Health Canada has extended the comment period for proposed regulations on MRLs until September 8, 2023. On June 20, 2023 it announced it was seeking comments on its Notice of Intent NOI2023-01 for new regulations on pesticide maximum residue limits (MRLs).
The new MRL regulations require publication of a notice when there is a proposed increase. That is all. No substantive changes are being made to the MRL process.
The comment period for the NOI was extended from August 19 until September 8, 2023.
See our previous post on the NOI and suggestions for comments.
Below is an executive summary/ explanation of the MRL issues.
Context: Government Paused and is Now Increasing MRLs
– The pause was because there was huge public outcry and it was election time.
– Health Canada is head of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), who regulates pesticides under the Pest Control Products Act (the PCPA or the Act).
– PMRA had a $42 million “transformation agenda”, the result of which is a lifting of the “pause” and a Notice of Intent (NOI) NOI2023-01 for new regulations. The new regulation for MRLs says that Canadians will get a notice when there is a proposed increase to MRLs.
– Canadians want a reduction in pesticide use, not a notice of increases. More than 18,000 Canadians signed Petition e-4127 to ban glyphosate, which was presented to Parliament in the Spring and supported by MPs of all parties.
– The Chair of the new “transformation agenda” Science Advisory Committee has resigned, citing an “obsolete regulatory system that protects the pest industry more than it protects Canadians”.
– The comment period for the NOI was recently delayed from August 19 until September 8, 2023, likely due to more public outcry.
– PMRA’s definition of an MRL is “the highest amount of pesticide residue that may [is allowed to] remain on or in food when a pesticide is used according to label directions”. Label directions concern spraying – the rate and quantities of pesticides that are allowed to be sprayed on food.
– The label directions in Canada are set by law, and generated by studies in the field. The field studies look at what residues of pesticides remain in or on the food when applied according to the label directions, and these result in MRLs.
– Food that is imported from other countries have different levels of pesticides because the directions for spraying in other countries are different than Canadas. In the US, the level is called a “tolerance”.
– The problem is that PMRA takes the tolerance for food imported into Canada (the Import MRL) then sets the Canadian MRL to match the other countries’ tolerance/ Import MRL. The Import MRLs most often allow higher levels of pesticides than in Canada, which means now the Canadian legal limits have been raised.
– This removes the Canadian standard for pesticide residues. The standard allows regulators to correlate residue levels for Canadian food to Canadian labels, and unless it is retained, there is no ability to verify that labels are appropriate. The risk of high levels of pesticides in Canadian grown food exists, and the standard is needed to mitigate the risk.
– The risk of high pesticide levels occurring in Canadian food arises for many reasons, including:
(a) the labels don’t work (see this recent Agriculture Canada study);
(b) the labels are wrong: perhaps because (i) a crop has been “grouped” incorrectly with dissimilar crops and so has the wrong label (ii) PMRA has made incorrect assumptions, like pesticide levels decline over the pre-harvest interval (confidential test data for glyphosate indicates otherwise);
(c) field conditions or the type of crop may be causing high residue levels even when the labels are mostly right (e.g. indeterminate crops);
(d) applications may be occurring “off-label” by spraying in higher quantities or more frequently than the label directs.
There is no Need for Imposing the Higher MRL
– PMRA says it uses the higher levels across the board so that when it assesses the diets of Canadians for pesticide residues, it is assuming the worst case scenario (i.e. using the highest pesticide residue levels).
– PMRA doesn’t need to do this. It can get realistic information on the quantities of a food type that is imported into and also grown in Canada, and such ratio information could be used by PMRA in its dietary risk assessment.
– It makes sense to have two MRLs – the import MRL for food grown elsewhere, and the domestic MRL for food grown in Canada. If a food is grown in both Canada and imported, the Canadian MRL should apply. This provides Canadians with the assurance the food is grown under field conditions considered safe for Canada. If the higher MRL is permitted, then Canadian consumers have no assurance that Canadian standards have been followed.
So why does PMRA insist on Just One MRL
– PMRA has provided two reasons: First, allowing 2 MRLs doesn’t align with our international trading partners and will impact food trade. Second, the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) can’t figure out which ingredients in a food product are imported vs. Canadian grown so will have a hard time enforcing 2 MRLs.
– These aren’t good reasons. First, Health Canada and PMRA’s mandate is protecting Canadians’ health and the environment, not trade, and Canada would not be creating trade barriers by having 2 MRLs. PMRA has also forgotten that, by increasing pesticide risk, it is acting contrary to Canada’s commitment to Target 7 of COP 15, which many trade partners signed. Second, CFIA can just ask the manufacturer of the food product where the ingredients are grown.
Where Do the Higher Import MRLs Come From?
– The request for higher import MRLs comes from the pesticide industry. Bayer/Monsanto asked for the high glyphosate levels, and Syngenta asked for the newest proposed increases for sugar beets, PMRL 2023-34 and PMRL 2023-38.
– The field trials and evaluations supporting the proposed MRLs are confidential and can only be read if a Canadian signs an affidavit and submits a form. This is “closed science“. The studies can’t realistically be viewed in timely manner.
– PMRA puts the field trial residue data into the OECD Calculator, a statistical approach that, because of the studies selected, frequently “overestimates” or comes up with these high, industry-friendly MRLs values. This is “made-up” science.
OECD and International Process Promotes High Pesticide Levels
– PMRA generally adopts the levels set by the OECD in its Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR). The CCPR takes recommendations from the Joint WHO/FAO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
– PMRA is supporting the international drive for higher MRLs which is being driven by industry. Health Canada funded the “extra” JMPR meeting that justified for the high levels of glyphosate/Roundup. At the associated CCPR meeting, Croplife International, the agent for the world’s major pesticide players, had 68 people – Canada 9.
– The FAO, a part of the JMPR, furthers the agenda of industry and is openly collaborating with the private sector through its Strategy for Private Sector Engagement. The FAO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management applies to governments and the pesticide industry, and has the goal of maximizing the benefits of pesticides.
By using the Import MRL as the standard for pesticide residues in Canada, PMRA is importing risk standards from other countries. This decision “protects industry more than Canadians”, and is an abdication of the Health Minister’s duty to protect Canadian from the risks of pesticides.