Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to participate in this important debate, the third reading of an act to replace the Pest Control Products Act which dates back to 1969.
The stated objective of the legislation is to protect the health of Canadians from the ill effects of pesticides and to protect the environment at the same time. Both are laudable goals and we support them. However we cannot support the bill because we do not believe that the bill succeeds in setting out what it proposes to do.
This legislation has been a long time in coming. The existing Pest Control Products Act dates back to 1969. A great deal has changed since then. The Liberal government promised this legislation in its first term of office in 1993 but it has taken nearly a decade to get from there to here. We acknowledge that the bill is a significant improvement over the 1969 legislation.
It would use modern risk assessment practices, taking into account the consideration of vulnerable populations, such as children. It would require mandatory re-evaluation of pesticides, some of which have been around for decades without the benefit of re-evaluation. It would increase public participation in the decision making process and would make mandatory the reporting of adverse effects.
However as the lead critic for our caucus, the member for Winnipeg North Centre, and our environmental critic, the member for Windsor—St. Clair, have both pointed out, the bill does leave a great deal to be desired.
We all realize that there are trade-offs to be made between the need we currently have for using pesticides to produce food on the one hand and the health of Canadians on the other. When it comes to those trade-offs it is the health of Canadians that must take precedence and priority. That is why we are concerned that there is no precautionary principle in this legislation. A precautionary principle would ensure that the health of Canadians is our overriding and major concern. The bill does not enshrine this principle. We find this strange because the basic premise of the bill is to protect the health of Canadians from the adverse effects of pesticides.
Another area of disappointment in Bill C-53 is that it does not adequately address pollution prevention or reduction, and the reduction in the use of pesticides. In other areas the legislation is vague and we see that far too many details would be left to regulations. I speak for example of the details in timelines for the process of re-evaluation of pesticides.
As my colleagues have pointed out earlier in the debate there is nothing in the bill to indicate that the government wants to or has plans for reducing our overall reliance on pesticides.
I have the privilege of representing a Saskatchewan constituency, one that has a mix of urban and rural communities and individuals. I want to talk briefly about some of the trade-offs that must be made in an industrial society where people produce goods and market products for others to enjoy. I want to talk about the method for registering pesticides and of re-evaluating them. This is a task that does fall to the Pest Management Review Agency, the PMRA.
A report was prepared by the committee on environment and sustainable development in May 2000. I know that everyone in the House agrees that the chair of that committee on environment and sustainable development has sterling credentials as a strong environmentalist.
The report stated clearly that it intended to make the protection of human health and the environment the absolute priority in pest management decisions with a special emphasis on the protection of children and other vulnerable populations. This accords very closely with the position of our party in this area and with the position outlined in this debate earlier by my colleagues.
The environment committee indicated that the precautionary principle must be the approach used in all decision making, again mirroring the policy of our party. The committee chair expressed his hope that Canadians would move toward organic agriculture even while acknowledging that this will be a long term project.
On that score, the recent 2001 census is interesting when it comes to agriculture. It indicates that more than 2,200 Canadian farms produce at least one category of certified organic agricultural products. These 2,200 organic farms represent only about 1% of farms, but there is no question that the number of organic farms is growing faster than any other type of farming in the country. I am pleased to report that more than 700, almost one-third of those 2,200 farms, are in the province of Saskatchewan and growth is continuing at a great rate.
In its report the environment committee pointed out that the European Union has also experienced remarkable growth in organic agriculture. Even there the total number of organic farms is only in the range of 2% of all the farms in Europe.
I want to make the point that the government and the federal department of agriculture have not made it a priority to assist in the development of organic agriculture. I believe that is a mistake. There has been a very modest amount of money given recently by the department of agriculture, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $600,000, for the development of organic agriculture. This amount is not to be sneezed at, but it is a very minute amount in comparison to the amount of money available for the study of agriculture biotechnology.
We will be using pesticides to produce products for the foreseeable future. I refer again to the chair of the environment committee because in the preface to his report last May the chair said “our reliance on pesticides in agriculture is so overwhelming, it would be impossible for us to abandon their use in the short term”.
It then becomes crucially important that we have a safe and transparent process for the registration and evaluation of pesticides and those tasks fall to the pest management review agency, the PMRA. When this organization was created as a standalone agency, it was supposed to streamline the process of getting new pesticides onto the market and getting old and untested ones reviewed and cancelled if necessary. It has not worked out that way and criticism comes from all sides and all quarters.
When it comes to the PMRA there is a rare unanimity among industry groups, environmentalists, health groups and legislators. That unanimity is that the pest management review agency in Canada lags well behind its U.S. counterpart in approving newer, safer chemicals that could allow older and more hazardous products to be removed from the market.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, of which I am a member, discussed this very matter at some length this year during our deliberations. In a report on the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, one of the four recommendations was that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada provide at least $1 million a year in funding for a research and analysis program similar to the IR4 in the United States. This was to be developed in co-operation with agricultural stakeholders to generate or complete the necessary data for the approval of new minor use products or to expand the use of previously approved products.
That was a significant recommendation of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food to deal with the minor use policy of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and other farm groups wrote to the health minister regarding Bill C-53 about a month ago. In a letter to the hon. Minister of Health, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Bob Friesen, indicated that on timelines the Canadian Federation of Agriculture recommended that product registrations be included in the legislation or applicable regulations should be referred to therein in order to create greater accountability of the PMRA's performance and management regarding submissions.
The federation also had recommendations on the auditor general's requirement for the agency's financial statements, information about the agency's performance with respect to the objectives established in the corporate business plan and a summary statement of the assessment by the Auditor General of Canada of the fairness and reliability of the information. There has been some concern.
The CFA went on to say that there is no mention of minor use in the legislation and that too is of concern. The CFA and others are insisting that farmers need faster access to newer and lower risk chemicals. The CFA stresses that product registrations have to be dealt with in a more timely manner. We in this caucus certainly agree with that observation.
For one reason or another the PMRA has not been up to its task. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food found the problem so vexing that it held hearings and wrote a report. I have already alluded to recommendation No. 3 in the report. It was a report on the performance of the PMRA from the perspective of farmers and the competitiveness or lack thereof.
The agriculture committee chose to send a strong message to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency that improvements to its management and registration process were crucial and overdue. We have to ask why the PMRA has not performed better than it has. Part of the problem is the conflicting mandate. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency is charged with protecting human health and the environment while at the same time supporting the competitiveness of Canadian agriculture, forestry and other industries. In this latter role there is pressure on the PMRA to promote the use of pesticides.
These, we submit, are conflicting interests. As well, there appears to be a corporate culture at the PMRA that does not promote transparency in decision making. We submit that transparency is extremely important in order to guard the health of Canadians and the environment.
Regrettably, the bill before us does nothing new to clarify the statutory responsibilities of the PMRA. That is a serious concern.
We have looked at Bill C-53. We certainly concede that it is an improvement over the situation that has existed under the old legislation that was passed in 1969 called the Pest Control Products Act. We have to say in all sincerity that we are disappointed because the government had a golden opportunity to fix the process of registering and reviewing pesticides in a way that would set a clear priority on protecting the health of Canadians and at the same time protecting the environment. The government had the opportunity to establish a review process that was both transparent and efficacious but somehow it managed to fail on both fronts.
The legislation has been promised for nearly 10 years. The former Minister of Health promised legislation in the fall of 2001. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development produced a study in May 2000 on the management and use of pesticides, including an examination of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
The primary objective of Bill C-53 as we understand it is the protection of human health and the environment. It is much stronger than the current legislation which must balance health and environmental concerns against those of industry. Some of the key provisions that will do this are the use of modern risk assessment practices, that is, consideration of vulnerable populations such as children, and of aggregate exposure and cumulative effects; mandatory re-evaluation of pesticides; increased public participation in the decision making process; mandatory reporting of adverse effects; and mandatory material safety data sheets in workplaces where pesticides are used or manufactured.
Bill C-53 does not adequately address pollution prevention and reduction in the use of pesticides. There is nothing to indicate that the government is seeking to reduce overall reliance on them.
There are concerns that the legislation is too vague and I hope I have covered that. Much of the details will be left to regulations, including details and a timeline for the re-evaluation process, types of tests used in risk assessment, et cetera.
The precautionary principle, which is very important, is not enshrined as one of the principles of the act. This is an extreme deficiency in our opinion.
There is a failure in the act to ban the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes; the lack of a fast track registration process for lower risk or minor use products; a failure to reduce the number of pesticides being used, to reduce the use of pesticides in general and to prevent the most harmful pesticides from being registered; and a failure to require labelling of all toxic formulants, contaminants or micro-contaminants.
The mandate of the PMRA is not set out in the legislation. Unfortunately there is a failure to commit money for research on the long term effects of pesticides, especially on vulnerable groups like our children, and for public education about the dangers of pesticides and for support of alternatives.
In conclusion, the proposed legislation is an improvement. It is still flawed. Much of it is based on U.S. standards which will bring some of our standards up, but we will still be far behind countries in the European Union.
Harmonization may have dangerous effects in the long term. Given the scientific evidence that exists, the bill could have and should have been much stronger in the government's efforts to protect both human health and the environment.