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ENVI Committee Meeting

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[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Tuesday, November 2, 1999

• 0912


The Chairman (the Hon. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib.)): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the committee.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are starting our study on the management and use of pesticides in Canada.


I'm touched by this large turnout of officials in the room, and I welcome again the new members of the committee.

Today the clerk has distributed a budget for this committee, which can be dealt with perhaps later, when we have a full quorum. Right now we have a quorum for witnesses.

I'd also ask the clerk to distribute to parliamentarians the briefing book on pesticides, produced by the World Wildlife Fund. In my assessment, it contains a number of elements that lend themselves to being a solid part of the final report. An e-mail containing notes on the Pest Control Products Act should also be at your desks, and finally a copy of the opening remarks by Dr. Losos.

We welcome you, Dr. Losos. Perhaps you want to introduce the members of your delegation.

Dr. Joe Losos (Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Protection Branch, Health Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Rod Raphael is the director general of the environmental health program, Harry Conacher is from our food safety program in the foods directorate, and Paul Mayers was acting director of the microbiology unit and is now heading the policy unit for the foods program.

• 0915

Peter Brackenridge is from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, you know Dr. Claire Franklin from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and Ms. Sexsmith is also from the PMRA.

The Chairman: The clerk informs me that actually Dr. Franklin is the one who wishes to make the first statement. I wasn't aware of that.

In that case, we welcome you, Dr. Franklin. Would you like to proceed?

Dr. Claire Franklin (Executive Director, Pest Management Regulatory Agency): Yes, thank you, Mr. Caccia. I will be making some opening comments, and Dr. Losos will.

It's our understanding that as a result of the questions asked at the last meeting at which we appeared, there was interest in having a greater understanding of the interrelationship between my agency and the Health Protection Branch.

When I appeared before the committee in June, I provided an overview of the history of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, our roles and responsibilities, and our progress on the government-mandated reforms to the pest management regulatory system.

I realize there are a number of new members on the committee, so as a brief review for their benefit, I'd point out that the federal government's resources and expertise for regulation of pesticides were removed from the four departments that had previously been involved in the registration and regulation of pesticides, and these resources were consolidated in one agency, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which is responsible to the Minister of Health.

The agency is in Health Canada. I recognize there may be some confusion for people, because sometimes it's referred to as Health Canada and sometimes it's referred to as PMRA. It's really important to recognize that we are an agency within Health Canada.

We're for all intents and purposes analogous to a branch. Dr. Losos is head of the Health Protection Branch. I hope today we'll be able to provide some greater insight into the relationship we have.

The decision to consolidate pesticide regulation in one agency was taken on the advice of a multi-stakeholder pesticide registration review. That review team was multidisciplinary, had a very extensive review and report, and had cross-Canada consultations on this. The recommendations as well as the formation of an agency were part of the government response when the government indicated how they would take on board those recommendations.

When the government set up the agency and put the registration, resources, and responsibilities in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the research and monitoring activities were left in the four departments. We need to be very clear that the responsibilities and resources for conducting research and monitoring were left in the sectoral departments. That decision was taken prior to and as part of the decision on how the agency was to be formed. That also has caused a certain amount of confusion. The formation of the agency was very clear, the research and monitoring being left in the sectoral departments.

We interface with these departments through memoranda of understanding so that we have an opportunity to provide some input or raise issues we believe need to be addressed through research and monitoring. We have the opportunity to take the results of their research and monitoring and utilize them as appropriate in the regulatory decisions we make.

When I appeared before the committee, I provided an overview of the reforms being made. They're in progress. We by no means have implemented all of the reforms that were required. We have made a good start at them. We've made some serious progress, but there are definitely things yet to be done.

• 0920

We continue to work on establishing effective interactions with other departments. Their data are useful to us in making decisions. It's very much a relationship that's critical to the appropriate decisions and the confidence that can be taken in the registration system.

There were numerous questions during the previous hearings about food safety issues and the role of Health Canada, in particular the Health Protection Branch, and us with respect to food safety and pesticides. Because of that, Dr. Losos is here to provide an overview of the role of HPB. As well, we are here to try to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you, Mr. Caccia.

The Chairman: Thank you, Dr. Franklin.


Dr. Losos, the floor is yours.


Dr. Joe Losos: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, mesdames et messieurs.

I wonder, Mr. Chairman, if I can beg your indulgence for just a few seconds to give the new members of the committee an overview of the Health Protection Branch. It's not something that's widely known, and I think it will put the context of the branch into perspective for everyone.

Health Protection Branch is a large, science-based department, a branch of Health Canada. Its sole and only purpose is to focus on the health and safety of Canadians. We enact about 12 acts of Parliament and have four major thrusts of programs.

The first one is therapeutics, which takes care of drugs, medical devices, and biologics, such as blood. The size of that program is about 750 people. The budget is just over $60 million a year.

The second major component is our food safety program. It sets standards and policy in food safety in Canada and it also carries out, under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, assessments of efficacy of that agency. It has about 450 people, with a budget of $35 million and climbing since the last budget.

We work very closely in that area with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I'm sure Peter Brackenridge can give you more information on that as you require.

The third major piece is our environmental health directorate or program. It looks at a wide variety of environmental risks—for instance, toxins in the environment, radiation hazards, and water and air quality—and also has a large program in consumer product safety. The size is $50 million, with about 450 people.

The last component of the branch is the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control. It carries out national and international disease surveillance, risk factors for disease surveillance, and links to such agencies as the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Overall, the size of the branch for this fiscal year is $250 million. It's climbing over the next several years. We are rebuilding the branch through a process called “transition”. We have 2,200 people. You can add to that another 200 to 300 terms in any one particular year. That program is arrayed across Canada in a number of laboratories.

This conglomerate, this agency, this entity, this branch carries out the role of hurricane watch and watchdog with regard to public health and safety, Mr. Chairman. I'm therefore very pleased to appear before the committee along with Dr. Franklin, the PMRA staff, and the others I've mentioned.

I'd like to briefly explain the role of our department, Health Canada, in dealing specifically with the food safety issues, including pesticides. I'd like to highlight the links between the work of Health Canada and other federal agencies, other departments, beyond the ones in this room.

As you know, and as Claire has said, responsibility for important regulatory functions with respect to food safety and pesticides has changed in recent years with the creation of PMRA itself and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency—in, I believe, April of 1997, Peter.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency was established within Health Canada to administer and enforce the Pest Control Products Act, but the compliance and enforcement activities for ensuring food safety under the Food and Drugs Act became the responsibility of the Food Inspection Agency under the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Health Canada retains the responsibility for establishing food safety standards in Canada and setting policies for the food supply. So we generate the policies that the Food Inspection Agency will then enact. The legislative instrument for this relationship is the Food and Drugs Act and its regulations.

• 0925

Health Canada also retains the responsibility for assessing the food safety program of the CFIA for auditing, if you will. That includes its pesticide enforcement and compliance activities, and we do a number of these a year.

Procedures and policies for food assessment have a long history within the department, Health Canada, and have been developed based on internal science and collaboration with national and international colleagues. Of particular note for this committee's hearings, the procedures for food safety assessment of pesticides in Canada were originally developed by the Health Protection Branch, HPB. However, the experts who developed these procedures are now part of the PMRA, given the reorganization that Claire mentioned earlier. Continued and importantly continuous interaction between the department and our international colleagues has resulted in these procedures being updated to incorporate improved methodology and assessment tools as the science constantly evolves around us.

Since the establishment of the Food Inspection Agency, there has been increasing effort to strengthen the department's food safety standard setting capacity, and that work is continuing. You've heard about the investment of $65 million over three years in the last budget, and these programs are continuing to be strengthened with new recruitments and new investments in a variety of manners.

The Food Inspection Agency is the federal agency responsible for enforcement and compliance activities relating to food, and this includes inspection of food for biological and chemical residues, including pesticides and other adulterates. When residue violations are found or suspected, the CFIA has a program in place to investigate these, to control them, and to prevent the produce from entering the marketplace.

To summarize, food safety standards and policies are set in my branch in Health Canada and the PMRA; and the Food Inspection Agency is responsible for inspecting food and establishments, for ensuring that these meet with those standards, and for removing any product from the market if they do not meet those standards.

Through its involvement in the Arctic environment strategy, the northern contaminants program administered by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Health Protection Branch provides risk assessment advice on persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, in traditional foods consumed by Canada's aboriginal population. These are known as country foods and are a major problem. We invest about $1 million a year in the science underpinning the analysis of this problem.

HPB is also committed to working with other departments and agencies to develop inventories of monitoring, of surveillance and of survey activities. For instance, work is being conducted in the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, LCDC—that's another unit within my branch—in monitoring the potential effects of pesticides in Canada's farming communities.

We undertake, as well, other national monitoring studies such as a total diet program and a national human milk survey, which provides estimates of exposure of Canadians to a variety of potential hazardous substances including pesticides. This latter information is provided to PMRA for use in its ongoing human health risk assessments, and PMRA works closely and systematically with HPB in planning such studies.

In fact, Dr. Franklin and I have recently brought together a task force—or a SWAT team, as I like to call them—representative of our respective areas. Its aim is to establish a more formal and systematic process by which we can work more closely together in planning and conducting this type of innovative research, as well as defining the next steps once a study is completed. If we have results on abortions in the farming community, we want to know if those data are adequate or if perhaps more studies or more collaborations are needed. We can then create SWAT teams specific to that type of purpose. And we also undertake a limited number of more specific pesticide research activities such as pest method or sample protocol development in response to any request that PMRA may have of us.

The Health Protection Branch is undergoing a major rebuild. We've invested heavily in the blood file—as you've heard—and food in the last budget. The next priority is the development of a plan for a new environmental health strategy, the intent of which is to bolster this department and this branch's capacity to reduce the health risks of environmental hazards. A key element of this will be the identification of current and future research needs. The plan will be led by Health Canada, but it's a joint endeavour with Environment Canada. PMRA is also involved in the planning process. Should the committee desire more details about that, Mr. Raphael would be pleased to provide those.

• 0930

As well, through the toxic substances research initiative, TSRI as we call it, we are encouraging multi-sectoral projects that would go a long way to enhancing the science knowledge base needed to define and reduce the adverse effects of toxic substances on health and the environment. This is actually a very unique program, Mr. Chairman, whereby the sectors, including academic, other departments, private and non-governmental organizations, and anyone else with a scientific capacity, form consortia to approach a funding mechanism of $42 million over four years. By a competitive process and peer review, projects are selected in priority areas such as endocrine disrupters, heavy metals, and toxic sites research, and the best projects are selected for that research to continue.

As I've said, the Health Protection Branch and PMRA have established a good working relationship. There's more to be done, but it's a good working relationship, and we're continuing to make improvements to enhance that relationship.

We have a number of committees, fora, and working groups in which PMRA is either an observer or a full-time participant. These include our regulatory affairs committee. I told you we have 12 statutes. They have a legislative base, and we need to make sure these are coordinated. There's the committee on the management of risks to health business line. That's a business line within Health Canada, which I lead. It includes PMRA and other branches that are related to the risk to the health of the public, and I coordinate these through that mechanism. We also have a working group on endocrine disrupters because this is such a burgeoning area of concern in many sectors, the persistent organic pollutants coordindation group, and many others, Mr. Chairman.

I hope that statement wasn't too long. I hope it gave you an overview of the branch and its many connections nationally and internationally and the interfaces with both the PMRA and CFIA.

I would be happy to answer any questions, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Thank you, Dr. Losos.

Before we start with Mr. Chatters, may I draw to the attention of the committee members that the research branch has prepared an excellent summary of testimony, which you have. It was prepared ten days ago by Christine Labelle particularly for the new members. Then there is a document that is quite customary, which also was prepared by our researcher, Christine Labelle. It's dated November 2, and it offers some comments and possible approaches by members of this committee in questioning the witnesses before us. There is also a backgrounder for members of the committee, which is dated April 13. It is entitled “Backgrounder and Suggested Work Plan on Pesticide Management in Canada”. That concludes the overview of documentation prepared for us by the research branch of the library.

You may have seen a new face here at the table next to our clerk. I'm glad to have this opportunity to introduce to you Linda Webster, who is a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Canadian science fellow. She is an eco-toxicologist with a bachelor's degree in biology and a post-graduate degree in eco-toxicology. She has joined us in order to assist us in our findings.

Welcome to the committee.

Ms. Linda Webster (Committee Researcher): Thank you.

• 0935

The Chairman: Having done that, we will start as usual with the official opposition, and Mr. Chatters.

Mr. David Chatters (Athabasca, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, witnesses, for appearing before us today.

I'm new to the committee. Certainly, with this study being an ongoing one from the previous committee, I'm not as familiar as I would like to be with the issues we're dealing with. But having been involved in agriculture for thirty years, having used pesticides and herbicides for those years, and having experienced a cancer that I am convinced had something to do with the use of those pesticides and herbicides, I certainly have an interest in the topic we're studying here today.

My question certainly will be a very basic and fundamental question to Health Canada. Certainly I have had disagreements with other members of this committee in the past as to the determinations of Health Canada on the licensing of products available in Canada. I've taken the position that Canadians should be able to trust the research, the decisions and the recommendations of Health Canada in terms of the safety of products licensed and sold in Canada. I would simply ask you how Canadians can have confidence that Health Canada is in fact protecting their health, and how they can trust Health Canada when Health Canada says a product does not constitute a health hazard to Canadians. Certainly in the past there have been instances in which Health Canada failed to protect Canadians. The thalidomide issue is probably one of the most famous ones in Canada, but there are others. How can Canadians trust Health Canada, and what liability exists to Health Canada when Health Canada fails to protect the health of Canadians?

Dr. Joe Losos: Thank you for the question. Perhaps I can give you a sense of how risks are calculated by the Health Protection Branch, and these other agencies can jump in as they need to.

We license a lot of products, therapeutic, food or otherwise. The risks are always calculated in two stages. The risk assessment is always done on a scientific basis. We have a lot of internal staff, toxicology labs, and specialists of various kinds who go over all of the data related to that product. The data may be in the submission of a company who wants to license a specific product, and it also includes world literature. It includes expertise elsewhere: the World Health Organization, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Union, and wherever the information is available. If necessary, if it's a really complex scientific problem, we would use expert panels. We've used the Royal Society of Canada and any other expert group that we can muster or that we feel we need in order to do the risk assessment. That is always done on the science.

The decision whether to license or not license the product or to manage the health risk is made based on a number of other factors that may in fact involve the ministers, and may sometimes involve cabinet for that matter—and I've never heard of cabinet going against or the ministers or senior bureaucrats going against an obvious risk assessment. Unfortunately, science is never black and white. There are very often shades of grey in the science, whereby you have disparate views of scientists on one side of the debate to another. So there is always a judgment call and there has to be a weighing of that risk to the public even at the end of the scientific risk assessment.

The law under which we act is in fact criminal law, the Food and Drugs Act, and the penalties under it are criminal law penalties. That is how the risk assessment is carried out within the Health Protection Branch. More and more, and certainly after the Krever commission, these historic tragedies—the thalidomide one and the contamination of the blood supply globally with HIV—have changed even the risk assessment and the relationship with risk-management decision-making, where those are being melded much more closely together. Perhaps in the old days we, as a collective, waited until there were more data accumulated on health risk. You now see the Health Protection Branch certainly in on the wire much more quickly, using what is called “the precautionary principle”.

• 0940

Justice Krever commented on it. Litigation has commented on it, related to historical transactions of the branch, where the public now demands—and that's reflected in the litigation and in Justice Krever's report—that we act even before the data are complete. If we feel there may be a problem, we act as if there is a problem. We inform the public. We continue the work. And we tell the public that we'll review these data in six months. We may in fact remove the restriction or inform the public that it's safe, but our policy now is for much more aggressive action.

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

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Chatters.

We have Mr. Mancini, Mr. Lincoln, Madame Kraft Sloan, Madame Catterall, and Madame Torsney. Mr. Mancini.

Mr. Peter Mancini (Sydney—Victoria, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm new to this committee, and I appreciate the comments of the chair in welcoming me and other new members.

First of all, to Claire Franklin, I thank you for the testimony today. I have a couple of questions.

You indicate that the responsibility for research and monitoring is still left in four departments, and the agency, I think you said, interfaces with those other departments. Should that change? That seems to me a tremendously cumbersome way to collect data. Should there be one agency? Should you folks have your own research agency, rather than relying on other departments?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Thank you. That's a valid question.

I think the first step that was taken was to consolidate the regulatory aspect of pesticide decision-making into a single agency. The benefit of retaining the research and monitoring in the sectoral departments is that it fits in with the broader scope of research activities that may be going on in a particular department. So I think there are some very real benefits of having that sort of connectivity. It never works as well if you isolate researchers. In fact I think you benefit to a major extent by having that capacity.

The challenge to us is, as you point out, that we need to have a mechanism and a capacity to interface and to take on board the research and monitoring that's being done, and have a capacity for us to be able to raise issues and have some input into the research and monitoring that may be done.

I believe it's working. I think the challenges have been to have the research and the monitoring, and to identify what needs to be done. But I think, as Joe points out, we have the mechanisms for that. We have established these mechanisms with both Agriculture Canada and Environment Canada.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Okay. Which is—

Dr. Claire Franklin: We can always look to see in a period of time if that really isn't working, but I think in this transition period where we've done the one part, it's worth really making sure if we need further changes or not.

Dr. Joe Losos: Thank you, Mr. Mancini.

I can elaborate on that, Mr. Chairman. I apologize for overly lengthy answers. I'll try to cut back.

The Food Directorate, Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, and the Environmental Health Program, all in the Health Protection Branch, feed into these agencies as far as information is concerned. And while they're doing work on pesticides, they do work on other toxins in the environment that are not pesticides. The Laboratory Centre for Disease Control does surveillance of diseases that may be related to pesticides, but other diseases as well. It doesn't fit well to put them all into one organization, because there are so many other parameters being measured at the same time. So the best answer is a systematic and constant linkage.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Okay.

• 0945

I have a second question, and again, Claire Franklin, it comes from some of your testimony. You indicated that while there are reforms that have been ongoing there, in your words they are by no means complete and there needs to be more work done.

When I checked the Commissioner of the Environment's sustainable development report—and this is chapter 3—he says:

    Many pesticides used in Canada today were evaluated against previous and less stringent human health and environmental standards. The federal government has not met its long-standing commitment to implement a program to re-evaluate those existing pesticides....

That's also a concern raised in a document I just looked at today briefly by the World Wildlife Fund. Is there a timetable to do that?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes. I think the concerns that were raised at the time of the OAG report were legitimate concerns. We have had a modest activity and re-evaluation over the years prior to the formation of the agency as well as when the agency was formed. We have in fact put forward a discussion paper on enhancements to the re-evaluation program that was discussed with the Pest Management Advisory Council. We've have their input. It has been looked at and discussed within other government departments. We in fact are ready to proceed with that.

The resource issue has always been a bit of a problem. We in fact are pleased that we will be getting some additional resources from within government to help us move forward in that area. As tangible evidence of how we are moving forward, we've made an announcement since we last appeared before the standing committee to re-evaluate all of the organo-phosphorous pesticides. And we have more recent activities in lindane.

So I think the criticism was valid at the time, yes, but I think there have been significant strides taken since that point in time to put us in a better position for reassessment of products.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Okay. And when I ask if there is a timetable, I come from an old law background, so we're used to being questioned in terms of specific times. Is there a definite completion date for that re-evaluation?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The issue with re-evaluation is that we have what we could consider at this point in time a backlog of products that haven't been reviewed for a number of years, and we've linked our timetable for that with the U.S. because our program is built very heavily on interface with the U.S. So for all of the food residue products, their timetable and therefore our timetable is that by 2006 we will have the food residue products reviewed.

The more critical point to consider is that we want to build a process that doesn't get us into this backlog situation again. So instead of having something that says it's only after a period of time that we will eventually get to it, we really would be working with and utilizing what we will be getting, which are adverse effects reports, to have a kind of an ongoing look at products so that we don't find ourselves in the situation we're currently in.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Mancini.

Mr. Lincoln, followed by Madame Kraft Sloan.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.): I have two questions.

I was looking at the Pest Control Products Act test that you gave us, and the definition of “minister” means the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and “penalty” means a penalty imposed under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act. Is there any intention, or should it have been the intention, to change this to the Minister of Health? If so, why wasn't it done, and will it be done in the amendments to the act?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The Pest Control Products Act was changed. It was changed at the time the agency was formed. It may be established as a regulatory amendment. I don't know how it would be written, but that was done in 1995.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: So this text is not correct, then, the text that was given to us?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The text for.... You may be referring to the administrative monetary penalty.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: No, no, no. It says “minister” means the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Dr. Claire Franklin: That has been changed in the PCPA.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: So this text—I don't know where we got it from—is not correct, then?

Dr. Claire Franklin: If it states that the PCPA is Minister of Agriculture then that is incorrect.

• 0950

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Okay.

The Chairman: The date of the document is April 30, 1999.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: I don't know where we got this from, but I thought it came from your office.

Dr. Claire Franklin: I apologize. If that was provided, that is incorrect.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Yes.

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith (Director, Alternative Strategies and Regulatory Affairs, Pest Management Regulatory Agency): I would just mention that this was done through the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, and it probably isn't reflected here; it would be reflected somewhere else. But we can make sure that gets to you. We apologize for that oversight.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Thank you.

Dr. Franklin, I was looking at the transcripts, and if you don't mind I'll go back to the questioning Mr. Laliberte and I made and your replies regarding acrolein. If I read it right, you say the big decision was whether it is an irrigation canal or a fish habitat. Some provinces say it's an irrigation canal and other provinces say it's a fish habitat. In the case of the PMRA, it says it's an irrigation canal, and you say it really depends on the definition of “fish habitat”. The key question is irrigation canals are not fish habitats.

It seems to me that in this approach what we're looking at is if it's an irrigation canal then we use acrolein, although it kills fish. If it's a fish habitat, admitting a province decides it's a fish habitat, then we don't use acrolein because it kills fish.

So if it's an irrigation canal, and you mentioned to me there would be some evaluation on what other effects there would be on non-fish species, and that would be part of the evaluation process, how can we ensure when we put acrolein in an irrigation canal, and the irrigation goes into crops and the irrigation canal seeps into the groundwater inevitably, that in all the irrigation canals, wherever they are, some substance that is toxic enough to kill fish does not seep into the groundwater, it doesn't seep into crops, and is not harmful to human health or living species? Shouldn't the criterion be, instead of whether it's an irrigation canal or a fish habitat, is it harmful at all in any degree to living species and human health, and then we ban it?

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: If I can just answer that, or try to, you're really raising, in many respects, two issues. One is the Fisheries Act potential conflict issue with our act. The other is our registration of acrolein in general. What we did in the last year and a half is we had a very close look at acrolein and the way we set it up for allowing its use in Canada. We set out some very specific conditions: that it could only be used if the province permitted it, and then the province, in its permitting approach, had to set out specific conditions that included not impacting on fisheries, not allowing it to be put on cropping areas, and not allowing it to be part of potable water. So that applies to one part of your question.

On the other issue, the issue of fisheries habitat, are fish there, that sort of thing, I know that has been an issue of debate and we have been working with the other two departments that are involved in this, Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans, and we're also working with the Department of Justice to try to resolve this.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: To come back to the first one, I must say I find it just extraordinary that something we know is toxic because it kills fish—and there's an admission of that, nobody disputes it—quite aside from whether it's a fish habitat or irrigation canal or it's one law against another law.... Isn't it just saying we have a PMRA that's supposed to regulate pesticides and fungicides, but we just leave it to the province to decide whether it's going to be okay for the fish, whether it's going to be okay for irrigation and it's not going to touch the crops, and we rely on that province? How do we know what mechanism the PMRA has to make sure the province is doing it properly, that it has the right and adequate resources?

For example, take a small province like P.E.I. or one of the provinces without the infrastructure to do it properly. How do we check it out in the end in order to find out whether this product has reached the crops or hasn't reached the crops, or has reached the groundwater or has not reached the groundwater?

• 0955

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: I'll just make a couple of comments. One is that this product is used primarily only in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and a little bit in Manitoba, where irrigation is extremely important for agricultural crops. These irrigation canals are man-made in most cases, and we worked very closely with them to come up with this type of approach. Both we and the provinces have ability to monitor and ensure compliance.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Have there been any violations that you know of? Have there been any penalties?

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: I can't comment on that. I don't have that information explicitly, but we can find out.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Lincoln.

Madame Kraft Sloan, followed by Madame Catterall.

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

I was looking at a document that came off your website on the Pest Management Regulatory Agency strategy for implementing the toxic substances management policy, which is a policy that was established by the government in 1995. On page 4 of the toxic substances management policy, it says that the TSMP places responsibility on those who use or generate a track one substance to demonstrate that the release of the substance is below the limit of quantification.

When I take a look at your material, which is your regulatory directive on implementing the TSMP with regard to micro-contaminants, conditions of registration will require that the level of micro-contaminant in the product is very low if it's a track one substance, and it has a small five. When you take a look, it says “Limits of quantification may be used as a guidance for this purpose.” Do you feel your regulatory directive is in line with the TSMP?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Is the first one that you quoted from the federal government policy?

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: There is the toxic substances management policy, which tells us how we're supposed to manage toxic substances.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, you're referring to the federal government one.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Right.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, we believe they are in line. When we put the PMRA policy together, we did provide it to the government interdepartmental TSMP committee in order for them to have a very close look at that. They did not have any problems with the document, so we conclude, as they did, that it is not in conflict: the way in which that is done does represent the intent of the government policy. But that was very clearly put through the interdepartmental committee just to make sure there were not these kinds of what could be considered to be inconsistencies.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Do you not find it inconsistent when the TSMP says it has to be below the limits of quantification, whereas your document says it has to be very low? It's not directing you to use the limit of quantification, it says you may use it, which means you may not use it as guidance as well.

Dr. Claire Franklin: I would have to and can specifically get back to you on that, but I would comment in general that, depending on the particular compound and depending on the information available, there is also the possibility that the risks that may be associated with it are such that it can be considered that it does not have to be at such a level.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Now, it—

The Chairman: I'm sorry for jumping in, but when you come back, would you mind making that the object of a reply to all the members of the committee? What Madame Kraft Sloan is raising now is a very basic, central question that brings back memories of Bill C-32.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Very pleasant memories of Bill C-32.

I wanted to ask you if you have approved recently two pesticides that contain dioxins as microcontaminants.

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Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: Do you have the names?

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I don't think I can pronounce it. Do you not know if you've approved two pesticide products that contain dioxins?

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: We're just wondering which ones you're referring to.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I'm just asking you. I have been told that two pesticide products have been approved that contain dioxins as micro-contaminants.

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: We'd have to get back to you on that.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: I'll get the correct wording of the one pesticide.

The other question I have is that when you're dealing with the virtual elimination of a track one substance, and I'm quoting right from your document, “registration of the product would be reviewed as a condition of renewal in light of environmental monitoring data, available alternatives...”, etc. In the paragraph above this it says: “Provision to the PMRA of routine microcontaminant Quality Control data and environmental monitoring data may also be required”.

So if you're dealing with a micro-contaminant that is a track one substance, and according to the TSMP should be set for a virtual elimination, one of the things you're going to consider as to whether you're going to keep renewing this product or not is the environmental monitoring data. Yet in the paragraph above that you say you may require it, or you many not require it. I'm wondering, why “may”?

The Chairman: Your time is up, Madam Kraft Sloan.

Could I have a reply please?

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: May I reply? One of the responses could be that we could require batch data instead of monitoring, for example, and that could give us the same information.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Batch data?

Ms. Wendy Sexsmith: Requiring the companies to give us information on what's in the pesticide on some kind of routine basis. So you could get the same information, but by a different way.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Madam Catterall, please.

Ms. Marlene Catterall (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.): I was interested in your plans for an environmental health strategy. I would also be more interested.... Again I'm one coming in the middle of the movie and trying to figure out what the plot is and what the side plots are. I can see it's going to be very complicated and very technical. I would be interested in knowing—this is not a new issue for Health Canada—what has been done to date in the area of environmental health.

Dr. Joe Losos: Mr. Chair, if I might beg your indulgence and ask Rod Raphael to come to the table, he's been crafting the environmental health strategy and can give you all the details you need. Is that all right, Mr. Chairman?

The Chairman: I'm sorry, I was conferring with the clerk. Of course, yes, by all means.

Mr. Raphael, please take the chair and introduce yourself so that the people will know whose voice it is.

Mr. Rod Raphael (Director General, Environmental Health Directorate, Health Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chair. Very briefly, we have had over the past decade or more several reports generated by the Auditor General, an arm of this institution, Parliament, as well as significant scientific reviews and findings that show that the capacity contained within government, and specifically some of the elements of Health Canada, have not kept pace with the changes that are required to appropriately evaluate and act on management of risks to health, particularly from environmental hazards.

When the HPB transition process for which Dr. Losos spoke earlier was begun, it was begun as an overall look at the entire program, to look at science capacity, the ability to incorporate on the fly as fast as possible breaking scientific information into appropriate risk management strategies, obviously with reduction, avoidance, and elimination being key elements to the strategy in terms of dealing with risks.

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At this stage we are primarily focusing in our work on the environmental health strategy, looking at science capacity; interaction with internal and external experts; international linkages to get the most up-to-date science; and, in particular, what changes we might be able to make to our risk-management framework, focusing on particularly vulnerable populations.

I think this committee has led the way over a number of years, focusing on children's environmental health. That will be an element we are looking at making concrete strides on within the strategy.

The strategy is not only interdepartmental; we also look to it to be intersectoral and intergovernmental. So we have quite a bit of outreach work to do, basically focused...on winding up my talk.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I guess what I didn't hear is what we have done over the last decade, so I have to presume that means we didn't do a lot.

I'm wondering whether, Mr. Chair, to save the time of the committee, we might have something in writing from the department in terms of where we've been. If we're developing a strategy, I presume it's going to include particular actions, results, and timelines for those. Perhaps we might have a little more detail on the strategy, the history of the issue in the department, and where it's going.

My second question has to do with the precautionary principle. I would go back to one particular issue that came out of Health Canada—that is, the failure to in fact identify and act on advice from one of your own officials about the danger of breast implants. That went on for several years. What changes have been made specifically so that this type of situation would not arise again?

Dr. Joe Losos: Ms. Catterall, we have a lot of disagreements among our scientists, constantly. As a matter of fact, I want disagreements among our scientists. The essence of science is in fact scientific debate and wrestling. I have yet to come up with one example where in fact we haven't had that type of disagreement.

The issue on breast implants is an interesting one. There was a lot of discord and arguing in the press and otherwise a fair number of years ago as to whether these implants were or were not safe. The studies since then have not shown any connective tissue problems or cancer problems with these implants, irrespective of the fact that these are really damaging from a local perspective. They have an ethical and a moral issue attached to them.

To answer your question specifically, we have built-in mechanisms whereby these scientists can bring out their disagreements to me, if necessary, or higher above me, if necessary. We have dispute resolution mechanisms with outside expert teams to resolve issues exactly like that one.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: That wasn't the answer I had expected or hoped to hear, because the precautionary principle would require that when there is a reasonable suspicion of risk, action would be taken immediately.

Dr. Joe Losos: That's correct.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: Is that the version of the precautionary principle you're implementing now?

Dr. Joe Losos: That's correct. I've forgotten Justice Krever's exact words, but he said something like “When there may be a problem, you act as if there is one”. It's always a judgment call as to whether there are enough data, but we certainly don't wait for publication-type data before acting. You saw that with phthalates in toys last Christmas.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I think this is a very fundamental principle, so I want to ask one more question about it. What I heard you say in response to my question was that you would try to resolve those differences.

I'm repeating myself, but I think the precautionary principle would require that where there is a concern that there may be a risk, action be taken. Then we would try to resolve it.

Dr. Joe Losos: That's exactly true. We do this on almost a daily basis in health protection, as you can imagine, with everything from therapeutics to outbreaks of disease or whatever. We'll bring in whatever expertise we need, internal or external, to try to get the best angle on this and come up with the options for action immediately and then sort it out later on, if necessary.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you, Madam Catterall.

Madam Torsney.

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

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I want to follow up on two issues. One, to you, Dr. Losos, is the whole issue of country foods. Certainly one of the concerns is POPs presence in country foods. Getting the information to people in a timely manner so that they can make good decisions is key. What's the procedure, and how long from when I've felled an animal, I guess you could say, do I get the information on whether it's safe to eat? What is your turnaround?

Dr. Joe Losos: It depends on the toxin. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has a program on toxins in the north. We support them with our health assessments. We have long-term studies on some of these toxins to see if the effect is long-term. So it really depends on the toxin. We are putting about $1 million worth into this program. It was one of the victims of program review cuts, if you will, so we don't do as much as we would like to do in that area. Part of Rod's environmental health strategy is to build us back up into being able to do that.

The information that goes out is largely through DIAND, and we work with them and other departments to carry out the types of health assessments we need on these products.

We're also involved in the biosafety protocol, which is an international negotiation on genetically modified organisms, and other fora. We're looking at POPs crossing the pole, and we're advising on the health aspects of those negotiations.

So the bottom line is we're not a central player in POP, but we're doing a lot of the science that supports these other departments getting information to the people who use these products.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: So the Health Protection Branch is not actually doing testing on my caribou if I live in Yellowknife or Inuvik?

Dr. Joe Losos: We're doing some studies, but not nearly enough.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: So how are you providing information, then?

Dr. Joe Losos: We do a number of selected studies. Rod could give us the answers as to which ones, but we provide that information to DIAND and the people—

Ms. Paddy Torsney: On a general population base, rather than on individual animals.

Dr. Joe Losos: Correct.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Okay.

Secondly, Ms. Franklin, you mentioned that you've updated the work on organo-phosphorus and lindane. When will that be fully implemented? And in addition to reviewing a whole series of pesticides that have been out there for a long time and going back and reviewing them against new information that we have, are you also responding to some of the information that has come up on—I'm trying to remember what show it was—W5 or that type of program vis-à-vis spraying of pesticides on apples and children being born with serious birth defects?

Dr. Claire Franklin: With regard to the timeline, I believe the timeline for the OP re-evaluation is December 2000.

The process for that is that we put a call letter out to the manufacturers and we send it to other departments so that we in fact signal that we are in the process for doing this, so that whatever information is available, either from companies or from researchers or from other departments, will then be taken into consideration as we very meticulously go through each of the products.

On the lindane, I think the timeframe is approximately the same and the same process. The call letter would identify what was being done and that the information that was available would be brought in and taken into consideration.

We're also working very closely with the U.S. As I mentioned, in our re-evaluation program they have a very active program with the organo-phosphorus products as well, so we're working very closely with them on that.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: But by December 2000 you will have completed the review.

Dr. Claire Franklin: That's the anticipated date and the target date we would have for the OP pesticides. There are many products involved in that; it's not just one.

The Chairman: We will now have Mr. Reed, Madame Girard-Bujold, and if nobody else jumps in, the chair, and then we'll start a second round. Mr. Reed.

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Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I too am one of those coming in here in the middle of the plot, and I too beg forgiveness of the chair. I was held up in my office this morning.

One thing did stand out. In 1986, a report came to the Ontario office I was working in. The Department of Health in Ontario had done a study of the heavy metal content of moose livers. As a result of that study, an advisory was sent to first nations communities and so on, saying that it was probably not a very good thing to eat moose livers, especially from mature animals.

The question that arises is, how do you liaise with the provinces in these situations and who bears the responsibility for really making those communications? Is it a federal thing or, in a case like this, does it remain provincial? It would see to me that moose livers are moose livers all over Canada.

Dr. Joe Losos: That's an interesting question, sir.

Rod, can you elaborate on that?

It is multi-jurisdictional, sir.

Mr. Rod Raphael: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

With respect to that type of information, there are interactions on several levels with the provinces. In particular, when we focus on communications to first nations communities, it's usually done on several fronts.

But first, let's look at your original question. We have several federal-provincial committees that are at work looking at the risk assessments around what might be termed country foods or traditional foods, as well as integrating that type of an assessment into an overall food safety assessment, because, as we know, there are people who are not first nations who do use and avail themselves of foods on the land.

In terms of communications for that specific situation, there would be a team put together of not only the provincial health officials but the federal health officials and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. That team would work with the community in terms of explaining which elements of the meat may pose a greater danger, because quite often we try, as a health department, to encourage the consumption of these foods. They are healthy foods. They're good foods with various nutritional qualities and constituents. We don't want to turn people off these types of foods. We realize there is a health benefit to them.

But to really help them in terms of not only which parts to eat but also at what time of year—because some of the heavy metal concentrations you're referring to do fluctuate during the year—we have found that the first nations communities are very receptive to the team approach of the public health officials, including first nations health officials, who are putting together this information.

Generally, advisories are not just “put out” in this type of situation. We work with affected communities as well as associations of hunters and anglers and so on. The situation you refer to with moose liver can also be found with respect to fish, to fish consumption from various places.

Mr. Julian Reed: So in the end, then, I take it that it focuses on this department?

Mr. Rod Raphael: Yes, it does. I'm part of the department that isn't here today specifically; our medical services branch, which has an Indian and northern health program, is very much involved in the development of this type of information and has ongoing communications links with first nations communities on this subject.

Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Reed.

Why don't you remain seated there, unless you're worried about being contaminated by a political virus?

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

• 1020


The Chairman: Madam Girard-Bujold, please.

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ): Mr. Chairman, please excuse me for being late. My plane was delayed.

Dr. Losos, I would like to ask you two follow-up questions about the breast implants case. Last summer, I met a lot of women in my riding who wished to discuss that question with me. There seems to be two different theories about the problem. Some women are saying that Health Canada has authorized those devices to be implanted before any serious testing was done. They are now doing research to prove that those implants can cause cancer.

Could we get a study about that from Health Canada? Have you done any research contradicting those allegations? Is the research up to date? Do you have anything to answer to those women who want to challenge Health Canada?


Dr. Joe Losos: Madam, there are breast implants for sale in Canada. These are saline implants that have gone through all the pre-market reviews as far as health risks are concerned.

Silicone-filled breast implants are not on the market, although they're available through our special access program. If a physician and a woman specifically demand that particular type of implant, they can get it through that program.

By the way, the implant has gone through a decade and a half of studies on connective tissues and cancers, and has not shown the purported health risk identified fifteen years ago. But it is not available on the market because of the happenings of fifteen years ago. Research on silicone-filled breast implants has been done in other countries as related to the class action suits in the United States, for example. They have found no long-term health impacts.

Of course, this is not taking away from the fact that breast implants can cause infection if they are improperly implanted. They can be quite mutilating in some cases.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: There are also saline implants. I don't know if you have mentioned them. Those are the ones they were talking about.


Dr. Joe Losos: The data we have, Madam, is that the manufacturers have submitted everything they needed to. These implants are in fact licensed in Canada.


Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold: You have also told us about your new environmental health strategy. What are its parameters? What is it going to cover? What is your timeframe for implementing it? Have you set a target date for obtaining results? Thank you.


Dr. Joe Losos: Perhaps I can start and then ask Rod to continue.

With regard to rebuilding the strength of the branch, the branch needed to be rebuilt after some impacts of program review, but also because it needed to get into the 21st century and continue to be a front-runner of regulatory agencies globally. No agency anywhere in the world can afford to stay still.

We have taken pieces of that branch and rebuilt them, including in blood safety and food safety. The next one of our priorities is in fact environmental health safety.

Rod has been working very heavily with other departments to come up with that strategy, so I'll ask him to describe it a bit more.

The Chairman: Perhaps you could keep your remarks short, Mr. Raphael.

May I remind members of the committee that our main focus is pesticides.

Mr. Rod Raphael: The strategy focus is on science as well as risk assessment and risk management. There is another component we are eagerly trying to implement in the new year, and that is public involvement and engagement.

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Many themes flow through the strategy. One theme is intersectoral as well as intergovernmental cooperation. We will be looking at the vast array of federal-provincial work we're doing to re-prioritize and focus some of that work on the most urgent environmental hazards. This really calls for, as was announced in the Speech from the Throne, a new type of relationship with governmental and non-governmental partners.


The Chairman: Thank you, Madam Girard-Bujold.


Before launching the second round, I have three brief questions to ask. May I, however, preface them by saying it would be very helpful if Dr. Losos and Dr. Franklin were to reply to the eight questions addressed to Health Canada and the other eight questions addressed to PMRA, as prepared very diligently by Christine Labelle, namely those questions that have not been asked by the members of the committee? We'd be glad to supply you with that particular paper, which has been circulated today.

Dr. Franklin, your agency was created in 1995, is that correct?

Dr. Claire Franklin: That is correct.

The Chairman: Does it have a legislative basis?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Not as an agency, no. It was not set up, nor was there an attempt to set it up, as a legislative agency.

The Chairman: Why was it not set up that way, and don't you think that after four years you should have a legislative basis?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The intent and the response the government gave was that it would be set up through the department and responding to the deputy minister. I don't believe there was a government commitment to set it up as analogous to a legislative agency, as CFIA was done.

The Chairman: You're an oddity in the constellation of agencies in Ottawa. You are an oddity in the sense that you don't have a legislative base. Therefore you are perhaps indirectly but certainly not directly accountable to the minister.

Dr. Claire Franklin: We are definitely considered an oddity. I think there would be no dispute of that, Mr. Chair. But yes, we are accountable to the minister, and that was the intent and the way in which the agency was formed.

The Chairman: Can you show us in which legislative way you are accountable to the minister?

Dr. Claire Franklin: We are part of the department. We are part of a government department.

The Chairman: And is there a legislative line that indicates that? Can you quote a piece of the act that says that?

Dr. Claire Franklin: A piece of which act?

The Chairman: Whichever act you are referring to.

Dr. Claire Franklin: The Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act transferred the PCPA. That's the piece of legislation we utilize. That is part of Health Canada.

I may not be understanding your questioning, but the resources were transferred to the department. We function as other civil servants do within government. The legislation under which we regulate is both the Pest Control Products Act, which is under the Minister of Health, as well as the promulgation of tolerances under the Food and Drugs Act, which is also under the Minister of Health.

The Chairman: Do you see the need of a legislative basis for your agency?

Dr. Claire Franklin: At this juncture in time I don't believe there is a necessity to have an agency that far separated from the department. We're proceeding as the statements in the purple book indicated we would be established.

The Chairman: You operate under several acts, I take it from what you are saying.

Dr. Claire Franklin: We utilize primarily two pieces of legislation at this point in time to regulate pesticide products: the Pest Control Products Act—

The Chairman: How old is that?

Dr. Claire Franklin: It's quite old. The last update was 30 years ago for the PCPA.

The Chairman: Do you see a need to update it?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, very clearly. We have indicated that amendments could be made to that legislation to enable us to move forward with the reforms that—

The Chairman: Is there a document to that effect?

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Dr. Claire Franklin: A document to...?

The Chairman: To the effect of what you just said.

Dr. Claire Franklin: We've had several pieces of information that have indicated the intent, the recommendations that were made, the reforms, and the suggested approaches that—

The Chairman: What is the date of your last document on the subject?

Dr. Claire Franklin: There was a document that we certainly are more than happy to provide to you. We can provide to you any of the documents. I believe the last one was one we provided for discussion with the multi-stakeholder review committee. There may be other documents that you have in mind, and we'd be certainly prepared to provide you that information.

The Chairman: I asked you for the date.

Dr. Claire Franklin: The date for the advisory committee was February, I believe, and there was a document that was presented for discussion at that particular meeting.

The Chairman: It would have been nicer, Dr. Franklin, if you had volunteered this information, considering you have appeared before this committee twice. There is a document. Would you mind circulating it as soon as you re-enter your office?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Certainly.

The Chairman: I take it that has been discussed—with whom?

Dr. Claire Franklin: That was a document that was put together for discussion with the Pest Management Advisory Council. It was to specifically provide a consultation process for a multi-stakeholder group that does advise the minister. I believe you have the terms of reference for that council, as well as the members on that council.

The Chairman: Is a bill being drafted based on that document?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The bill has been drafted. It was done a period of time ago and—

The Chairman: Can you be more precise?

Dr. Claire Franklin: I believe the document was finished in about 1997.

The Chairman: Where is it now?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The minister is, at this point in time, actively considering and discussing the appropriate time for a tabling of the amendment.

The Chairman: The minister being...?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Minister Rock, Minister of Health.

The Chairman: Minister of Health. And the discussions are at which level?

Dr. Claire Franklin: His discussions.... I'm not privy to all of the discussions the minister has, but I believe he has had discussions with various of the stakeholder groups. Again, I apologize, I'm not participating at those meetings, so I don't have a complete listing—

The Chairman: Who is in charge of those discussions?

Dr. Claire Franklin: I presume the minister himself is, or his staff. The one we were available for with detailed commentary was the multi-stakeholder advisory council meeting.

The Chairman: Thank you, Dr. Franklin.

I would like to ask Dr. Losos this. In your presentation this morning, on page two, you said, “To summarize, food safety standards are set by Health Canada...and PMRA.” Why both? Why not just Health Canada?

Dr. Joe Losos: Because, Mr. Chair, in the area of pesticides responsibility has been given to the PMRA in putting all of the capacities together, and all of the other food standards are to be done by Health Canada under the Food and Drugs Act.

The Chairman: Are you satisfied with that arrangement?

Dr. Joe Losos: Provided the linkages between PMRA and ourselves work adequately and systematically—and I underline in red “systematically”—I think it can work well.

The Chairman: Is it implied that they are not systematic sometimes?

Dr. Joe Losos: Life isn't perfect sometimes, sir, but both Dr. Franklin and I are working on that and improving the systematic linkage between the agencies and ourselves.

The Chairman: In terms of public interest, wouldn't it be better if this responsibility were alone exercised by your department?

Dr. Joe Losos: I'm not certain of the answer to that, sir. I'd have to give that some thought. Provided that the expertise is in PMRA, and they are able to set the standards that they link with our experts in chemistry and toxicology, I think the present system can work well.

The Chairman: And are you satisfied that the expertise lies in PMRA?

Dr. Joe Losos: I think they have to tap into our expertise.

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The Chairman: They've been around now five years. By now you might be able to know whether it is lying there.

Dr. Joe Losos: But, Mr. Chairman, I don't believe it's possible to create any agency that will be large enough to handle the whole area of science needed to manage something like pesticides or chemistry. So the consortium-building, and the way in which these agencies must systematically link together, has to be the way of today and the future if this is going to work well. That's what we have to work on.

The Chairman: If you were to reinvent the wheel, would you recommend the creation of this arrangement in future?

Dr. Joe Losos: This would have to be my opinion, sir, rather than perhaps a learned statement, but I would rather have one agency focused in on pesticides than five. I would like that agency to be able to link to where the scientific muscle is in the foods program, in the environmental health program, and in any other agency from which it's needed to get information.

The Chairman: Thank you. That's very helpful.

My final question has to do with the report of the environment commissioner in May. He pointed out a number of problems in this area. Can you bring this committee up to date on whether any of those problems have been resolved?

Dr. Claire Franklin: I will start with some comments. I may ask Wendy Sexsmith to comment as well.

Following the report that was tabled, and that indicated there were opportunities for improvement across the government with regard to toxic chemicals, including pesticides, I think a number of significant activities were undertaken, starting with a senior-level committee that has responsibility for ensuring that the various activities identified within the report are addressed. That committee met as recently as I think a week or two ago.

Rod Raphael and Wendy were at the meeting from our perspective, representing Health Canada.

This committee has several senior-level committees reporting to it that will take on board both the policy and research sides of the issues. I think it has the makings of being a very effective structure to coordinate the very complex issues and activities across government.

You have identified already this morning a number of these types of complexities. Speaking optimistically, I think it will be a very useful mechanism to get the integration that's necessary.

The Chairman: In English, then, those problems in essence have been resolved.

Dr. Claire Franklin: The mechanism whereby they can be resolved is in place. I think the—

The Chairman: No, the mechanism is fine; it's the problems as such. I'm not talking about mechanism, Dr. Franklin, I am talking about the problems referred to by the commissioner.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Well, the problems of integration and discussion will be resolved by that. If there are specific issues that may take a longer period of time to get the information on, that's really what I mean. There now is a forum whereby they will be dealt with.

The Chairman: Thank you, Dr. Franklin.

Mr. Mancini, are you ready for a second round?

Mr. Peter Mancini: I have just a couple of questions to follow up a little bit on Mr. Lincoln's comments and questions regarding acrolein. At the end of that questioning there was an indication of a conflict between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, involving the justice department as well, and you. I'm going to ask you to elaborate a little bit on that for me in terms of where that conflict is and what the mechanism is to redress that conflict. This being new to me, I'd like to know how that gets resolved.

Dr. Claire Franklin: The issue raised previously was what appeared to be a potential for conflict between two acts. Under the Pest Control Products Act, for instance, a pesticide could be registered for direct use in water, or it could get into water, but the interpretation of the Fisheries Act is that this is never to happen. So that's really the background.

• 1040

The reason we've asked the justice department to assist us in this is that we want to make very clear what the interpretation is of both pieces of legislation so that we have the legal interpretation of what each of the acts says the act can do. When we have that information, the intent would be that we would establish very clear processes for how we would deal with a particular pesticide that may be registered and that may actually be registered for direct addition to water.

As is pointed out with the acrolein situation, the provinces are involved in that, the fisheries department is involved in it, and we're involved in it. So we want to have once and for all a very clear-cut interpretation of the legislation and a very clear-cut mechanism of proceeding with that.

Mr. Peter Mancini: I would assume, then, that this has not been registered and is not in use—

Dr. Claire Franklin: Acrolein has been registered for more than 20 years and I believe has been used for that number of years.

Mr. Peter Mancini: Even though the issue of jurisdictional dispute is not yet resolved.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, that seems to be an interesting dilemma we're faced with, that something that has been used as long as it has been seems to have become a problem in the last year or two during which it was used. That's a bit of an interesting challenge.

Mr. Peter Mancini: I have one final question. This goes back, Dr. Losos, to something you talked about initially, and that is the endocrine disruption working group. How many people are involved in the working group? What resources does that working group have in terms of finances?

Dr. Joe Losos: I'll pass that to Rod in a second, sir.

The endocrine disruption area is a burgeoning one. It's a relatively new area for the environmental programs. There's a lot of work going on internationally as to how much impact really does occur to human health, and there's a lot of scientific debate at the present moment. We needed to systematically bring all of the scientific muscle together.

Rod, tell us about that working group.

Mr. Rod Raphael: It's a fairly large working group consisting of a dozen or so members, which span areas such as food science, environmental hazards, epidemiology, surveillance, as well as therapeutic products and drugs. We have membership as well from outside of the department in terms of the Food Inspection Agency.

This group from Health Canada actually leads the endocrine disruption task group, which is an interdepartmental group involving Natural Resources Canada; Environment Canada, which is the co-chair of that group along with Health Canada; Fisheries and Oceans; and Agriculture and Agri-Food. So pretty well most of the scientific areas in terms of human health effects and Health Canada are covered.

This is the third year of the existence of a formal group as a working group within the department. Some resources they bring to the table are found within their program areas, including environmental, health, food, therapeutics, and in-kind resources, as well as collaboration on toxic substances research initiative projects.

All totalled, there is probably somewhere in the range of $500,000 to $1 million in resources that are being put specifically into this area across the various programs from within the department, and the toxic substances research initiative spends about $2.5 million a year on endocrine disruption research both inside government and outside in the academic sector.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Mancini.

Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Dr. Franklin, in answer to the chairman you said that the minister had the proposed amendment to the act in hand and that you didn't know when it was going to be. Can you tell us whether it's going to be sooner or later? Have you any idea whether it's going to be in the spring or whether it's going to be this year?

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In that process, could you tell me if your agency has recommended the following? I'll just mention a few things that don't have to be answered right now but maybe could be answered in writing soon. They include the precautionary principle; aggregate exposures and cumulative effects; group assessments; regular reviews of existing pesticides; and public information and input. If we could know whether these things are going to be included in the new act....

Finally, I would like to refer to the commissioner's report on another case that struck me—carbofurans. Apparently, carbofurans have been in use since 1969. There have been a lot of developments, but in 1995 the PMRA negotiated with the manufacturer for the removal of two of three of the granular formulations and certain uses of the liquid formulation, and the PMRA required the manufacturer to conduct a bird-monitoring study for the remaining third granular formation.

Based on that study, the PMRA estimated that 109,000 to 958,000 birds in Canada were killed by carbofurans each year, which is just a mind-boggling figure. I never thought that anything could kill up to a million birds. It seems extraordinary to me.

A decision was announced in December 1998. I'm quoting from the commissioner: “...all uses of carbofuran in granular formulation would be de-registered in 1999. Use of the liquid formulation on corn and other produce continues.”—such as corn and potatoes.

Number one, have the three granular formulations now definitely been banned and deregistered? If so, why do we use the liquid formulation at all on corn and potatoes and such? Can you assure us that there is no impact on bird life or any other life from the remaining use of the liquid formulation?

Dr. Claire Franklin: I'll speak from memory, but we will confirm the dates on that. The granular formulation was suspended. The reason an additional bird study was done was that the information indicated there were problems. They weren't significant as far as identification or information in the field was concerned, so that was really why we worked to establish a protocol. Environment Canada helped us. We had a number of experts that did that, but there was not an indication that the lower concentration of the formulation was a problem. That was the purpose of doing that particular study.

The information from that study, from our perspective, was that the field data were sufficient for us to consider that the registration should be the granular formulation and should be suspended. The action that was taken with the liquid formulations was to in fact lower the levels.

That was all done in and around a 1995 time period, and to the best of my knowledge there was not information indicating that there were unacceptable numbers of environmental impacts with the reduced levels that were retained. But the granular formulations, the one that was done very quickly...or there was a use that was done, some in 1995, and then the suspension for the granulars.

The Chairman: Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: But considering that your agency itself estimated that from 109,000 to 958,000 birds were killed in Canada every year by carbofuran...I take it that the granular formulations are completely out now, but don't you think that because of the precautionary principle the manufacturer should prove to us without a shadow of a doubt that even the tiniest amount of liquid formulation isn't bad? Maybe it won't kill 958,000 birds, but maybe it'll kill 10,000 or a limited amount or have some limited effect. Shouldn't the onus be on the manufacturer to prove that the liquid formulation, even in reduced doses, is safe?

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Dr. Claire Franklin: I would agree with that. The details of the liquid formulations are not at my fingertips to identify whether there is considered to be an unacceptable risk with that usage.

With the information that was provided with the study that was done, there was definitely information to indicate that the granular formulation was no longer or should not continue to be utilized. But I believe the estimates are with the granular formulation. I would specifically have to get the details for you, but I would be happy to provide you with that information.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: All right, thank you.

Dr. Claire Franklin: But I could add, Mr. Lincoln, that the manufacturers are responsible for providing the information. We would go back to them if there's an issue that arises and request that they provide that information.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Before the issue arises, when you reply to us could you tell us whether the manufacturer has been asked by the PMRA to substantiate whether the liquid formulation is completely safe?

Dr. Claire Franklin: I will get that information for you.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Thank you.

The Chairman: Dr. Franklin, Mr. Lincoln is very polite, but he's waiting for the answer to his first question.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: No, I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman. I asked Dr. Franklin to make a list of the things I asked and to send me the information.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Oh, sorry, but I could and will be happy to do that.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: All right.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, certainly the points you raised, if I've understood them correctly, will be addressed. The intention is that these particular points will certainly be taken into consideration.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Yes, not taken into consideration, but will they be in the new law?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Well, it's a—

The Chairman: In the bill?

Dr. Claire Franklin: That's a little challenging to answer in the sense that for some of them there are risk assessment procedures that we will be implementing and in fact have already implemented so that in the authorities in the act we have the authorities to do these. So it's perhaps best addressed by specifically indicating how these are being done.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Can you tell me, perhaps, what the PMRA is recommending to the minister specifically to put into the new bill in regard to these items?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The bill, as it would have been drafted, would be reflective of the drafting instructions that were provided. Many of these issues were discussed specifically, and the drafting instructions are the mechanism whereby the bill is drafted.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Yes, I understand that, but can you tell us in what formulation or in what way you have recommended to the minister that these things be included? Is it an authority? Is it the wording? Is it a definition? Is it an actual fiat that these things be done?

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Sorry to interrupt, but on a point of order, Mr. Chairman, perhaps we should have the minister here to answer these questions. It's more appropriate, perhaps, if the minister has given the drafting instructions, that the minister could answer on timing, that the minister could suggest what is going to be in a bill. It's not necessarily appropriate for bureaucrats to be making those decisions.

Mr. Clifford Lincoln: Mr. Chairman—

The Chairman: It's the first time we are learning that the drafting instructions have already been issued. In the earlier round, Dr. Franklin said that she no longer had control over the file. In saying that it was no longer in her hands, she did not indicate that the drafting instructions had already been issued.

Are you confirming that, Dr. Franklin?

Dr. Claire Franklin: Mr. Caccia, perhaps because a lot of this has occurred over a period of time—and I don't mean to be evasive or indicate that we're not providing this—at the point in time at which the agency was formed, in fact I think shortly before the agency was formed, there were drafting instructions presented. They were then reaffirmed at a subsequent point in time.

The Chairman: Can you indicate the time? For precision and otherwise, we can't follow you.

Dr. Claire Franklin: I understand, but you're asking me to come from memory for some of these dates.

The Chairman: Well, you are in charge of that file. It shouldn't be too difficult to identify the year.

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Dr. Claire Franklin: In 1995 the drafting instructions were approved by cabinet. The draft bill was then done on the basis of those drafting instructions. That's where we're at with this, so there would not be additional sets of drafting instructions. This is something that was done a number of years previously.

The Chairman: Can you indicate to the committee where this bill is now languishing?

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Mr. Chair, on a point of order, I think it might be more appropriate if we ask the minister those questions.

The Chairman: The assumption is that the minister knows it. Maybe the minister doesn't. Evidently there is a vacuum here that only Dr. Franklin can fill by indicating where that file is.

Ms. Paddy Torsney: Perhaps we should ask the minister if he does have—

The Chairman: Excuse me, would you allow me to proceed?

Dr. Claire Franklin: The minister is very clearly aware of the fact that the bill is drafted. The minister, as I mentioned earlier when you asked me the question, is actively considering the appropriate timing of the introduction of the bill. So it's very clear that the minister is aware of the—

The Chairman: Fine. Then Madam Torsney has a point, and we will stop at that level.

We will proceed now with Madam Kraft Sloan, followed by Madam Catterall.

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

I'm just referring again to the document from your website on the TSMP, and on page 4 it talks about track one substances with regard to active ingredients or formulants. It says that conditions of registration may include a requirement to provide specific information. Then it goes on again to say that because of the goal of virtual elimination of track one substances, they're going to review information with regard to health and environmental risks, etc. This is the same idea that was articulated on page 5 of this material, which has to do with micro-contaminants, about which I asked you an earlier question.

So we have this discretionary provision for the requirement to provide information, and I'm wondering if you can let us know what is required that is not discretionary. I know one of the witnesses said that if they don't do environmental monitoring data, they can do batch data. But according to what's been put forward in this particular document, which is the regulatory directive, it says “may require” specific information. It doesn't say “must require” information.

Dr. Claire Franklin: The intent of writing a document that indicates that is that there may be other sources of information, so that the “may require” would indicate to the registrant that if they have a product that has a track one micro-contaminant in it, there may be specific information that they would have to generate, or there may be other information that's available. So the intent of having it written in that sense is to reflect that there may be sources of information that can be utilized. It's not to suggest that we would not have information for a particular substance so that we could do an estimate of what the risks might be from it.

The other point for—

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Can you identify what information is required, because when I read this I don't see anything being required.

Dr. Claire Franklin: We can provide that type of information to you. The type of micro-contaminant, the levels, and the nature of it would determine the kind of information we would require. Not all track one contaminants are the same, so there would have to be that type of delineation of the specifics that would be required, depending on the product.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: That's for micro-contaminants as well as active ingredients and formulants.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes. And I think the document is written for a product that itself would be a track one. There would have to be a serious emergency need for consideration of a product like that to be utilized.

I think the language in the policy is intended to reflect that if we had, for example, a serious public health situation with a particular insect that required something, and the only thing we had.... I think it really is written to reflect that.

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We're not interested in seeing these kinds of products as a product itself, and I don't believe we've seen that type of product.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Well, with that in mind—and I haven't been able to get the names of the two pesticides I'm thinking of—one would certainly hope you would know that you have registered a pesticide in the past year that has dioxin as a micro-contaminant. Perhaps you could look into that and get back to the committee

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, certainly.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: If it has been registered, I would like to know why, given the fact that Canada is chairing the international POPs process, and dioxin is certainly a big problem.

I would also like to refer to page 11 from the same directive that I've been quoting, which is appendix 2, the list of currently identified track one substances. Now, it says here that none of the track one substances are registered as active ingredients under the PCPA. But are there formulants or micro-contaminants that would be on this track one list? Perhaps you can get back to me on that.

The other question I have is around deregistration, or suspension of a registration. I wonder if you could provide the committee with data, because one of the things this regulatory directive talks about is that as new information arises, particularly with regard to track one substances.... The exact quote, if I can find it here, says:

    As other Track 1 substances are officially identified by the federal government, the list of substances in Appendix II will be amended, and the additional substances will be included in the PMRA's TSMP activities.

Firstly, I want to try to understand what that means. If a substance is a new substance identified on track one, how do you start to deal with it with regard to your TSMP activities? Is the product deregistered? And then, more generally, what kinds of data do you have on deregistration of products because of problems with active ingredients, formulants, or micro-contaminants? That's information you can get back to me on.

The Chairman: With an answer, please.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: But just with regard to—

Dr. Claire Franklin: Just so I'm clear, on the deregistration, are you interested in specific products, or the process of deregistration?

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: Well, a little bit of both.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Okay.

Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan: If something happens where there's an addition to track one substances that are being put on the virtual elimination track, it just says here that this will be included in the PMRA's TSMP activities. It appears that there are some contradictions in your strategy when you compare it to the overall government strategy, so I'm just curious to see how all this works.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Okay. We'll try to provide that information. We'll have some interaction certainly.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Madame Catterall, please.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I'll be very brief. I wouldn't want Mr. Brackenridge to feel he's wasted his morning. I wonder if he could tell us what the role of the agency is with respect to important food products, especially those that may be produced using chemicals or other forms of pesticides that are banned in Canada.

Mr. Peter Brackenridge (Executive Director, Plant Products Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency): Thank you, Mr. Chair. And believe me, I wasn't feeling neglected. It is my pleasure to be here.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: You were enjoying the break.

Mr. Peter Brackenridge: I was, as a matter of fact.

We have a variety of programs to monitor imported products coming into Canada. I personally am responsible for the plant products directorate, and much of our focus is on the fruit and vegetables coming into this country. What we do is the sampling, testing, and inspection of the produce that comes in. The standards we use are those that are provided to us by Health Canada and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. We have a three-pronged approach to the monitoring of produce that comes in. We have a monitoring program set up that is determined on an annual basis and based upon past findings and upon risk assessment work that is done.

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If we find problems with product through the monitoring process, we then move into what we call a surveillance mode, where there's a targeted sampling of the next five loads of produce from that particular shipper, from that particular country. And should we find problems in any of those five loads, as soon as we find a problem they fall into what we call a compliance mode, where there has to be documentation provided to us and we verify that it in fact meets our standards. So we do a lot of work in that regard.

We have also a number of programs with foreign countries themselves, particularly on the meat side with other contaminants, whereby we're evaluating their systems in the foreign countries and then we determine our import monitoring program based upon what our knowledge is of their programs in their own shipping point areas.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: Do I understand this right? Canadian producers are required not to use certain substances but we still allow the import of other products produced using those substances?

Mr. Peter Brackenridge: Perhaps I could let Dr. Franklin explain how the tolerances are established.

Dr. Claire Franklin: The situation to which you refer is generally one in which the manufacturer has not come to Canada to request a registration for the product. If the product were registered in Canada and we took it off the market for particular reasons, then we would also prevent the moving into Canada of that particular commodity. If the reason it was banned was health reasons and residues on food, then we would not allow it in. But generally speaking what happens is the product may be registered in the U.S. or other countries and the manufacturer may not ever have come to Canada for registration.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: Well, then, let me go back to something more basic. We banned the use of DDT, but we still import products produced using DDT. Is that true?

Dr. Claire Franklin: That's correct. There are international standards that allow the residues of DDT up to a certain amount in a number of commodities. The ban of DDT was primarily because of environmental concerns.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I just used that as an example.

Dr. Claire Franklin: Yes, well, the reason residues have been assessed and are not considered to pose unacceptable problems is these are very low levels and there are very few commodities. These are, in essence, agreed levels through the FAO-WHO codex system.

Ms. Marlene Catterall: I think that's an issue I will certainly want to return to as we proceed with this, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you. We look forward to that.

Before we adjourn, there are two items. One, let me on behalf of the members of the committee thank Dr. Franklin and Dr. Losos and the officials for their participation this morning. We will meet again Thursday morning at nine.

This is the second item. The clerk has circulated a budget, which is almost a formality, because he's running out of cash and he needs it in order to bring witnesses to the committee. The clerk will briefly explain it and then I will entertain a motion for its approval.

Mr. Knowles, please.

The Clerk of the Committee: Mr. Chairman, each committee receives $5,000 to begin its operating year, the fiscal year, April 1. We have put together a budget that indicates our basic plan, including hearings on this study and possibly one other or two other studies including a bill, and most of the money is an estimate for paying the costs of travel and also the cost of printing reports. If adopted, this budget will go to the liaison committee and they would decide how much to give us at that time. It's for the period beginning this fall to March 31 of next year. For the interest of members, we spent $50,000 last year.

The Chairman: Could we have a motion to this effect, that we approve the budget proposed?

Mr. Joe Jordan (Leeds—Grenville, Lib.): I so move.

(Motion agreed to) [See Minutes of Proceedings]

The Chairman: Thank you. This meeting is adjourned.