Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, honourable members of Parliament and distinguished participants.
Thank you for inviting us to appear today to provide you with an update on the activities of the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency since we last met in February 2007.
We have submitted to you today a report that outlines key activities of our agency, showing recent trends, and it provides updates on key issues involving the agriculture sector. Trends are presented for a number of activities, including new active ingredient registrations, minor use registrations, and review performance. Some notable agency successes are presented, including the approval of the first NAFTA-labelled pesticides, Canada's participation in global joint reviews with its Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development counterparts, and the introduction of a new policy for the registration of generic pesticides.
I, or my colleague Richard Aucoin, the Chief Registrar, would be pleased to answer questions on this material. I will take a few minutes to highlight some of the activities that have provided, and will continue to provide, benefits for Canadian growers while maintaining strong protection standards of human health and the environment.
One of our accomplishments over the past few months is the ongoing implementation of an improved system for registering generic pesticides. We consulted on and made improvements to our data protection policy as requested by grower groups and industry.
The primary goal of our new policy is to provide fair protection of the proprietary interests in data to encourage the introduction of new and reduced risk pest control products, while at the same time providing a predictable timely process for the introduction of competing generic pesticide products to the Canadian market.
I'm also proud to report that we've seen a substantial increase in the number of reduced-risk chemicals and bio-pesticides, which is indicative that registrants are seeing the benefits of registering new technologies in Canada, and that they're not deterred by regulatory requirements.
This increase has, however, slightly affected our ability to meet our review performance target of 90% for category-A submissions in the first two quarters of the 2007-08 fiscal year. Where we didn't meet performance standards, our delays were typically limited to under two months. However, in the same timeframe, we've registered more new active ingredients in major new uses in this fiscal year—that's the first half of this fiscal year—than all of last fiscal year.
New resources from the recent “Enhancing Access to Pest Management Tools” Treasury Board submission are expected to help resolve this drop in review performance, as well as contribute to our ongoing initiatives related to agricultural competitiveness. For example, we continue to work on key initiatives aimed at increasing the availability of newer, lower-risk pesticides for growers in Canada.
The minor use program, a collaboration between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Health Canada, as well as active-ingredient-targeted projects, such as Project 914, have yielded hundreds of new minor use registrations in the last year. Project 914 was piloted for three new active ingredients selected based on input from grower groups such as the Canadian Horticultural Council. To meet a six-month review timeline, we made use of the United States Environmental Protection Agency's data package and reviews for these same active ingredients. In 2007 these registrations yielded 479 new minor uses for growers from a wide range of agricultural sectors.
The agency is also involved at the international level on this issue, participating in the first Global Minor Use Summit in the fall of 2007. On the topic of international collaboration, we continued to work to address the areas where streamlined processes would benefit Canadian growers.
This is evidenced by recent successes such as the registration of three NAFTA labels, Canada's participation in the first ever global joint review of a new active ingredient, and the fact that over 40% of new active ingredients registered in Canada go through joint reviews or work-sharing with the United states or global partners such as Australia and Europe.
NAFTA labels allow the free movement of product across the U.S.-Canada border to the benefit of growers on both sides. Many other products have been nominated as NAFTA label candidates, including new products undergoing joint review. These activities provide Canadian growers access to new products at the same time as their competitors with a built-in price discipline mechanism, which was the preferred solution recommended and strongly supported by every grower association represented on the own use import task force in 2006.
This brings me to my next topic, the grower-requested own use import program, GROU. Since our last meeting in February 2007, and in keeping with the recommendation of this committee, we maintain growers' access to the OUI product ClearOut 41 Plus while implementing the new GROU. In a recent development, the manufacturers of ClearOut 41 Plus announced their intention to make available to growers the Canadian-registered version of their product, which has been registered since early 2006. Although they intend to distribute the product through one supplier only, the result is that growers will no longer have to apply for an OUI import permit in order to access this popular generic herbicide.
As for the OUI task force members' commitments, grower groups in the pesticide industry continue to collaborate on the growing list of available of GROU products. This program allows growers in Canada to import the U.S. version of a Canadian-registered product if it is available to their competitors at a lower price.
There are currently six approved GROU products, with an additional seven submitted for review. These products represent a wide range of uses and meet the needs of growers from across Canada in all commodity sectors.
The GROU nomination committee, made up of all key national grower groups as well as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, is the body responsible for making submissions to the PMRA for consideration in the GROU program. This group has a number of additional priority products that are under discussion for possible submission to the program.
Finally, we continue to work on re-evaluating older pesticides using modern scientific standards. In some cases registrants are required to add new mitigation measures to their labels in order to satisfy today's environmental and health risk assessments. One example affecting the agriculture sector is the addition of buffer zones to older pesticides in order to protect environmentally sensitive areas and allow the continued registration of that pesticide in Canada.
These buffer zones can pose challenges to growers, and we have committed to work with grower groups and the provinces on buffer zone issues as we try to balance the goals of environmental protection and agricultural sustainability. For example, in March we'll be holding a workshop with stakeholders, including grower groups, to discuss buffer zone issues.
I would like to stress that our primary mandate is the protection of human health and the environment. The initiatives that we have undertaken are intended to provide our growers with the necessary tools to remain competitive in this increasingly competitive global market, while continuing to ensure that human health and the environment are protected.
We hope to continue the positive momentum that has been achieved over the past few years with the agricultural sector.
Thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions.