Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency allowed the agricultural industry to continue using an “unacceptable” pesticide on potato crops for more than a decade after concluding it had high acute toxicity, said a new audit tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

The report by federal environment commissioner, Julie Gelfand, showed that the agency was tardy in cancelling registrations for six of seven harmful pesticides, taking between four to 11 years to phase them out.

In addition, the report stated that another 36 'neocontinoid' pesticides were still in use as of 2015 under conditional registration. Gelfand said that these pesticides could pose a threat to bees, pollinating insects, and broader ecosystems. These are a newer class of pesticide introduced within the last two decades.

Of these 36 neocontinoids, 29 have been conditionally registered and allowed for use for longer than the agency's recommended five year limit, pending additional data on their effects.

While the agency phased out the use of an insecticide called phorate on a number of crops including lettuce and corn in 2004, it decided to continue using it on potatoes until 2006, said the audit. This time frame was then extended four times to 2007, 2008, 2012, and finally 2015.

“The re-evaluation concluded that this insecticide had high acute toxicity and posed risks that made it unacceptable for all uses. Its effects on the environment could not be mitigated, because even small doses could be harmful,” said Gelfand’s report.

“The agency cited the lack of alternative methods to control wireworm on potatoes as the reason for the extensions.”

The audit said lengthy delays in cancelling registrations of dangerous pesticides prolong the time that workers, the public and the environment are exposed to risks.

The audit said the agency was slow to cancel registrations for other pesticides such as Terbufos, which was discontinued eight years after it was first deemed unacceptable in 2004, and Endosulfan, which was first declared unfit for use in 2011 but is still currently being used. The agency aims to phase it out this year, the report said.

The agency cited a lack of alternatives as one reason for continuing the use of such pesticides in some cases, while other phase-outs were delayed to allow users and suppliers to exhaust their stocks.

The audit said that the agency agreed with recommendations that unacceptable risks posed by pesticides should be promptly addressed and promised to consult publicly on its current approach to phasing out products.

“Where unacceptable risks are identified but can be appropriately addressed through mitigation measures, the Agency acts promptly to require such measures. These can range from cancellation of certain uses, to the enhancement of the use of personal protective equipment by workers, to the implementation of additional application restrictions,” said the agency’s reply.

“Where risks are imminent and no appropriate mitigation measures exist, the agency’s policy is to cancel all uses.”

Health effects ignored

The commissioner’s report also found that the agency had not assessed the cumulative health effects of pesticides when required, despite considering their overall risks and value.

The commissioner examined 10 re-evaluations of active ingredients that the agency completed in 2014-15 to determine whether it had considered health and environmental risks in their assessments. All 10 of these re-evaluations resulted in changes to the instructions on product labels to reduce risks, for example by directing users to use protective gear.

Two re-evaluations of ingredients found unacceptable risks to human health and certain product uses were cancelled as a result.

Report chides federal departments over sustainability

Gelfand’s report also found that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Heritage, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not made adequate progress in meeting their sustainable development strategy commitments to strengthen their assessment practices.

The report recommended that the four departments should report on the extent and results of their strategic environmental practices as required by the Cabinet directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals and its related guidelines

Ministers were not provided with information about potentially key environmental effects for the majority of the proposals submitted to them, according to Gelfand’s findings.

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