A CALL FOR SCIENCE-BASED POLICYMAKING
BY ANDRE HARPE
Insect pests such as grasshoppers and flea beetles pose a significant perennial threat to western Canadian farmers. Once again, this year, they threatened to wreak havoc on Prairie grains, oilseeds and pulse crops. And one of the most effective pest management tools, lambda-cyhalothrin (branded as Matador and Silencer) was not much help, as it has become the latest victim of a federal bureaucracy that is in many ways out of touch with agriculture.
This leaves farmers with an unworkable situation, and it marks a very problematic theme in Canadian policymaking. The federal government shows a severe lack of understanding of the day-to-day realities faced by grain farmers and is making very important decisions without understanding its impact on farmers.
After reviewing health and environmental data earlier this year, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) determined lambda-cyhalothrin cannot be used on any crop that may serve as livestock feed. This, despite the long-standing insecticide remains safe for use in pest control in crops intended for human consumption.
Canada’s implementation of a food-versus-feed distinction for lambda-cyhalothrin sets it apart from other G20 countries. Notably, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted a comprehensive review of lambda-cyhalothrin, it did not impose similar feed restrictions.
For 25 years, extensive testing conducted in Canada consistently demonstrated the absence of lambda-cyhalothrin residues in grain. It is crucial to recognize that despite this, Canadian farmers will now face a competitive disadvantage compared to their American counterparts. The restriction, which solely applies to the approved uses for Canadian grain, allows imported U.S. grain treated with lambda-cyhalothrin to be used as livestock feed in Canada.
This decision places Canadian farmers in an unfavourable position and left them with a significant challenge this past growing season as they navigated the new restriction. Given the complexities of the grain industry, farmers struggle to differentiate between grain intended for livestock feed and grain earmarked for export or human consumption. Virtually every crop grown could potentially end up as feed and few farmers can be sure their grain and associated byproducts will exclusively target export or human use.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the use of lambda-cyhalothrin will continue to linger. This raises concerns about the lack of clear guidance on insecticide usage and its potential repercussions.
Unable to differentiate at time of spraying between a crop intended for feed versus food, farmers face the harsh reality of having lost an important tool from their crop protection toolbox. At Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), we are deeply concerned about how this decision may set a negative precedent for PMRA policymaking. We are also concerned this will affect the relationships between members of the value chain as they struggle to operationalize an unworkable regulatory requirement. There is a lot of frustration as well as confusion about how to meet the new rules. As yet there are no clear answers.
We will continue to drill down on our messaging around this issue. To ensure we have effective environmental and sustainability policies, decisions must be firmly rooted in scientific evidence. This will safeguard public health and the environment, while minimizing unnecessary negative impacts on the livelihoods of grain farmers.
The PMRA has a valuable opportunity to fix the problem of non-scientific policymaking and we are willing to work with the organization to do so. It is in everyone’s best interest. Additionally, we will continue to urge the PMRA to take quick action to resolve the lambda-
Andre Harpe is chair of GGC.