In a stunning decision, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) ruled on June 21 that commonly used fungicides -- mancozeb and metiram – will be eliminated in most horticultural crops except for foliar applications in potatoes. The three registrants of these products – BASF Canada, Dow AgroSciences and UPI – have 60 days to respond with scientific data that might dissuade regulators.
“We question whether the data used by PMRA are current and applicable to Canadian production practices,” says Charles Stevens, chair of the crop protection section for the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA). “If the data are not current and applicable then this needs to be addressed by working together with industry. All uses have been taken away except for potatoes and that decision doesn’t make sense because 75 per cent of the product usage is on potatoes.”
As the PMRA decision stands, the fungicides would still be used on 3.4 million acres of potatoes in Canada yet cancelled for 1.3 million acres of fruits and vegetables. What’s troubling is that when the re-evaluation process started in 2013, PMRA did not mention all of the crops that are now eliminated in their decision. Sugar beets is one example, a crop that’s grown here in Canada then shipped to the U.S. for processing.
Secondly, the PMRA lists post-application worker exposure as a health issue. Mancozeb and metiram belong to the family of fungicides known as ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Regulators say that there is a byproduct which, when broken down in the environment, may pose a cancer risk in drinking water.
“This byproduct has never been found in drinking water in Canada,” says Stevens.
Thirdly, the PMRA’s regulators cite worries about dietary exposure. Stevens says that every other country in the world, including the European Union, has registered these products and not sounded any alarms. If Health Canada’s rationale is to protect the health of Canadians, then how does that decision square with allowing imported produce from countries still using these fungicides? About 70 per cent of Canada’s produce is imported.
This question, and others, have been raised by the OFVGA in letters to both federal and provincial agriculture ministers as well as ministers of health. The message? Put a “hold” on PMRA’s final decision, citing the need for more time for growers to respond. The economic impacts on each commodity are estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
PMRA’s decision on withdrawing mancozeb and metiram from widespread horticultural use also has unintended consequences. In apples, for example, fungicides are frequently used in rotation with other chemistries to battle apple scab. Without these tools, Stevens says that Ontario’s $60-million apple industry alone would suffer $5 million in extra costs to control diseases and pests. Regulators have failed to take into account that remaining registered pesticides aren’t enough to control orchard diseases and insects in a properly integrated pest management program. In a related PMRA decision earlier this year, the fungicide captan was ruled to be safe for 10 times per season application in high-density orchards and only twice in low-density orchards.
“The problem with this decision is that 60 per cent of Canadian orchards are low-density,” explains Stevens. “The apple industry is in a bind.”
One of the registrants, BASF, understands the issues all too well. Two of BASF’s commercial products – Cabrio Plus and Polyram DF – both contain the active ingredient metiram. Cabrio Plus is used exclusively in potatoes, while Polyram DF is used mainly in potatoes, apples and grapes.
“BASF has provided an exhaustive dossier of hundreds of scientific files to PMRA,” says Scott Hodgins, horticulture crop manager, BASF Canada.
A significant amount of metiram is applied to potatoes in western Canada where aerial application is practised. According to the PMRA decision, potato growers will be limited to 10 EBDC applications per season, only three of which can be metiram. The impact on growers is that fewer chemistries are available for appropriate resistance management.
“BASF Canada will continue to support metiram in Canada and in other countries and will be looking to find solutions using sound scientific data,” says Hodgins.
To date, growers have not met with PMRA staff in Ottawa while registrants are gathering their data for the deadline. However, entreaties by OFVGA and the Canadian Horticultural Council have been made prior to the federal-provincial-territorial agriculture minister’s meeting. In preparing for the July 18-20 meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Stevens reports that there was unanimity among all of Ontario’s agriculture groups in a briefing with Ontario ag minister Ernie Hardeman and deputy minister Greg Meredith.
“The two highest priorities for agriculture are access to crop protection products and access to labour,” says Stevens. “Regarding crop protection, if changes aren’t made, this will become a major trade issue in Canada.”