Ont. ag groups call for chemical status quo

A federal audit criticizing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s oversight of protection against invasive plant species shows this is no time for Ontario to limit pesticide options, ag groups warned Friday.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser “has identified that Canada could suffer
significantly if invasive pests are not properly controlled,” said Bette Jean Crews, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, in a release Friday by CropLife Canada, the industry group for crop pesticide makers.

“Ontario farmers know that pest control is an important element of economic success for our sector and we are hoping that Premier (Dalton) McGuinty will finally see the validity of the concerns we are raising,” Crews said.’

The province proposes a final regulation this spring for a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides, in which commercial farming uses appear to get a wide berth of exemptions.

The province’s list of exceptions includes a “broad range of agricultural operations similar to the definitions in the Nutrient Management Act and the Farming and Food Production Protection Act,” the province said — but not household vegetable gardens, nor “production primarily for consumption by members of the household of the owner or operator of the agricultural operation.”

But the province’s proposed regulations, in light of Fraser’s audit on CFIA regulation of invasive plants and plant pests, “put Ontario farms at an increased risk of pest infestations from non-agricultural land and at the same time send a negative message to the public about the adequacy of the federal regulatory system,” according to Richard Blyleven, chair of Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and the Environment (AGCare).

“If farmers are going to successfully meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population, we need access to every tool in the toolbox,” Blyleven said in CropLife’s press release. “That includes today’s safe and effective crop protection products.”

Fraser on Thursday urged the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to run a “comprehensive assessment of the way it handles imports under its plant health program.”

“The sheer volume of imports makes it impossible to inspect all shipments,” Fraser said. “Given that the volume has more than doubled in the last seven years, it is critical that (CFIA) focus on the greatest risks.”

Fraser said her office found CFIA management “has no systematic way of knowing if its procedures are adequately designed and operating effectively to keep invasive alien species from entering and becoming established in Canada.”

Invasive alien plant and plant pests can threaten the environment and the economy, she said, and can make “severe and often irreversible” impacts on native ecosystems in their new habitats.

Fraser, in her report, said CFIA’s pest surveys “focus almost exclusively on known invaders rather than identifying potential new threats before they become established.”

“The Ontario government says they have addressed concerns about invasive
species in their legislation, but they haven’t,” said Pierre Petelle, director of regulatory affairs at CropLife Canada.

“These arbitrary regulations
create an environment of uncertainty and make it unlikely that Canada will be
seen as a place to invest as newer and more effective pest control products
are made available in other countries.”

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