The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency is taking years to remove confirmed pesticide risks from the marketplace while failing to evaluate many other products, according to a new audit.
The latest annual report from the environment commissioner's office, tabled Tuesday in Parliament, also found that conditionally registered pesticides, fungicides and herbicides which have not been fully vetted have in some cases been in use for more than a decade.
The Liberal government moved last week to stop the practice of conditionally registering the products, effective this June, but commissioner Julie Gelfand's report indicates problems in the system run much deeper.
"We've recommended to the agency that once they've decided that a pesticide has unacceptable risks for all uses, that it should remove them from the market as soon as possible," the commissioner told a news conference.
"And that if they can't remove it right away, they should give more information to the public."
Gelfand's audit found the pest agency took an average of five years, and up to 11 years, to get dangerous pesticides off store shelves — and that the stalling mechanisms are built right into the law.
The act governing pesticides allows the minister to keep a harmful product in circulation if it's deemed there are no readily available alternative products. It also allows manufacturers to sell their existing stock of pesticides that are found to be harmful before the product is de-registered.
"If Canadians feel there should be a change, that's up to Parliament to make that change in the law," said Gelfand.
Neonicotinoids registered conditionally
The commissioner also found that the agency did not assess the cumulative effects of products on human health, even when required to do so by legislation.
As for those conditionally registered products, the audit found that eight of the nine pesticides that had been conditionally registered for more than a decade were neonicotinoids.
"These products are now used extensively in Canada and are widely suspected of being a threat to bees, other pollinators, and broader ecosystems," says the audit.
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There are about 7,000 pesticides available to Canadian consumers, containing some 600 active ingredients.
All products are supposed to be re-evaluated every 15 years and the commissioner says 95 per cent of re-evaluations result in additional precautions to protect health or the environment.
Only 14 products are re-evaluated each year — meaning it would take six years to clear the backlog — and more pesticides come up for re-evaluation every year.
Findings 'confirm our worst fear'
NDP critic Nathan Cullen says Canadian consumers are being needlessly exposed to harmful products and there needs to be a change in the law.
"Even after the government has found that a pesticide is harmful to human health — that's been decided — there's all these allowances to keep them on the shelves and sell them to Canadians," said Cullen.
"And the person that owns that Home Hardware or Canadian Tire isn't even made aware that the pesticides they're selling out are harmful to their customers."
Environmental groups applauded the audit and called for change.
"The audit findings confirm our worst fear that (the agency) delivers on industry interests and not those of people and the environment," said John Bennett of Friends of the Earth Canada.
Another chapter of the annual report surveyed four federal departments and found they all failed to follow a cabinet directive on assessing environmental effects of policies.
In fact, the commissioner's audit found that just five of more than 1,700 policy proposals put forward by the four departments were the subject of strategic environmental assessments