Conflicting messages about pesticides? Ag minister sees a distinction between farm and cosmetic use

The federal government announced a series of changes to its policies around pesticide use on Tuesday, including the introduction of a ban on cosmetic uses of pesticides on federal land and the end of a nearly two-year pause on reviews of maximum residue limits (MRLs).

CropLife Canada, which represents companies that make crop protection products, is applauding the federal agriculture minister for making statements highlighting the importance of pesticides in food production and food security, but the organization says the ban on cosmetic use of pesticides on federal lands “runs in direct contradiction” to the government’s own risk-based approach to regulating pesticides.

“For Health Canada to deem pesticides safe and then turn around and ban them for so-called cosmetic purposes on their own lands sends conflicting messages to Canadians,” says CropLife Canada, in a position statement responding to the pesticide policy announcements by the ministers in charge of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she sees a distinction between farm and cosmetic uses of pesticides, with pesticide residue policies for agriculture focused on human health and food security. The cosmetic pesticide ban, meanwhile, is driven by an emphasis on preserving biodiversity, she says.

“I can assure you that I’ve been following the files very closely, and there is absolutely nothing around pesticides for farmers, absolutely no intention to ban anything,” says Bibeau, speaking with RealAgriculture in the interview below. “We will keep making decisions based on science. We know that farmers are professional. They know how to use pesticides, they don’t use more than they need, they have other tools, and they do integrated management of pesticides, too. I want to really reassure farmers on that.”

The minister points out the government made a commitment at the international COP meeting in Montreal last December to reduce pesticide risks relative to biodiversity. The 2022 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) includes a target of reducing overall pesticide risk — not necessarily the amount used — by at least 50 per cent by 2030.

“This is why we have decided to to stop using non-essential pesticides for cosmetic use on federal property, and we will encourage provinces and municipalities to do the same. But we recognize that pesticides are an essential tool to farmers. It’s an essential tool to food security,” says Bibeau.

As for resuming MRL reviews, CropLife and commodity groups whose members rely on access to pesticides were critical of the pause dating back to when it was announced in August 2021, a few weeks prior to the 2021 federal election..

“After almost two years of a scientifically unjust pause on any increases to MRLs for pesticides in Canada, the government has said it will only slowly begin to increase MRLs again where required, despite acknowledging that MRLs do not pose a safety concern and that they are critical to international trade and food security,” CropLife writes, in its statement this week.

Bibeau acknowledges MRL reviews for some pesticides will be completed before others. The review for glyphosate, which was singled out when the pause was originally announced in 2021, will be delayed.

“We’ll start with the easiest one, I would say, and it will take a little bit longer for glyphosate, in particular, because there are specific analyses that are being done elsewhere, internationally as well. We want to have access to the results of these analyses before we resume for glyphosate,” she says. “But I want to assure you that we stick to making decisions based on science. This is very important. It’s all about being more transparent and also giving more resources to PMRA so they have access to additional independent information before they make their decision.”

Some of the changes announced on Tuesday are open for public comment for 60 days, as they require amendments to the federal Pest Control Products Regulations.

For more, listen to the interview with Minister Bibeau above, or under RealAgriculture in your podcast player.

Related: Federal government lifts pause on pesticide MRL reviews, while banning cosmetic pesticides on federal land

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