afternoon. I noted that everything the Environment Commissioner said fell in line with the concerns of every other witness who came before the Environment Committee over the last few weeks.

Mr. Chairman, it is deplorable that there is presently in Canada an organization which is supposed to manage pesticides but which, as everyone has said, has not fulfilled its obligations and has not played the role it was mandated to fulfil. Mr. Chairman, the government created this agency and gave six departments responsibilities related to pesticides, and it saddens me greatly that the Agency has failed.

I had a question for the Environment Commissioner. At our last day of hearings, somebody made a rather good suggestion. This person asked that a commission of inquiry be created to study the way the PMRA has managed its business. I would like to know what the Commissioner thinks of this after which I would like to ask some more questions. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

• 1535

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you, Ms. Girard-Bujold.

Mr. Chairman, the members of your committee are asking very difficult questions of me. What I have said about the Agency is similar to what I have said regarding other departments and agencies. The PMRA has the same problem many other federal institutions and agencies have, namely that it micromanages its business badly.

In the case of the PMRA, we did not study its structure and performance in great detail. We conducted an inquiry into the pesticide management system but our inquiry was limited.

I don't think we found anything that would set the Agency apart. Its problems are very similar to those of other institutions. The process consisted in identifying problems and solving them, and in improving the management process. I'm not sure that a commission of inquiry studying the Agency in detail would find the specific and pointed answers we are looking for.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Mr. Chairman, in point 13 of his brief, the Commissioner concluded by saying:

    ... there continues to be a substantial gap between talk and action [...] As a result, we are paying the price in terms of our health, environment, standard of living and legacy to our children and grandchildren.

You also said in your brief, Mr. Commissioner, that you read with great interest the presentations of other witnesses who came before the Environment Committee. I may have missed one or two of them, but I certainly read every brief. Mr. Commissioner, everyone told us that there was no management plan, that there was no database, that certain pesticides had been registered over 40 years ago and that new pesticides waiting for registration still had not been evaluated. There's a complete lack of action and everyone is passing the buck.

Mr. Commissioner, I'm a very good reader. I read the conclusions contained in your report. I read chapters 3 and 4. You raised some issues, as did the people who came before the committee, but we will have to take this process one step further.

I would like to know whether you, in your capacity as Commissioner of the Environment, have identified any possible approaches. Do you think Canada should be changing course dramatically as regards pesticides? The committee will have to table a report, and I think we are entitled to ask you to shed some light on this matter, Commissioner. Thank you.

The Chairman: A brief answer, please, Mr. Emmett.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

We pointed out, in the first report in 1997, that there was a gap between theory and practice. The gap exists in all areas we looked at: overall change, transborder movement of hazardous waste, pesticides and chemicals. The gap exists not only within the PMRA, but throughout the government. I think we are looking for solutions to a problem faced by all federal government agencies involved in the environment and sustainable development.

• 1540

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

[English]

Mr. Reed, five minutes, please.

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

I wonder, Mr. Emmett, if you would help to enlighten an absolute layman on this subject as to just what the mandate is of the commissioner. Perhaps you could briefly outline it for me.

Mr. Brian Emmett: My mandate comes from revisions to the Auditor General Act that were passed by Parliament in 1995.

The Chair: They were examined by this committee.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Yes. This committee was very influential with regard to these amendments, and this committee is a very important audience for me.

The amendments did two things. They required departments to prepare sustainable development plans and to table them with the Speaker of the House. That means that every department of the Government of Canada has to recognize its responsibilities for the environment and sustainable development and be clear about its goals. One of my responsibilities is to examine those strategies and departmental performance each year and report on them. The second mandate I have from Parliament is to report on any subject that I feel it is important for parliamentarians to know about in the context of the environment and sustainable development.

Mr. Julian Reed: You're familiar with the approval structure that has existed up until the formation of the PMRA. Does the PMRA have the potential to be better than its predecessors, or is it worse? In other words, there has always been an approvals process of some sort in place, but now we have this new structure. Do you see it showing promise? Can it improve upon and end up actually being a better structure than its predecessor?

Mr. Brian Emmett: Mr. Reed raises an interesting question. It's ironic in a sense that now we're saying we need an in-depth examination of the PMRA because it itself was put in place because the previous regime was seen to have some faults.

I think the PMRA does have promise and that perhaps it needs time to work out its difficulties. In translating promise into performance, it shares many problems in common with what we see across government. I would very much like to see it adopt a very commonsensical model of managing based on continuous improvement. I think the agency, like many institutions and agencies in government, has problems of detail, not problems of overall conceptual design. Conceptually, there's no reason they shouldn't work. In detail, things are breaking down, because people don't do the little jobs.

Mr. Julian Reed: The observations you have made are very profound, but it seems to me that you are reflecting a systemic weakness in bureaucracies generally. You talked about compartmentalized thinking and so on, that somehow these things seem to become territorial, sort of “No, this is mine and that's yours”. But in fact the goal has to be cooperation and interaction. Does that make any sense?

Mr. Brian Emmett: Every time I write a chapter—and we're working now on smog for next May—we come across many of the same problems. We live in a world in which governments and many industries are organized in smokestacks, vertically in columns. But many of our problems run across those.

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So it's very difficult. Having been a bureaucrat, I know there aren't too many rewards for cooperating interdepartmentally. As well, I worked in an environment where, in my view, people placed more value on vision than on management. It's a job I was proud of doing. We need vision. We need people who have a vision of how to do things better, of a better world and so on. But we also need people who are rewarded for putting the elements of management in place—planning, doing, checking, making things better, and keeping that cycle of continuous improvement working.

There's a saying I came across: Ideas don't move mountains, bulldozers move mountains. Well, we have a lot of ideas but very few bulldozers, and I think we just need to redress that balance.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Reed.

Madam Kraft Sloan, s'il vous plaît.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan (York North, Lib.): Thank you.

Welcome to our committee, Mr. Emmett.

I want to ask you about the precautionary principle. As you know, there has been some talk of legislation to replace or amend the current Pest Control Products Act. From what we've heard from so many witnesses, I think it's important to act in a precautionary way, particularly when we're not sure or when we're concerned about significant harm.

From your point of view, what kind of definition of a precautionary principle should we be looking at or making recommendations about for any possible legislation?

Mr. Brian Emmett: This is something I've been giving a great deal of thought to, Mrs. Kraft Sloan. It's an extremely difficult question.

I recall when we first began using the precautionary principle. The idea had been, or the regime was, that you basically needed scientific certainty that something was going wrong before you took action against it. People began to say, well, that often results in late action, and we need something that will allow us to intervene earlier, and in a prudent way—that is, as evidence began to accumulate, we didn't need to be 100% certain. We could act with a balance of evidence.

I worry about the precautionary principle. I hope it is never used as a justification for not doing good science. I still think good science is going to be the basis of effective environmental regulation, and we do need evidence about harm and risk and so on.

I've been thinking recently in terms of metaphor—and I guess I just have the opinion of a citizen—with regard to how in legal circles there are two different kinds of proof. In criminal cases, it's beyond the shadow of a doubt, which seems to me to indicate a fair degree of certainty. In civil cases, they use the preponderance of evidence. That's a different standard of proof. You can see the different results that come out of trying the same set of facts in the application of those two principles.

In some sense, then, the precautionary principle is one that says let's use a civil definition more than a criminal definition. That is, if we have a preponderance of evidence or a reasonable balance of evidence for action, we should do so.

I'm afraid I'm not able to get more specific than that, though, personally.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Maybe someone else on your team can answer this, but in chapter 3 of your report, page 3-12, there is mention of the precautionary principle, the one accepted at Rio in 1992, which contains “cost-effective measures” within the definition. However, as most members of this committee are aware, we had quite a discussion with regard to the precautionary principle and the inclusion of cost-effective measures when we were looking at the Canadian Environmental Protection Act last year.

The Chair: This year.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Well, this year, last year, back in 1994—for a long time, Mr. Chair.

The concern here is that there is some controversy as to how this definition actually came about. There are also other regimes, both in Canada and internationally, where we use a precautionary principle definition that does not include cost-effective as a barrier that has to be met.

• 1550

As well, members of this committee, when talking to people from Treasury Board, found that when making regulations in the government, a number of economic bars had to be met with regard to a cost-benefit analysis as well as business impact. So it already exists within the system of government to ensure that things are not just done frivolously.

I'm wondering whether it is necessary to include cost-effective measures in the definition of a precautionary principle if we were to recommend it for any possible legislation with regard to the control of pesticides. Either you or someone else may want to comment on that.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Perhaps I'll ask John to make a comment, but in that regard there is one area I'm familiar with, the nuclear area, where they use the ALARA principle—that is, “as low as reasonably achievable”. So there are similar definitions that incorporate economic considerations.

I think it's very much a question of the priorities of MPs and Parliament and ministers about balancing the environment and the economy and that type of equation.

Having said that, John might want to add something.

Mr. John Reed (Principal, Audit Operations, Office of the Auditor General of Canada): Thank you, Commissioner.

I think it certainly is possible to have a definition without reference to cost-effective. In our international scan we came across at least one jurisdiction, Sweden, that does this. In Sweden's definition, there is no reference to cost-effective.

In applying the precautionary principle, I think our observation—it was also raised again in paragraph 3.127 in chapter 3—is that the departments are already in a situation where they can't agree on certain terms that are open to interpretation. I think the reality is that the more words that are open to interpretation in legislation, the more difficulty you'll have getting agreement at the level of detail.

But that's a general observation in terms of language.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I guess my concern would be that in some of the issues you had found around coordination and common mandates and understanding, this would further exacerbate the problem.

Mr. John Reed: I think it could well. There was an earlier question about whether a single-science ombudsman would be useful. The thrust of our recommendations, I think, was to say that we recognize that departments have specific mandates and expertise in different areas, but they at least ought to be able to work together to identify the areas of uncertainty and put in place a research program that will lead to some answer that they can all accept.

So this is really the key in terms of getting them to work together. What are the boundaries of the decision we're trying to make, and how do we get there?

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Lincoln, please.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.): Mr. Emmett, in your report you referred to the lack of definition of what is...[Technical Difficulty—Editor]...to various witnesses on this issue as to the critical need for a definition. But there are many possible definitions.

Various witnesses have suggested that now risk is usually geared to adults in society rather than the most vulnerable in society, and many have suggested that acceptable risk should be geared to the most vulnerable in society.

Do you agree with that in terms of the coming legislation?

Mr. Brian Emmett: Do I agree with that? Yes, I do. In setting limits and assessing risk, I think all members of society should be taken into account. The most vulnerable are clearly the people that one would be worried about.

• 1555

At the moment we're working on smog. Smog is of particular concern to more elderly people as opposed to younger people, and younger people with asthma and so on. There are people who are more vulnerable than others and those are the people of concern, and in some sense those are the people you're regulating for. Yes, I agree that the most vulnerable members of the population are of particular concern when you're setting those sorts of limits.

Acceptable risk: I think that's something, again to come back to the role of Parliament as opposed to the role of individuals, for Parliament to determine as the people who represent society's values.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: You referred to the MOUs, the one signed by Environment Canada with the PMRA and the one being negotiated by DFO, Fisheries and Oceans, with the PMRA. Can you tell me whether there's any follow-up by your office at all in regard to the progress of these things? We heard from a senior official from Environment Canada the other day who told us that basically the MOUs are still theory. In fact, you allude to this yourself in your report, saying that it's about time they started to implement. And he seemed to say there's been no progress. Could you address whether there's any follow-up on the part of your office?

Secondly, I understand the MOU between Fisheries and the PMRA is still not resolved and they still haven't signed. Do you have any input in these things after your report is issued?

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you, Mr. Lincoln. We have not followed up. We do that at two- or three-year intervals.

I would make the observation, if I may—and this is non-scientific, and I'm probably not supposed to do this as somebody who works with the Auditor General—that in reading the transcripts, you get such a feeling of fragmentation. There's a whole collection of solitudes speaking to the committee. I did not have the feeling that things were any different over the period these hearings were held and over the period we did our work. We have a fragmented and disaggregated approach to a subject that needs people in different departments to work together towards a goal.

As I said to the chairman at the beginning, we will come back and we will follow up those things, probably in the year 2002.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Lincoln.

We have enough time to start a good second round. Let me conclude this round with a couple of questions, Mr. Emmett, that are troublesome to many of us here.

The first one has to do with agencies with a conflicting mandate. You made a brief reference to it earlier. Is it possible to have agencies whose mandates at times are diametrically opposite to each other? Is not the fact, which you have observed several times, that there are fragmented approaches, a symptom of the fact that it is very difficult to have agencies with conflicting mandates. It seems to me that fragmented approaches are the result of mandates given to agencies that are virtually impossible to implement.

In the case of PMRA, the mandate is to deal with pesticides in a manner whereby industry has an opportunity to function and to market its product and, at the same time, has a mandate to protect health. Is that possible? Isn't that dual-mandate idea one of the reasons, in going through the blues, the proceedings, you have an an impression of fragmented approaches?

• 1600

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you for the question, Mr. Chairman.

I think the PMRA should have the mandate of regulating in the public interest. I worry a bit about decisions about health versus economic interest being made in the bureaucracy as opposed to, let's say, in cabinet by people who represent the interests of all Canadians, and where the discussion can be had at that level.

It worries me a little bit when major decisions about health versus other things are made—it's rather unintentionally disguised; I don't think people are being dishonest with you—as technical decisions as opposed to societal decisions. I'd much prefer to see groups that have more clearly defined interests having a transparent and open argument about where the balance point should be and establishing that in an open and democratic way.

I would agree that it's a lot easier to operate with a mandate that's more unambiguous. I don't think that's the root cause of fragmentation within the federal government. I think there are a lot of individual departments that have fairly clear mandates and don't particularly work all that well with companion departments that also touch on their portfolios.

I think there are a lot of reasons underlying the inability of departments to get together and work together. I don't think I would have put confusion of mandate at the head of my own personal list.

The Chair: Let's conclude this analysis here. Do you think that PMRA has a mandate that is not conflicting?

Mr. Brian Emmett: It has a mandate that requires it to make decisions that balance off one set of interests against another set of interests. I think that is probably a conflict, yes. I would much rather see that made by public representatives as opposed to bureaucrats like me.

The Chair: Once this mandate has been assigned to the bureaucrats, however, by virtue of creating the agency, then the agency is saddled with that dual mandate.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Yes.

The Chair: So how do you resolve it? There seems to me no way out of that impasse.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Right. If we begin with the premise that it has a mandate that doesn't allow it to operate, that means they're in a big hole right at the beginning. I think Mark Twain once said that the first thing a person should do when they find themselves in a hole is stop digging. I think for the PMRA, the way to stop digging is to get better information on health impacts and better information on economic impacts. I think that's the second part of their mandate.

The other things that troubles me about the PMRA a little bit more than perhaps its mixed mandate is the issue of transparency. How are these decisions made? What information is it based on? I think a little bit of sunshine would be helpful in terms of making these trade-off decisions.

I notice that you talked to Dr. Van Loon of the Pesticide Management Advisory Council. There are other committees that have been set up to assist the PMRA in doing its job. Perhaps they will be helpful, but being given a mandate that's inconsistent is a bit difficult to start with.

The Chair: Thank you. We'll go now to a second round. We start with Mr. Jaffer, please.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, Ref.): I would like to follow up a little bit on the issue of sharing information. I know there's been some discussion here and you've obviously outlined that in your report when it comes to different government departments sharing information, especially with the PMRA and research information particularly.

On the flip side, I'm curious about your opinion. If it isn't already being done, should there be any proactive work with so-called industry in the area of sharing information and research? When it comes to at least putting in some sort of policy in risk reduction of pesticides and effects of pesticides, obviously it's in the best interests of many of these companies that are producing these products to have the least amount of negative effects possible. There's much research and investment being done to make sure this happens in compliance with many of the regulations.

• 1605

Yet, when we have many of these discussions and when I see the approach of the PMRA to some extent, it doesn't seem like there's enough of a proactive effort or philosophy when it comes to working with industry, with some of the research that's being produced there.

I'm curious as to whether there should be better collaboration there, if any, and what your opinion on that might be.

Mr. Brian Emmett: My view is that Canada is a small country in a big global economy and there are lots of sources of information that we should make use of. There are other governments that are doing research.

In my job, we spend our entire lives thinking about information and its quality. Everything is about information, about people having good information that they can believe in in order to take decisions. If information that's peer-reviewed and audited comes from a private firm, I think the PMRA should make use of that as opposed to reinventing the wheel.

One of the problems, though, is that with respect to financial information, we have great tools out there for validating whether the books of a company are fairly representative of its financial health, but we don't have a similar system on the environment and health sides. I think one of the long-term objectives of the sort of work I'm doing is to try to make sure we have those means of validating. Right now there's peer review and things like that. They can help people have a little bit more faith in the information they receive, but sometimes I think people are a little bit prone to think that information available from the private sector might be tainted somehow.

As long as the quality of the information can be attested to in a way, I think it's just a wise and economical thing to do to make use of it.

Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Would it be, in your opinion—my knowledge is somewhat limited, becoming a member of this committee just recently.... In the sense of the PMRA having those so-called subcommittees or something chaired by industry people and other collaborative effects, what would you propose to put that sort of thing into place when it comes to sharing that information? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Mr. Brian Emmett: I think the chairmen of the committees supporting the PMRA should just be the best people for the job. I think in some ways their background should be irrelevant other than their qualifications to carry out a job that's absolutely key to us. There are good individuals in industry, good individuals in universities, good individuals in government. It should be on a case-by-case basis.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Ms. Girard-Bujold, please.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I would like to add something to a comment made by Mr. Emmett earlier. He said that the PMRA had a dual mandate. Do you think the first broad mandate of the PMRA should be health protection? Even if the agency has two mandates, I think its primary role should be health protection.

You say in point 8 of your brief:

    ... the government's track record with pesticide re-evaluations is alarmingly poor, both in relation to long-standing domestic commitments and in comparison to other countries where re-evaluation seems to have been taken more seriously than in Canada.

Studies have already been done in all other countries, Commissioner. They would be readily available to the people at the PMRA and could help them move forward in their pesticide evaluation work. Don't you think there should be a procedure for consulting studies, so that we do not have to redo scientific studies done elsewhere, in accordance with very specific mandates from the governments of other countries? Do you not think that the PMRA should use these to move forward with its own work on old pesticides and to promote the use of other pesticides that are less harmful to the environment, in accordance with the principle of... [Editor's note: Inaudible], as Ms. Kraft Sloan was saying earlier?

• 1610

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I heard that Ms. Franklin said that the Agency was cooperating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the moment. I think that scientists read newspapers and other such material. They are familiar with the information available.

In my view, the Agency's mandate is simply a reality. On the one hand, we must protect the health of Canadians, particularly the most vulnerable among us. We also need a reasonably priced food supply. It is a sustainable development problem. We want both: health protection and food supply. It is important that we have both.

As far as I'm concerned, the source of the information is less important than its quality. As you said, the information is available in other countries and from other sources.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: The officials from Environment Canada told us that they had asked the PMRA for information on pesticides. They had to wait weeks before they got it and did not know where to turn to get it. Don't you think that what happened and what is still happening today is really ridiculous? This type of thing is still happening today. Don't you think that some changes should be made within the PMRA immediately? Do you not agree that the Agency should work more with other departments that have a practical role to play? The environment is the responsibility of the Environment Department.

Mr. Brian Emmett: I agree, Mr. Chairman.

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

[English]

Mr. Reed.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The third key concern you've raised, Mr. Emmett, includes the phrase “adoption of alternatives”. You've limited your comment on alternatives to that one line. We believe there is an alternatives group within PMRA. Have you examined the alternatives group in PMRA, and are you able to comment on the work they have been doing?

Mr. John Reed: No, we did not examine a particular function or group within the PMRA. We were looking at the issues that are in the report: the risk reduction strategy and the policy framework for that, the use of integrated pest management, and so on. We were activity-focused, not functionally or organizationally focused.

Mr. Julian Reed: Okay.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That's the only question I had.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Reed.

Madame Kraft Sloan, please.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

We had representatives from the Government of Prince Edward Island testifying that when they were investigating some of the fish kills that occurred on the island, they had difficulty getting information they needed from the PMRA. In your report in chapter 3, page 31, you state:

    Legislation in the United States requires that manufacturers provide the government with reports of any unexpected adverse effects that it receives; however, the PCPA has no such requirement here in Canada.

• 1615

I'm not sure if you're familiar enough with the American legislation and the situation in P.E.I., but I wonder, if indeed P.E.I. were part of the United States or we had similar legislation in Canada, if they would have had access to the information they so desperately needed on hazardous effects in this particular situation.

Mr. John Reed: No, I don't think we really know the answer to that. It's a peculiarity of the act. It's because the Pest Control Products Act is silent on the issue of sharing of information. That is the main stumbling block.

I'm really not familiar enough with the U.S. legislation to know whether it would have been any different, but I think P.E.I.'s concern was broader than just accessing information on adverse effects. It was trying to understand the toxicity work of the pesticides in question.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Another thing I wanted to bring to your attention is that according to the Worldwatch Institute, pesticide use, for example in the United States—and in many respects we do emulate their statistics—has gone up ten times from the 1940s to the 1990s, but the share of the crop lost to pests has actually risen from 30% to 37%. So even though pesticide use has increased ten times, the loss of crops has risen by 7%. The concern here is that pests themselves are becoming pesticide-resistant.

I note that on page 4-27 in your report, you talk about the importance of establishing a risk reduction policy for managing pesticides and making sure these commitments reflect the commitments the federal government has made with regard to a pollution prevention strategy and a toxic substance management policy.

If we look at the incredible increase in the number of pests that are resistant to pesticide, whether they be plants or weeds or insects and that sort of thing, I just wonder if we're really thinking about pollution prevention, the effects on biodiversity, and how it's changing our ecosystem when we use some of these pesticides. I wonder if what the PMRA is doing and what the PCPA lays out, as a piece of legislation, are really going along with pollution prevention.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Perhaps I'll ask John to comment on the second part of your question.

On the first part, this is something that surprises me very much. When I refer to information, I generally refer to things that people who are interested in areas and ask questions as lay people are likely to ask, like me. I'm likely to ask somebody, “Are things getting worse? Are things getting better? Are we using more pesticides? Are we using less?”

The answer, as far as I can tell from our work and from reading the testimony, is we don't know. We don't have a clue, because we don't keep track of that data. We don't have a database and we don't know what's happening over time. We don't do effects monitoring so that we know what's going on out in the environment. I must say, I find that absolutely extraordinary.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the testimony I found was that people would tell you what the effects of the runoff from forest pesticides were, but nobody could tell you what the effects of the runoffs from all pesticides were, because that wasn't their job. I find it absolutely amazing that we're in a situation where you can get numbers for other countries, but you can't get numbers for our own country that can answer the sorts of questions my mother asked me, as commissioner. She'd say “In your big job up there in Ottawa, are things getting worse or getting better?”, and I'd say “Well, I have to admit I don't know, because the numbers aren't collected.” Personally, I find that embarrassing.

John, did you want to respond?

Mr. John Reed: You asked some specific questions about pollution prevention and the TSMP and the act. We have not seen the proposed amendments to the act, so I can't comment on those. We didn't feel the existing act embodied any of the provisions of pollution prevention.

• 1620

The way the PMRA interpreted its responsibilities under the toxic substances management policy led us to conclude there were some potential gaps there. The reasons you raised around resistance to pests and the need for the big picture are precisely why some of the other countries we examined have done that. They've recognized that we just can't keep dealing with one pesticide at a time if we're trying to get our arms around this big problem called the use of pesticides, sustainable agriculture, burdens on the environment, and so on.

I think all of those are compelling reasons to do exactly what your question is hinting at: focus on risk reduction and use some of the tools we have.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Following on something Mr. Lincoln brought up in his first line of questioning, has the government responded to some of the recommendations you've made in here? I find it somewhat appalling when I read on page 4-27 that the PMRA should be establishing a risk reduction policy. It should be in line with the pollution prevention strategy and the toxic substance management policy.

When we receive briefings from the PMRA, all of these things are part of its literature. It says it does these things. If you go to its website, it has a section for guidelines and directions with regard to implementing the TSMP, yet you're calling on the PMRA to do this. I'm just wondering what response you've received from the government on this.

Mr. Brian Emmett: There is a response on page 4-32 of our report. That's the response I referred to in my opening remarks as sort of agreeing, in general, with the recommendations we were making, but lacking the sort of specificity I believe Mrs. Kraft Sloan is looking for.

These are very interesting questions, if I can refer to some of the testimony that raised issues I hadn't thought of. One was that we took it almost for granted, when we wrote our report, that we should do more re-evaluation. I noticed some of the groups that came before the committee said the PMRA should do less re-evaluation because resources were limited, therefore they should spend their time introducing new pesticides that could be used in terms of grams per acre instead of kilograms per acre.

That raises a very interesting question. How do you minimize risk? Do you minimize it by focusing your money on re-evaluation, to the detriment of looking at new things? Do you really worry about these chemicals that were approved 40 years ago, when we didn't know a whole lot, and starve the new pesticide review function? It would be really interesting to see an analysis of that.

When I speak about a kind of risk reduction thinking, it's not just risk reduction with respect to each pesticide; it's risk reduction with respect to how they spend their budget and determine which of the categories of activity are the most important to get into. I saw no indication, if you're getting into the re-evaluation of pesticides or the evaluation, that there's a ranking: this is the one we suspect is the worst, this is the second worst, this is the third worst, and therefore we'll do number one first and number two second, and so on.

There's a kind of lack of an overall strategic plan that says how to get the maximum value for our dollar and that maybe we should go back to the commissioner and say that with the new pesticides on the market it may be better not to spend so much on re-evaluation; that might be a waste of money.

I don't know the factual answer to that question. I just think that's the sort of analysis people should be doing to tell us whether we're spending taxpayers' money and protecting individuals' health in the right way.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Madame Kraft Sloan.

That signal of the bell plus lights is an indication that we are going to have a vote in about ten or fifteen minutes. We apologize to the witnesses, but we will resume immediately after the vote, in this room. I hope it's not too inconvenient to them.

• 1625

Mr. Emmett, before thanking you, I would like to ask you a question that goes back to what Mr. Reed was asking you. On this whole issue of risk management and risk reduction, was that part of the policy preceding the creation of the risk management agency?

Mr. John Reed: We did not look at that specifically, and I don't recall seeing any reference to it in any of the documents from the individual departments. It was clearly a commitment in the study that led to the recommendation to form the PMRA, and that was subsequently adopted by Parliament. I don't know if it existed beforehand.

The Chair: Don't you find it peculiar that the Department of Health should be given the assignment of managing risk, as a way of balancing it off with health in general?

Mr. Brian Emmett: I'm not 100% sure what the question means, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: The PMRA is managing risk in its mandate and it reports to the Department of Health. Is it not peculiar that the mandate given to the Department of Health, instead of being a full commitment to the protection of health, would be a balancing of health versus risk management?

Mr. Brian Emmett: That's a question I have not thought about. Speaking off the top of my head, I would answer that since it's very difficult to reduce risk to zero in this world, a mandate like that of managing the risks that are there doesn't strike me as being that surprising.

Health Canada makes decisions every day about managing risks in terms of the way it allocates its research budget against disease and spends money on preventive programs for smoking and other diseases. I think Health Canada is probably one of the departments in the Government of Canada that's most in the risk reduction business. They would also be interested in our diet, the supply of food, and its quality and price. I take it that those are the sorts of things they were being asked to balance.

The Chair: On behalf of the members of the committee, Mr. Emmett, we thank you very much indeed. We wish you a good safe journey. It's 4:30 p.m. and we will resume immediately after the vote, in this room. Thank you very much again.

Mr. Brian Emmett: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

• 1628




• 1704

[Translation]

The Chairman: Please be seated, ladies and gentlemen.

[English]

Members of the committee, following the commissioner on the environment and sustainable development, we now have a group of three concerned citizens, and they are Lori Stahlbrand, Wayne Roberts, and Rod MacRae.

• 1705

They are described in their book, Real Food For A Change in the following manner:

    Lori Stahlbrand is a former broadcaster with CBC Radio who has hosted major news and current affairs shows across the country and produced several documentaries on environmental issues. She holds a Masters degree from York University's Faculty of Environmental Studies where she teaches part-time in the graduate programme.

    Rod MacRae coordinates Toronto's Food Policy Council, and consults regularly with environmental organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and Ecological Agricultural Projects of McGill University. He has a Ph.D. in sustainable food and agriculture policy, and speaks to groups across the country about how to improve the food system.

    Wayne Roberts chairs the Coalition for A Green Economic Recovery and teaches Green Entrepreneurship in the graduate program of York University's Faculty of Environmental Studies. He has a Ph.D. in Canadian social and economic history, and has written six books...

I will not read them; otherwise, I will be accused of somehow becoming an agent for commercial promotion.

It seems to be almost a get-together of York University's alumni here today, considering Madame Kraft Sloan's background as well.

Welcome to the committee. The floor is yours. Whoever wishes to go first, please go ahead.

Dr. Wayne Roberts (Individual Presentation): Thank you very much, Mr. Caccia. We very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before you and to share our views on a future for the food industry that is good for the health of the environment, good for personal health and the health of the communities, and indispensable to the health of the future economy and, in particular, to the survival of the family farm. We'd be pleased to answer any questions you may have on those areas.

Before we take questions, however, Lori Stahlbrand, who has been introduced to you by Mr. Caccia, will present a summary of our brief.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand (Individual Presentation): Pesticides threaten the health of many species, but none more than the family farmer. The family farm has been put on the endangered list by the same industrialized and bulk commodity-growing system that widespread pesticide use brought into being in the first place. Farm survival in the next century is going to depend on farmers' ability to move beyond pesticides and to join the ranks of growers who raise diverse crops with lower input costs and higher value-added processes and services.

[Translation]

This brief is written to help members of Parliament weigh the social and economic cost of continuing government subsidies to the pesticide industry, including regulatory subsidies that treat synthetic pesticides as innocent until proven guilty by enough body bags to warrant limits on toxic chemical use.

We will identify three trends which show that pesticide-free food is the wave of the future. Once this is understood, poisonous pesticides can only be seen as an unnecessary risk that yields no economic or social rewards, other than to the pesticide industry.

Food producers and consumers have a common interest in moving toward a pesticide-free future. In light of this emerging reality, the task of government becomes one of facilitating the transition to pesticide-free systems, not legitimizing the risk level of obsolete chemical methods.

[English]

The first trend we have identified is that consumers increasingly want pesticide-free food. Consumer demand for synthetic pesticide-free, organic food is growing at a breakneck speed. It's expanding at a rate of 15% per year for the last decade, and organic items now account for 1% to 2% of all food sales.

To put these figures into some sort of perspective, this is where Microsoft was 20 years ago when Lotus 123 and WordPerfect were thought to have an assured monopoly over software for the indefinite future.

The lightning speed of this consumer shift towards organics is the sleeper retail trend of the turn of the millennium, we believe. The same force that's carrying organics forward has already worked its effect on the market for genetically engineered foods.

• 1710

Just as the major food refiners and processors of today are steering clear of GE, we believe they will soon be steering clear of pesticide-laden foods as well. There is no consumer advantage to either pesticides or genetic engineering. So processors and retailers who want out of the dead-end bargain discount market, which is where customer loyalty is only to low prices, they are actively building their capacity to add service and quality to foods that are grown in harmony with nature.

If the Canadian government allows farmers to apply pesticides intensively, this is only going to freeze Canadian farmers out of the dominant markets of the near future. Unless reforms are undertaken, the Canadian market for more healthful food will be supplied by importers, not by Canadians, and there will be very few places to export.

Europeans are already leery about Canadian farm goods. The U.S. market may also soon be closed. The American Food Quality Protection Act may possibly be used to ban Canadian imports that are sprayed with levels of pesticides that are currently deemed safe and legal in Canada.

[Translation]

The questions have changed. So must the axis of government policy on pesticides. The question for legislators is no longer: How much pesticide can we tolerate? The new question is: How quickly can we get farmers off pesticides and facilitate farm management systems that offer them both lower input costs and higher sales prices?

[English]

The second trend we've identified is that urban agriculture is on the rise. Within 30 years one-quarter of the food eaten by city people is going to be grown right in their own cities. The prominence of urban agriculture in the food system of the future is forcing us to rethink the role of chemical pesticides and to drastically curtail their use.

Urban farmers are not going to need many pesticides. Their gardens are going to be compact and diverse. They'll have onions and tomatoes and lettuce, all grown closely together. There won't be wide rows of weeds left for tractor wheels to settle into. Pests won't find the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord they now find in monoculture crops—huge acreages of one crop. Rooftops aren't as likely to be visited by pests that usually stay close to the ground.

More importantly, city residents are not going to tolerate the levels of pesticides accepted on isolated rural farms. They will not want their children to play anywhere near sprayed areas, for instance. And the air pollution and the off-gassing from pesticide sprays are unacceptable in cities. Many of these cities are already coping with smog, which is a problem these pesticides contribute to.

In the absence of federal leadership we believe there will be a whole series of political, legal and constitutional problems as cities try to grapple with the consequences of Ottawa's weak laws on this issue. Urban growers will likely complain that they face stricter standards than their rural competitors, and there will be considerable rural-urban conflict.

The health consequences of pesticides have come to this: the very health of Canada's political dialogue requires federal leadership in providing for safe conditions of food production.

The third trend we've identified is that rural farms will be growing more fuel and fibre, not just food. As cities become more self-sufficient in food production, rural farms will start to convert more towards energy and fibre crops. Grains will be valued as much for their straw as for their seeds. Already many wheat farmers get almost as much for a straw bale as from wheat.

Straw bale buildings, for example, are relatively cheap to build. They are highly energy-efficient, they're remarkably healthful in terms of indoor air quality and they're also open to many beautiful types of design. There isn't anyone who's going to want their straw-bale insulation to be contaminated with pesticides.

Crops grown for pulp and paper production, for biomass energy, ethanol or textiles don't have to be cosmetically perfect, so there will be very little rationale for pesticides. In fact, to the contrary, pesticides will undermine their value.

Growers who want to go pesticide-free and take advantage of emerging opportunities will not need subsidies over the longer term, but they will need some help to ramp up. Most importantly, what they need is a level playing field with old-fashioned farmers who insist on using pesticides. Providing this level playing field should become a central objective of pesticide and related legislation, we believe.

Chemically dependent farmers are currently receiving many subsidies that are not available to organic farmers. Farmers do not pay GST on pesticide purchases, for example, which is a 7¢-on-the-dollar assist to chemical dependency. University agriculture and extension programs offer few, if any, courses to farmers who are seeking a way off the chemical treadmill. Grading systems that are enforced by federal and provincial governments place an arbitrary and artificial price premium on supermodel, cosmetically perfect food. Grade A has nothing to do with nutrients; it is purely a cosmetic grading, and grading thereby becomes an incentive for excessive pesticide use.

• 1715

[Translation]

Finally comes the saddest of the subsidies. Pesticides are made to order for mass production of one crop on a vast acreage. When this results in a harvest glut and a collapse of farmgate prices, taxpayers have to bail out farmers facing bankruptcy. This amounts to a subsidy to the consequences of intense pesticide use.

In all these cases, no substitute subsidy or equivalent subsidy is available to organic or pesticide-free farmers. This is clearly discriminatory. Either all farmers should have equal access to appropriate subsidies, or no farmer should receive any subsidies.

[English]

Trends over the past 50 years show that getting off farm chemicals will not be that difficult. The plain fact is that we lose the same percentage—or more—of crops to weeds, pests, and diseases today as we did in the 1930s, before petrochemical-based pesticides were common. All the expense and risk of intense pesticide use in fact has gone for naught—or more accurately, worse than for naught. Weeds and other pests have co-evolved with and adapted to pesticides, and this has created a perpetual arms race that becomes more difficult to win each year.

Farmers were reluctantly drawn into the petrochemical pesticide age. When they took up these pesticides, they were simply responding to all the government subsidies and incentives favouring chemical-intensive agriculture, instead of to their own gut sense of how a farm should be managed and stewarded. The challenge, we believe, is not to break the dependency of farmers on chemicals. The real challenge is to break the government's dependency on pesticides in the mass-production agriculture system that they foster. This is the challenge this committee can pose to Parliament and to the general public.

We're hoping this brief review of several agricultural business, consumer, and social trends will strengthen the resolve of members of Parliament who want to do the right thing by human health and the health of all species on the planet. There will never be a better or safer time than now to place severe limits on the use of all synthetic chemical pesticides in agriculture. The changes in food and farm production that will come in the wake of these limits on chemical use will confirm that ending pesticide abuse is not really about limits, but about a new and limitless horizon of opportunities.

[Translation]

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to make this presentation.

[English]

We would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

The Chairman: All right, thank you.

We'll start right away with Mr. Chatters, followed by Madame Girard-Bujold, Mr. Reed, and Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. David Chatters: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I don't know quite where to start, after hearing some of the comments and reading some of the articles in your book.

I grew up on a family farm. I operated the family farm for 30 years. The family farm didn't switch to the use of pesticides because there were government subsidies for farmers who use pesticides. The farmers switched to the use of fertilizers and pesticides because they were forced to produce every possible bushel or every pound of meat off of every acre of land, because governments have traditionally had a cheap-food policy in this country, and still do today.

I really don't know how you change that attitude. The social worth of the Canadian food producer is at the bottom of the ladder. My son, who has his masters degree in business administration, showed me an article out of some of his university work that clearly had the Canadian farmer at the bottom of the social scale. I think he was right down there next to the politician, actually. I think the two are pretty close together.

• 1720

I think every farmer in Canada would have continued to farm the small acreages of his father and his grandfather if they had had their choice in the matter. It was a matter of survival, and it had nothing to do with the government subsidizing pest control and all the rest of it.

As I read through your book, I continually see this nirvana that you're proposing where Sally, the rural teacher, buys at the local farmer's market and so on, and it works out that the farmer gets more money because he has a value-added product, and then he doesn't have to work off the farm, so he frees up a job for somebody else.

Then you go into a testimonial by Lloyd Quantz, who I happen to know personally from my years in the Charolais business. Lloyd has always been a tremendous salesman, but certainly some of the points he raises in the article in the book have little credibility, some of them as ridiculous as his raising Charolais cattle crossed with Angus steers—I'm afraid he'd be out of business really quickly if he tried to do that—and how he turned in his million-dollar-a-year ranch, I think was the term....

The reality is Lloyd has always had a quarter section of land at Didsbury, and has all his life worked in a professional career as a business manager. He certainly was never able to achieve that value-added position where he could make enough off his quarter section to raise his family and to live, just like most of the farmers I know of.

It seems to get that way more and more every year. Unless someone in the family has a professional career and an off-farm income, it's very difficult to survive, even with the use of pesticides, let alone on an organic basis.

So I would say to you that certainly the world you envision would be a much healthier and much better place, but there would have to be such a massive shift in attitude by governments and by consumers that reaching that objective will not happen in my grandchildren's lifetime, let alone mine. So you're dreaming.

I really would advise you to perhaps abandon your well-paid careers and go into agriculture on a full-time basis for five or ten years, and you'd have a much better understanding of how that industry works and how hard it is to survive in it.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Rod MacRae (Individual Presentation): Well, we wrote this book, actually, for many of the reasons you describe, which is that for decades farmers have been undervalued. They've been undervalued by eaters. They've been undervalued by policy-makers. They've been undervalued by their neighbours who do non-farm work within rural communities.

One job in six in this country is associated with the food system. If we don't have a vibrant agricultural base, we don't have a food system. We don't have any chance of providing the opportunity to adequately nourish the population.

Farmers have been telling me for years that they want to be stewards. They feel they are often not the stewards they want to be because they can't recoup the cost of being good stewards from the marketplace, and they feel consumers don't necessarily recognize the stewardship they want to practise, and won't pay for it. They also feel governments historically have not adequately recognized stewardship. You identified some of those themes in your remarks.

So we wrote this book because we want consumers to recognize what farmers are actually trying to do. We're trying to create a movement—which is incipient; it's already happening out there. We're trying to create a movement of people who truly believe that food is one of the most important social, economic, environmental, and nutritional factors—a foundation of our society—and that farmers are critical to that.

• 1725

So when we were talking about pesticides.... You were saying something earlier about why farmers made the transition that they made. Well, pesticides were a part of that package of research and extension and crop insurance that contributed to farmers' making the transition away from things that many now believe were inherently more stewardship-oriented than the current situation they find themselves in.

Our purpose in writing this book was to create a new environment for farmers and for eaters who recognize the environmental values that most farmers want to practise. In fact, what we're alluding to in our brief particularly—and we elaborate on it in the book—is that this is a trend that is happening already. You look at what's going on all over North America and in Europe. In Europe, governments are saying they want the organic sector to be 25% of the marketplace within five years, and they are actively providing the financial supports to make that happen. They're actually paying farmers to be environmental stewards. They're recognizing that farmers do much more than just produce food. In these parts of the world, farmers get their due, in our view. It's not that this is necessarily the strategy that has to be employed here, but we must ensure that farmers get their due.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Chatters.

Madame Girard-Bujold, followed by Mr. Reed.

[Translation]

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I haven't had the pleasure of reading your book. I hope you will have it translated into French, because I'm sure it contains some good things. I have skimmed through your brief. You are promoting new crops. I think that is the reality of the situation, and you explain it very well in your brief. I also think you make an important point about the need for labels to show the chemicals contained in products. Consumers must demand that. They're intelligent enough to know what they should and should not eat.

You also state in you brief that farmers that use pesticides are subsidized and given a GST exemption, whereas organic farmers do not get this subsidy. As you know, we will be tabling a report based on the evidence we hear. In light of the wish of consumers and the approach we should be adopting in the next century, what should be included in the new bill, and what should we say in our report to ensure that consumers, whom you describe so well, will come out ahead as a result of this debate and benefit from new farming methods in Canada?

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: First of all, we want to see a fund established to help farmers make the transition. If we put an end to subsidies, and we try to make a connection between what we eat and what we buy, and if we buy local products, we will have a healthier community. This will help establish a climate with such benefits as more local jobs and better health for our children. We will see the changes within our community.

So the best way to start would be to set up a fund. Rod may have some other ideas he would like to discuss with you, but the most important thing is to set up a fund to help farmers make the transition. Many people want to learn more about this field, but there are no courses available.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: The funds you are referring to would be used to educate farmers. They would be given the resources they need to make the switch to organic farming. Is that what you mean?

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: Yes.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: Who would provide the money for the fund? Who would be involved?

• 1730

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: If the GST were to be charged on pesticides, we could use it to start building up the fund. We would abolish this subsidy and use the money to help farmers make the transition. The current situation makes no sense. A farmer who wants to buy a book on organic farming has to pay the GST, but farmers who buy pesticides do not have to pay the GST.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: You also say in your brief that the Europeans and Americans already have reservations about Canada's agricultural products. So it is urgent that this fund be established.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: Yes, and it's also urgent that we amend all regulations on pesticides to avoid any problems with Europe. If it is legal to use some pesticides here, but not in Europe or the United States, this could cost us jobs here in Canada.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: In other words, the PMRA should be working with Europe and the United States to help farmers out. Some studies and analyses have been done. Earlier, the Commissioner of the Environment asked us whether we should be spending money to analyze old pesticides, or whether we should be analyzing the new ones. A choice will have to be made. I think you have made your decision: we should establish a transition fund.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: If alternatives are available, people can use them. If they are not aware of these alternatives, they won't be able to make the transition. I think that is the key point here. Good regulations are already in place, in Sweden and Germany in particular. We can use the regulations that exist elsewhere, particularly in Europe, to draft some regulations here in Canada.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: If we don't act quickly, we are going to miss the boat, and if we do that, jobs are going to go elsewhere. There will be jobs lost. If our farmers who want to make the switch do not have the resources to do so, they will go bankrupt, because no one will want to buy their products.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: That is our main message. We have a window of opportunity right now. If we miss it, it will be very hard to recover.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: I think your brief is a step in the right direction and I thank you for it.

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

[English]

Mr. Reed, followed by Mr. Lincoln, Madame Kraft Sloan, and the chair.

Mr. Julian Reed: Every medicine is a poison, it just depends on the dose: those are words spoken by a physician a millennium ago, when he was talking about medicines.

You zeroed in on one of the big problems we have to face. You talk about “being innocent until proven guilty by enough body bags to warrant limits on toxic chemical use.” That's the problem. We don't have the body bags.

We know what happens. We can poison a lot of people. We did. A month ago, a number of children in South America were fed milk that was stirred up in a container that had previously had insecticide mixed in it. Yes, we can zero in on those kinds of poisons. But in China in the 16th century, arsenic and strychnine were being used as pesticides. Why are there so many Chinese people? Why aren't they all dead? This is the problem.

And I'm being serious. I'm not trying to be facetious about this. The problem is that there is not a body count.

One of the other problems is the fact that the only thing worse than finding an apple with a worm in it is finding an apple with half a worm in it. You say “There's no consumer advantage to either pesticides or genetic engineering”. I challenge you to go out and buy the next dozen cobs of corn from a farmer with a roadside stand and not examine it to find out whether or not there's some borer in it. I grow corn. I live on a small farm. I don't put pesticides on my corn, but I share it with the corn borer. The question is whether or not the consuming public is prepared to share it with the corn borer.

• 1735

A neighbour of mine had a really good crop of pears a few years back, and those pears weren't sprayed. He picked them and took them to the farmers' market that's not too far away from me. He wasn't allowed on the premises because they weren't sprayed.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: I'll just speak on the consumer part, and then I'd like to ask Rod to speak on the principle of the precautionary approach.

You might say the only thing worse than a worm is half a worm, but in terms of the way the new consumer is looking upon it, I think they would say the only thing worse than a spot on your apple is a spot on your lung. People are becoming extremely concerned about the health impacts of the food they eat, and I believe this is—

Mr. Julian Reed: I didn't see that in Loblaws today when I was shopping. I'll tell you that.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: Well, Loblaws marketers see it, because they are moving as quickly as they can towards expanding their organic produce. That's because a lot of their customers are telling them that's what they want.

Mr. Julian Reed: If that's the case, farmers will adapt very quickly. Farmers don't want one cent more in input cost for their products than they deem to be necessary, so I can tell you that they are ready, willing, and able to shift their production methods if they can be compensated for that shift—and if it is perceived that the consumer will understand that if the fruit or whatever it is has a perceived imperfection, that's better than having it covered with spray residuals or whatever.

Dr. Rod MacRae: I think that's one of our central points. There's this emerging convergence between farmers who want to move towards IPM and organic systems, and consumers who are similarly interested.

It's very interesting when you look at some of the survey work that's actually done in the supermarkets, when people are right at the point of making a purchase. What comes out of that work is that when people have a fuller appreciation of the production history of the food they're buying, they're much more willing both to pay a bit more for it and to accept certain kinds of imperfections. Now, that doesn't mean they're willing to accept a gross imperfection, but certainly from the people who are doing IPM and organic well, their quality is as high as anybody else's.

We're not trying to compare the people who are not particularly good at conventional agriculture with those who aren't particularly good at IPM and organic. We're saying the people who are good at both those things can produce an equivalent kind of quality. But the people who are doing IPM and organic, of course, are doing it with a much lower use of pesticides.

We're saying the consumer in a sense has been misunderstood on this point. That's one of our key themes. The people who survey consumers have for too long focused on too narrow a set of interests. The new consumers, as Wayne says, are people who look at these things in a much different way than we thought of in the past.

Wayne asked me to comment briefly on the science. I think it's very germane to the discussion that happened earlier with the environment commissioner about what the nature of this science we're dealing with is. There are certain people who look at this kind of science and call it regulatory science. It is a science that occupies a funny space between, for lack of a better word, true science and what is actually policy work. Unfortunately, regulatory science is actually extremely limited. It's very limited in the kinds of questions it asks, and it's very limited in the kinds of prescriptions it can provide.

• 1740

I think one of the unfortunate things that affect both pesticide discussions and discussions of genetic engineering is that for a whole series of probably institutional and historical reasons we've gotten ourselves into a space where we're reliant on regulatory science to inform us on how to do things, and it isn't up to the task.

Mr. Julian Reed: If you think of the European experience and what appears to be happening there as a trend, I don't know if it's even valid to observe that, other than to observe that European agriculture is subsidized at a rate of 58% of its total income. Farmers in Germany are paid not to grow crops. At the same time, they're allowed to grow canola on the same land and sell the canola and be paid twice. That's the kind of subsidy base that does exist. As a matter of fact, in terms of genetically engineered canola, for instance, in fairness we have to ask the question as to whether it is not simply an economic ploy that's aided and abetted by the government in order to freeze out canola from North America.

If you take some genetically engineered crops—and you've lumped them in with pesticides, so I feel as if I have to say something about them—they've enabled us to grow canola at warmer temperatures, with higher oil yields, and so on. They've enabled us to produce a product so that you can't tell the difference between non-genetically engineered and genetically engineered.

Dr. Rod MacRae: I'd like to speak to the first part, which is the European experience. The European experience, of course, is not wholly adoptable in Canada for some of the reasons you describe. But what's interesting about the European experience is that many countries in Europe have levels of pesticide use that are similar to those in Canada, yet they've still managed to engage in very aggressive programs to dramatically reduce pesticide use. For example, a number of countries have already achieved 50% reduction targets and are moving beyond that. They also have very active agri-environmental programming going on in Europe, which has been highly effective at helping that transition process. It isn't all about providing subsidies. A lot of it is about extension support, training, and market development.

One thing that I find to be greatly interesting in Europe is that they've shifted from thinking that they pay farmers subsidies for being farmers strictly in the traditional sense to paying farmers to provide environmental services that have wide social benefits. They're recognizing that the marketplace itself is not at this point capable of rewarding farmers for providing those kinds of environmental services. So that's what I see as the big shift in Europe, and that's the kind of consideration we think should be provided in Canada.

With regard to the second part, genetic engineering, I'm not sure, Mr. Chairman, how much you want to get into that, but I would say the overarching problem of genetic engineering is that it actually gets in the way of this shift toward pesticide reduction. The emerging data coming out of a few crop seasons in the United States are that in fact pesticide use is not going down, as the proponents claimed it would. Because it's not going down, it's perpetuating farming systems that keep farmers in the same place they're already in. So if we really want to move toward IPM and organic systems, we have to help farmers also to get off genetic engineering.

The Chair: Thank Mr. Reed.

Mr. Lincoln, please.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: I listened very intently to my colleague David Chatters, because he speaks from first-hand experience as a farmer. I've always felt a lot of respect for people who can speak from first-hand experience. Not being a farmer myself and not having a clue as to how farms are run except from what I've read, I have to pay a lot of attention to what the people in the field have to say. He mentioned that his son also is a farmer. So obviously he has very good reasons for the points he makes.

Where I disagree fundamentally with him is that he feels that in his grandchildren's growing-up years nothing will have changed, and I think if we start from the premise that we can't change things in three generations, then we're in real trouble.

• 1745

I was wondering if you would agree that there's a correlation between the whole aspect of pesticides and farming, loss of soil—and all that has been documented by the Senate report, among many others—and what has happened in the tobacco industry, where we waited almost until we had undeniable proof that cancers were happening, lungs were being destroyed, and thousands of deaths were happening before we started to do something about it. Now it has become so entrenched that it's a total battle to reverse the cycle. It's a sort of chicken-and-egg thing.

Don't you agree that the leadership has to come from the government, first of all, in eliminating perverse taxes and providing proactive taxes to people who get away from pesticides, so that we start a cycle where there's a pool of money to do more health research and to educate people? Don't you agree also that in a new law we're going to be tabling next year the first objective should be the reduction of pesticides, leading to eventual elimination, and also an item in there for public education and awareness so that we can break that cycle and arrive at a result earlier than what Mr. Chatters feels?

Dr. Wayne Roberts: Sir, I think there is going to be leadership from one place or another, and I think at the present time the leadership is being provided by the market. If you go into a Dominion store, you'll see they have a huge section called Nature's Cupboard. If you go into Loblaws, you'll see that a whole variety of the President's Choice brand now features organic items. All of that food is being imported from the United States. The market may still move organic, but it will not, in my opinion, be sustainable, because it's not a sustainable agricultural system if you're importing carrots and soybean drinks from California or Michigan when they're readily available here.

So where the government is required for leadership is not in moving the market, which is moving on its own, but in providing support for farmers who want to service that market and to round out the picture, to not only make it organic or less pesticide intensive but also to make it sustainable, that is, close to the market they're serving. That's why what might be generally called some kind of government fund is required.

If you think of the area of southern Ontario as an example, the food and produce growers, or to some extent former growers, were in competition with California fruit and produce growers. The average farm in California receives $500,000 a year in water subsidies alone. On top of that, they have a transportation subsidy. On top of that, we widen highways and build new ones to bring the California produce into our province, where the truckers can wave to the farmers who are unemployed as a result of our adding on to two already existing subsidies. We're saying let's take some money away from things that undermine the possibility of farmers making the transition and put it into a fund that will go toward the transition. There definitely is a capacity in the whole area of southern Ontario, to give one example, to supply the Ontario market.

Our estimate, which is founded on pretty good economic figures from the Government of Ontario and which are the best in the country, is that if the people of Ontario ate the same percentage of Ontario-grown food today as they did in 1971—which is no big shake, because a lot of positive things have happened to extend growing seasons and the like in Ontario—we would create almost overnight 50,000 additional jobs in the food-growing and processing industry.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: From our point of view as members of this committee, what we can influence on a more direct basis is legislation that's coming down the pike. When you take a look at the outline produced by the PMRA, you see we still haven't the precautionary principle mentioned in there.

• 1750

In regard to transparency and information and data information, we have a huge exception for CBI, the confidential business information. So we seem to be years behind the thinking in the United States and Europe. Don't you agree that all these areas—the definition of “risk” in a positive way, the precautionary principle, the opening of information to wide access by the public—are essential if we're going to move this debate forward?

Dr. Rod MacRae: Yes, we agree that all those things are essential. The precautionary principle has to be the guiding light of science and policy. There has to be much more transparency. There has to be a better way of integrating the concepts of integrated pest management into the regulatory framework. It has to be more than just having the IPM information on labels. It actually has to be that in the process of assessing or reassessing an application for a new product, what is looked at in fact is not just the chemical product that's being proposed but the alternative strategies that can do the same kinds of things as that product can.

If those alternatives, if those cultural controls, as they're called, or those prevention practices can deliver what the chemical product can deliver, is there actually a need for the chemical product to be on the market, given the kinds of negative consequences that may be associated with its licensing?

We believe all these kinds of things should be part of PMRA's mandate.

Perhaps I could just go back briefly to your earlier remark about tobacco and also to Mr. Reed's comment about there not being any body bags. One of the problems of our science is that we assume that because we don't see the body bag there is no death there, until we discover, as we follow the winding path of scientific inquiry, that there is in fact a body bag. That is the situation we're in right now, where pesticides are actually contributing to many deaths, but it isn't obvious how that is happening.

It's happening perhaps through subclinical effects on the immune system. It's happening in ways whereby people cannot necessarily draw a direct line from the fact that here's the pesticide incident and here's the mortality that resulted from it. That's very hard to demonstrate right now.

My view is that in many ways it's much more a function of the limitations of our science. The tobacco story is an example of how the science unfolded until we finally realized there was a direct connection there. We're going down the same road with pesticides.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Madame Kraft Sloan.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Your message comes through loud and clear and it's been repeated many times by different witnesses. I don't think it's necessarily just the science that is limited and not asking the fuller questions that need to be asked; it's also that our economics is limited.

I was listening to a radio show on CBC when I was driving home from the airport to my riding on Thursday evening. They were talking to a lot of farmers out west who were very concerned about the loss of their farms, the downturn and the tragedy that these families are facing. I asked myself, how is it possible that something that is as fundamentally important to our well-being and our ability to survive as food...and why is it that the people who produce food are going bankrupt?

Food is clearly one of our most important commodities. This is a totally idiotic economic system. Sometimes you have to pull yourself back and take a look at the big picture. We need to have better economic analysis.

We had a witness last week who said that when he goes into a classroom he asks, “How many of you, either personally or through friends or relatives, are suffering from the possibility of losing your farm or are struggling economically?” Just about every hand shoots up in the classroom. When he asks, “How many of you know of pesticide chemical companies that are losing their shirts?” obviously no one puts their hand up.

You have raised an important issue. We have to take a look at this chemical dependence.

• 1755

Also, another issue is this whole issue of environmental taxes. For example, Sweden had a pesticide tax. From what I understand, it was introduced in 1984 and it was in place until 1992. Then it came back into effect in 1994. The Swedish government had a bill that went through their legislature in 1987 that called for measures to reduce pesticide use by 50% in 1990, and they achieved that goal.

So here we have a situation where Mr. Reed has said a lot of farms are subsidized in Europe, but here we have a country that is putting a special tax on pesticide use, and they have been able to reduce pesticide use by 50%.

The other point in this is that to remove the GST exemption on pesticides might be a little difficult. Is there a way to provide an economic incentive for organic growers?

Dr. Rod MacRae: These are all important questions. Perhaps I could speak to the Sweden story and then come back to organic farmers.

The latest information I've seen is that Sweden has now actually reached a 64% reduction in pesticide use relative to the 1985 baseline year. Now they've actually moved on through the agri-environmental programming that's offered through the European Union to help farmers with the redesign of their cropping systems, including helping more and more farmers to make the transition to organic agriculture. So they have an objective of 10% of the land base being organic by the year 2000.

I believe they're at 7% right now, so they might not quite make it by 2000, but that is part of their commitment flowing from the original commitment expressed around pesticide reduction. As I understand it, they've used the moneys from the pesticide tax to actually fund these kinds of program supports.

So again, as discussed earlier, we have an interesting example here of where a tax has been applied to tax the bad things and the moneys are used to fund the good things. So this model is being used in many places around the world.

As for organic farming itself, the interesting thing about the economics of both organic and IPM, as we discuss in more detail in appendix B of our brief, is that they are in fact, by and large, more profitable than conventional farming. Most farmers who make the conversion to organic agriculture find themselves to be more profitable than they were when they were so-called conventional farmers.

The reasons for this are numerous. The biggest one is that even though their yields may decline to a small percentage, say, 10% in plant production and 20% in animal production, their costs of production, by and large, are generally dramatically lower. They might be a third of what their costs were when they were conventional farmers. So their net income situation has actually improved as a result. This is of course one of the factors driving farmers towards organic farming and IPM.

In IPM it's a similar kind of story. The economic analysis of pesticide use in farming is usually dramatically overestimated because the people doing the studies don't actually incorporate the alternatives into their modelling. They don't actually say, well, if a farmer wasn't using pesticides, he or she wouldn't just be using nothing; they would have alternative strategies. The studies don't usually account for that, so it always makes pesticide use look like it's a higher economic return than it actually provides for.

So most of the evaluations of IPM also show that farmers are more profitable than they were before they got into IPM. So it's very much a positive economic story. Again, if the role of government is to assist that to make it happen, to help shape the marketplace, to provide these kinds of supports we talked about earlier, then the economic opportunity that is there can be taken advantage of.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: People can always argue about facts and figures and we can do it on both sides of the issue. More than anything else, you have to open up a critical awareness of alternatives and you have to have a critical examination of some of your assumptions. Since 1946 we've seen a huge proliferation of chemically dependent agricultural practices, and we've also seen an incredible spike-up of pests that are resistant to these pesticides.

• 1800

There's another thing I'd like to suggest. My grandfather was born in 1885 and is no longer with us, but if you had told him that the only way he could grow his vegetables was by covering them with chemicals every step of the way, I don't think he would believe you. He wouldn't see that as something viable.

We've been dealing with these things for only about a generation and a half. To suggest that this is the only way we can farm ignores the history of agriculture, and it ignores some opportunities that we have in agriculture. More than anything else, I think, our farmers are being trapped into a situation where they're involved with genetically modified organisms and are not finding markets for them. If Sweden and other EU countries are moving more towards organically grown produce and reducing pesticides by 64%, that's going to be another pressure on our farmers.

I shop in about four or five grocery stores and small food markets in my riding, and all of them have organic food sections. It's seasonal; what they can get in depends on the season. I think this is an important economic opportunity that our farmers are not taking advantage of.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Jordan, please.

Mr. Joe Jordan (Leeds—Grenville, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I just want to touch on a little of the economics of this. The first trend you identified is the increasing demand for pesticide-free food. Have you done any types of correlations to the state of the economy? It seems to me that the economy has been doing well in the last six or seven years, disposable incomes are up, and people are climbing Maslow's hierarchy. Is there any danger that if the economy takes a downturn people will become much more price sensitive? There is a premium price associated with these products, isn't there?

In addition to that, if you did a psychographic or demographic breakdown of who's buying these products, it's almost a trendy, opinion-leader kind of consumer. Is the mainstream buying public in a position to start demanding these products at the price they're going to have to pay for them?

Maybe you could give me just a short answer, because I'm leading into other things.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: First, the prices people are now paying for them, I think it is generally conceded, is a short-term price that covers the high learning curve that farmers have to go up while they learn how to do organic, and second, the very weak distribution system.

In Britain, the major supermarkets took the position that the organic farmers there had solved the problem of production, that they could produce equivalent quality or better at equivalent price or better, and they said they would subsidize the distribution costs because they knew that in a very short period of time this would be ironed out.

We should not see the higher price for organic as a long-term thing unless we choose to say as a people that we don't wish to see food continually become cheaper, that there's something wrong with that. But there's no reason for there to be a long-term difference in price between the two forms.

A voice: I want to touch on that.

Mr. Joe Jordan: That's a good point.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: I think it also misdefines the issue to see the increased purchases of organic or low-pesticide food as a yuppie or upper-class or high-income phenomenon. In fact many of the food boxes that promote organic cater specifically to a low-income constituency. They've actually developed the boxes in order to solve the distribution problem so that low-income families can have access to it.

The real variable seems to be families with young children or families that wish to have children. They are the people who are, in a sense, price insensitive, and I believe they would be price insensitive in good times and bad—

Mr. Joe Jordan: They're increasingly sensitive to the potential health effects.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: That's right.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: Correct.

Mr. Joe Jordan: So you just have to get the hook.

If you look at the world market for agricultural products...and we touched on some of it here. You identified the glaring paradox: the higher the yield, the lower the price. It just doesn't make any sense. I'm of the opinion that there really is not free trade in agriculture; there's a sort of creative dumping of your surpluses.

How would you see this working? Mr. Chatters—I think rightly—expressed the concern from the producer's perspective. Very quickly, if you look at the Canadian agricultural market domestically, what's the dollar value of what we produce versus the dollar value of what we consume? Is it close? Or is there a huge export market that we're putting at risk here?

• 1805

Dr. Rod MacRae: There are a number of ways to slice that one, I guess. One would be, for example, that the province of Ontario has a $3 billion annual food deficit, so the province of Ontario imports $3 billion more than it exports, and about half of that is food that can be grown, processed, and stored in Ontario. It's not just exotics. Half of it is exotics, but the other half is made up of things that we already produce within the province.

Mr. Joe Jordan: What about the grain producers out west?

Dr. Rod MacRae: The grain trade actually heavily distorts our agriculture economic picture. If we took away the grain trade, we would be a huge importing nation.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: I believe the figure is that Saskatchewan imports 82% of its food, so there's a bit of room for expansion in serving the domestic market, and it probably does not require subsidization that would be considered illegal by the World Trade Organization; it might just be allowing a few bumps in the road to be tolerated so that foreign truckers don't get access to such cheap transportation.

Mr. Joe Jordan: You're certainly touching on some of the practical hurdles as we try to move towards this. Is the solution, though, not to concentrate on the income security at the farm gate? We can't put our farmers at risk in the transition, but we can't take money out of the air, so the economics of this have to make sense.

In your opinion, are the economics there such that we could guarantee farmers they could make as good or better a living producing this way, not opening ourselves to a WTO challenge, not throwing our export dependency out the window and bankrupting the western farmers? At the end of the day, people are going to have to pay higher prices or something. How does this all fit together in terms of the economics?

Dr. Wayne Roberts: I think part of the answer depends on how visionary you want to be around the question of the economics. In The Wall Street Journal the other day, they said that being a visionary is just understanding the possible before it becomes obvious.

Food is kind of a weird thing: it's fundamental to health, and we have a free health system, but we make people pay for food even though they can get sick if they don't eat enough of it. We have a very good public education system, but kids who don't have proper food don't do well and can't take advantage of this very expensive system we've set up.

You might want to set up something like universal school programs that provide meals. We suggest, actually, that you should be able to use your medical card, that women who are pregnant should be able to use their medical card to buy food. Studies by the Food Policy Council have shown there is a $3-for-$1 saving for the health system.

If you did that, you could actually say that we'll pay a good dollar for the food that is produced for these purposes because we're looking for a health benefit, not just filling your stomach for the day. If you were visionary, in other words, that's one way you might want to go.

Mr. Joe Jordan: Yes, I agree with you, but the economic system is not capturing a lot of those costs now. We can point them out, but by capturing them we're not saving anything because we're not counting them now. Visions aside, I mean, money swears, as the saying goes. This thing has to make economic sense.

Dr. Rod MacRae: Well, they can be captured in two different ways. To follow up on Wayne's theme, some of the provincial governments have said that as they create certain kinds of administrative efficiencies in the health care system, they will plow those savings back into prevention.

They had to do that by regulation essentially, because the health care system has its own perverse kind of economy at this point. The only way to capture the savings is to do it by government order, if you will, so you capture the savings and then you reinvest them in prevention.

So one of the ways to drive the prevention side is to invest in food, because we now know that 60% to 70% of the chronic diseases we have, and which we pay billions for, have a significant diet-related risk factor.

The other side, though, and the more straight economic side of this picture, is that farmers of course only capture about 25¢ of every consumer dollar, and 75% is to fuel what many consider to be a rather bloated distribution system. So if you change the way the production economics work on the farm through a shift toward more IPM and organic systems, and consumers at the same time change where they go to shop, how they shop, and how they acquire food, we see—and we tell many of these stories in the book—the farmer capturing a much larger percentage of the consumer dollar. But the consumer is actually paying less for the end product because they've essentially cut out more of the middle people.

• 1810

The Chair: Seven months ago I believed we could restrict this study to pesticides alone.

I would like to ask you to clarify for me three items. One is the GST aspect. Have you calculated the loss in revenue flowing from the fact that we are not taxing pesticides? We tax books, you see. I have great difficulty reconciling the two—books versus pesticides. But let us assume you have a GST on pesticides. What would the revenue be?

Dr. Rod MacRae: The estimate I've been given—but I feel I still need to confirm it—is $70 million annually.

The Chair: This is your own calculation?

Dr. Rod MacRae: This is a calculation given to the World Wildlife Fund.

The Chair: Moving on swiftly to grading, because the bell will ring very soon, you make this interesting observation in your brief that grading becomes an incentive for excessive pesticide use. Obviously grading is part of our culture. It is almost a compelling force. You see people shopping and refusing to buy slightly damaged items. How do you change that culture?

Dr. Rod MacRae: There's perhaps a twofold strategy. If you change the rules of grading, that will partly drive the change. When people look at a designation of grade A, for example, their assumption is that it has certain kinds of qualities—certain kinds of nutritional qualities, for example. If in fact, people come to understand that the current system is really a system for helping the food industry slot different categories of product into different streams for consumption, that can change all that.

The few surveys that have been done on this so far have all shown that if people have more information right at the point of sale about the production history of the product, they actually will change their purchasing behaviour right there in the store. They will actually buy something with a minor blemish on it that costs a little bit more, if they see it was produced with lower pesticide use. That's one of the big parts of the story on the consumer side. A lot of stuff has to happen right at the point of sale.

There are a variety of proposals out there on how the regulations could be changed, but if the basic idea is to make the grading system reflect a fuller basket of consumer considerations, such as the production history of the food, the nutritional value of the crop and those kinds of things, I think consumers will actually associate with grade A what they think it currently means but doesn't.

The Chair: Whose variety of proposals are you referring to?

Dr. Rod MacRae: Some of them were developed by the Toronto Food Policy Council in a discussion paper that was produced a couple of years ago on changing the whole consumer information system. It's not just grading. Grading is perhaps the most germane to this discussion, but the whole system is actually quite fragmented and leaves consumers feeling quite confused. If you'd like, I could make that report available to the committee.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: Further to what Rod is saying, currently in Canada the only requirement is to put labels on processed food showing what additives were added in the processing. It might very well be something that should be part of the Pest Control Products Act that there should be labelling on products of what pesticides went into the growing of that product before it got to the processor. Just giving consumers that information could be a big step toward helping them make informed decisions on this.

The Chair: Finally, your observation on monocultures is quite intriguing. On page 5 you write that “Pesticides are made to order for mass production of one crop on a vast acreage.” That is another way of saying monocultures. How do you come to that conclusion? What led you to make that observation?

• 1815

Dr. Rod MacRae: There are many crop rotations out there that are not monocultures, but they might only involve two crops. For example, corn and soybeans might be rotated one year after the other.

To do those things on vast acreages requires a high degree of human intervention, and pesticides have been a critical piece of why monocultures have come to the forefront. The combination of equipment, markets, synthetic fertilizers, and synthetic pesticides has created that kind of condition.

The Chairman: Thank you. We have time for one question at least, or one set of questions.

Mr. Chatters, please.

Mr. David Chatters: It's been an interesting discussion, and I have some concerns about the direction in which you seem to be going.

The secret to converting to naturally grown food products is economic, and nothing more than that. The idea that somehow by taxing those farmers who don't practise that type of agriculture to provide a fund for those who farm that way doesn't make any sense to me. You'll simply force more farmers out of the business by taxing their input costs and raising their input costs.

The simple fact is that the secret to the conversion is simply the consumer paying substantially more for the product he receives. Especially in the initial conversion phase, when you move away from pesticides and artificial fertilizers and all the rest of it, the volume of product you produce from an acre of land will go down. It's the increase in production that forced farmers into that cycle in the first place.

If you're going to lower the amount produced per acre, then the price per acre has to stay the same or go up to support that farmer. He has to get a lot more for what he produces. There's the mindset that the public wants these organically grown foods—foods grown without fertilizers and pesticides—but they want them to be at the same price as the foods they're now receiving, that are grown in a non-organic way.

I'm the third generation on my farm and my son is behind me. I went back to England and saw where my grandfather farmed in England. The soil there was a medium for growth. It was a totally dead clay soil with nothing in it until he put something in it to grow. My soil is still full of life and humus and it's a healthy soil. I would love nothing more than to keep it that way. While physically I may be in Ottawa, my heart will always be with the land and with agriculture.

I want to do it that way, but you, the consuming public, aren't willing to pay the price to support me to do that. Until you are, you can't tax one sector against the other to make that transition. You have to look at the price of food.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: I think you need to have a different sense of the dynamic between the price consumers pay and the price farmers get.

One element is that pesticides are part of mass-production agriculture. They start with the assumption that our problem is we're not growing enough food. The problem for most farmers in Canada is not that they are not growing enough food; it is that they are growing too much food and dealing with markets that are glutted. Pesticides are part and parcel of glutted markets because they artificially, for a short period of time, aid in the production of an increased yield. They are far from being the solution to the problems of the farmers, and when it comes to price, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I believe you're right in identifying that consumers need to give more value to food. I think we can help do that by putting proper labels on food. A person is not going to think they need to put more value on food if they have no idea what's wrong with this cosmetically perfect food.

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There are a number of things we can do in terms of public education. The public is educating itself at a very fast rate, and we have to intensify that. But in the short term, I believe farmers are not able to do one of two things without assistance.

They cannot continue as they are now, nor can they make a transition. There is no option without government assistance. They can continue as they are now and overproduce and be bailed out when prices collapse, or we can proactively invest the same amount of money to help them make a transition to food that allows them to make a decent income, poses no threat to the environment, and can probably enhance human health. That's the course we advocate. But there's no difference as to whether government money has to be applied.

Thank you.

The Chair: Ms. Stahlbrand, Mr. Roberts, Mr. MacRae, thank you very much.

Ms. Lori Stahlbrand: Thank you.

Dr. Wayne Roberts: Thank you.

Dr. Rod MacRae: Thank you.

The Chair: This meeting is adjourned.