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October 27, 2021

As reported in The Grower’s September issue, new federal funding has been promised for pest management initiatives. A $50 million investment in total was announced with $42 million earmarked for the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). A further $7 million will be allocated to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and $1 million to Environment and Climate Change Canada in supporting work, to accelerate the research, development and adoption of alternative pest management solutions. This is desperately needed to support the pest management environment.


It’s been no secret that PMRA has been seeking additional funding for several years. Resource crunches have been affecting the timeliness of decisions across the agency including in re-evaluation and registration. In fact, in PMRA’s most recently published annual workplan, it was announced that the re-evaluations of several active ingredients are delayed to direct resources for work on priority files. More importantly for growers, PMRA announced in early 2020 that it was embarking on an overhaul of its unsustainable re-evaluation program. The newer “integrated approach” as termed by the agency includes earlier stakeholder engagement, improved risk communication, and a focus on seeking enhanced empirical data for use in decision making.


The newer model for re-evaluation was widely supported in general by all stakeholders and PMRA sought additional funding in the 2021 federal budget. It was not to be found. This prompted a response from the federal Pest Management Advisory Council – which includes grower representation by the Canadian Horticultural Council – indicating the significant impact of this funding deficit on the pest management regulatory system. Perhaps they, along with other stakeholders, finally got through. 


The $42 million additional funding announced over a three-year period equates to $14 million annually. On approximately $30 million base funding for the PMRA per year, that represents almost a 50 per cent increase. While details are vague at this point on where exactly this will be directed, I’ve been told at least some new initiatives are being given the green light, such as efforts in collecting better data. Good news for growers. 


On a similar note, funding for AAFC’s Pest Management Centre (PMC) has been stalled for years. With a role of delivering the minor use program supporting the registration of crop protection products on many horticultural crops, the PMC provides a critical service in pest management. In addition to their activities supporting registration, PMC also has a goal of supporting the development of alternative pest management approaches – when they have funding. 


The PMC budget has been flat for a decade with inflation reducing the number of projects they can conduct each year. Furthermore, the budget for the alternative pest management work was most recently a meager $210,000. Not much to help a multi-billion dollar sector spanning the country. While it’s been indicated that some of the $7 million allocated for AAFC will be directed towards the PMC this hasn’t been confirmed. Basically all of it is needed at PMC; it also isn’t clear if the AAFC or PMRA funding is a permanent increase or a one-off. Several questions remain but at least it’s something.


As exciting as it is to finally have some news about new desperately needed funding, it didn’t come without some cause for concern. First, the news release from Health Canada announcing the funding was downright bizarre. Pest management funding wasn’t mentioned in the title, nor even in the first three paragraphs. It wasn’t until the second half the announcement that new spending was mentioned. Rather, the news release title began with “Government of Canada pauses decision on glyphosate” and the initial action announced by Patty Hadju, Minister of Health, was a pause on proposed increases to Maximum Reside Limits (MRLs), including for glyphosate, until at least spring 2022. I cannot recall many news releases where the government funding announcement is reserved for the end.


Clearly, this was a political attempt to play both sides. The announcement title itself of “pauses decision on glyphosate” is a bit of a misnomer. Glyphosate isn’t currently under review in Canada. That has been the case since 2019 when PMRA re-affirmed their 2017 final re-evaluation decision after receiving notices of objection – which were subsequently determined to be not scientifically validated. Rather, the current pause of decision is regarding increases to MRLs, for glyphosate and a number of other active ingredients. And politics has no business here. 


As has been discussed in previous columns, MRL setting by PMRA follows a rigorous science-based process to ensure the food Canadians eat is safe. It integrates into the agency’s overall risk management programs including for re-evaluation and registration. The currently announced pause is no different than a Minister interjecting in these other well-established processes. In fact, most of the proposed MRL increases were to align with the United States or CODEX, the latter being an international standard developed by the United Nations.


The funding announcement was very welcomed and more is certainly needed but it came with strings attached. Hopefully this was an election blip. Canadian policy should remain firmly based in science, rather than science being driven by politics and policy as we are seeing in the EU. Now that the federal election is over, the Ministers should ensure their departments have the appropriate funding, and let their departments take care of the science decisions.

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Submitted by Chris Duyvelshoff on 27 October 2021