Sept. 13, 2007.
To: FPT Secretariat
Attention: Josée Beaudoin
Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Health Canada
Sir Charles Tupper Building
2720 Riverside Drive, A.L. 6606D1
From: David G. Patriquin
Professor of Biology,
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Subject: Comments pertaining to “Classification Harmonization for Canada, A Proposal for Domestic Class Pesticides”. Submitted in response to a request for comments by Sept. 14, 2007.
In these comments I refer to the PMRA (Health Canada) proposal as the Harmonization Proposal. I use the acronym QC/PBL to refer to the Quebec Pesticides Management Code and pesticide by-laws or equivalent provisions of municipalities that ban the cosmetic use of many pesticides, notably those used for control of lawn pests.
The proposal to subdivide domestic class pesticides into Self-Select (SS) and Controlled Purchase (CP) pesticides and treat the two differently at the retail level is potentially a good one and could go a long way towards meeting the concerns of Canadians about exposure to pesticides in the domestic environment. Some of the benefits that the document cites from the proposed actions are provision of “a level playing field for industry” and “flexibility for provinces to address their unique needs” and it is noted that “individuals will also benefit from advice on Controlled Purchase products by trained staff at vendor outlets”.
I am concerned, however, that the criteria for inclusion of pesticides in the two categories are very different from and would be in direct conflict with, the criteria that are applied to classification of pesticides under the Quebec Pesticides Management Code and in pesticide by-laws or equivalent provisions passed by over 130 municipalities in Canada. Such by-laws currently affect more than 40% of the Canadian population.1
For example, under the the Quebec Pesticides Management Code2 “it is prohibited to use the most toxic pesticides on the lawns of public, semi-public and municipal properties and, since April 2006, on the lawns of private and commercial properties, except for golf courses”. These pesticides include common lawn herbicides (2,4-D, Chlorthal dimethyl, MCPA, Mecoprop and the insecticides Carbaryl, Dicofol, Malathion). Likewise, most municipal pesticide-by-laws or equivalent provisions across the country prohibit use of these pesticides for cosmetic purposes and other provinces are actively considering legislation similar to that in the Quebec Code. As I understand the Harmonization Proposal, some or all of these active ingredients will be in products in the SS category. The assignment of products to the SS category is based mainly on formulation type and package size, and “some product specific considerations”, those considerations NOT referring to prohibitions under QC/PBL provisions. Implementation of this system would, I suggest, lead to significant conflict between different jurisdictions and be highly confusing to consumers.
Another area of concern is that of vendor training. In the Harmonization Proposal, vendor training addresses only the CP products and does not include, apparently, any training in prohibitions associated with QC/PBL provisions.
It could be argued that the Harmonization Proposal cannot anticipate all of the possible permutations and combinations between pesticide regulations implemented on top of the PMRA regulations by different provincial governments and municipalities and so such aspects are best left to those jurisdictions. In this regard, I have two comments.
First, the categories of materials that are prohibited and allowed under the Quebec Code and different municipal by-laws are close to generic, for example most or all have blanket restrictions on the herbicides cited above.
Second, how do the proponents of the Harmonization Proposal see the intersection of QC/PBL provisions and the PMRA classifications and training occurring at the retail level? I suggest that unless specific consideration is given to this question, the Harmonization Proposal will simply further complicate the current situation, e.g., in practice it could result in 4 categories of materials (SS approved & CP approved x QC/PBL approved & QC/PBL not approved) with regulations and training coming from as many as 3 levels of government.
Suggestion 1: Harmonizing PMRA categories with QC/PBL categories
To address the “intersection issue”, it is suggested that that the proponents of the Harmonization Proposal give serious consideration to including QC/PBL criteria for allowable materials in criteria applied to the proposed Self Select category of domestic pesticides, i.e., only substances allowed as pesticides under QC/PBL criteria would be placed in the SS category.3
A similar suggestion was made by the Halifax Regional Municipality in its report on the operation of its Pesticide By-law for 20064.
At the federal level, there is an excellent opportunity for the federal government and its provincial partners to work on harmonizing the domestic pesticide product classification system to remedy issues at point of sale, particularly with regard to the sale of cosmetic pesticides in regions where cosmetic pesticide are restricted from use. For example, restricted pesticides could be put behind the counter, could require a special license for their use, or could be removed from shelves completely.
Suggestion 2: Standardizing criteria for allowable pesticides
To effect more standardization for allowable pesticides by QC/PBL criteria, it is suggested that pesticides placed in the SS category should conform to classifications for allowable materials under the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Organic Standard5, while pesticides not allowed under the CGSB Organic Standard would go in the CP category.
The CGSB Organic Standard classifications of pesticides are very close to those implemented under QC/PBL provisions. Further, organic standards are already highly harmonized across Canada and internationally (through the CGSB Organic Standard), and citizens who have supported and voted in majorities for bans on cosmetic use of pesticides are very comfortable with the level of protection afforded by organic standards (as applied to pest control agents).
I realize that changes to the Harmonization Proposal of this sort would require or imply a fundamental shift in Health Canada/PMRA policy principles.6 However, movement of Health Canada/PMRA towards more accommodation of Canadians’ concerns about cosmetic use of pesticides and a willingness of the PMRA to explicitly recognize and accommodate the Quebec Code and municipal pesticide by-laws are long overdue.7 Implementation of changes to the Harmonization Proposal along the lines I suggest would eliminate most of the current tension between different jurisdictions in the area of domestic pesticide use, contribute to substantive reductions in exposure to pesticides and go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the PMRA (Health Canada) in the area of domestic pesticide use.
At the very least, the proponents are urged to explicitly acknowledge the specific conditions of the Quebec code, that similar legislation is being considered by other provinces and has been enacted by many municipalities and to anticipate the need for more harmonization with QC/PBL provisions and educational programs.
Suggestion 3: Clarifying the legal status of alternative pest control agents
The PMRA should elucidate and clarify for the public at large its position on alternative pest control agents that do not require a PCP number.
Conflicting information has been coming from the PMRA about whether certain substances can be legally used to control lawn pests without a PCP number, e.g., in regard to neem and household soap.8 In the Harmonization Proposal there is reference to US EPA List 4A (Minimal risk inert ingredients) but not to the U.S. EPA list 25B (Minimum Risk Pesticides)*; however the Harmonization Proposal cites a “Lower Risk” category, which includes some of the substances on the U.S. Minimum Risk Pesticides list. Recognition of these categories is “by-law and organic friendly”*, however as they stand, they do not address the ambiguity around the legality of using household soap and neem to control lawn pests.
*In the U.S., pest control products containing only substances in list 4A and the Minimum Risk Pesticides list are exempt from registration requirements.
I note that under the Harmonization Proposal certain microbials and biochemicals and “lower risk” pesticides will be placed in the SS category regardless of formulation type or size of container (Appendices 1 and 2 in the Harmonization Proposal). That is a sensible proposal and helps to accommodate the use of alternative pest control agents in jurisdictions where QC/PBL criteria are applied. It is not clear whether the citation of soap in Appendix 1 refers only to household soap or to household soap (which doesn’t have a PCP number) and insecticidal soap products (which have PCP numbers).9
Additional Comments & Suggestions
The following comments and suggestions are not directly related to the Harmonization Proposal but they do relate to larger issue of public confidence in the PMRA (Health Canada) in the area of domestic pesticide use, particularly on lawns.
Suggestion 4: Moving faster to remove unacceptable products
The PMRA (Health Canada) should move much faster to remove products from the domestic market that contain active ingredients that have already been targeted for removal and, as urged by The Suzuki Foundation,10 greatly speed up reviews of other pesticides that have been prohibited in other OECD countries for health or environmental reasons.
For example the PMRA announced in 200011 that it would begin phasing out all indoor uses and non-agricultural uses of diazinon because of unacceptable risks, notably for children, but products remained on retail shelves until 2005 in Halifax Regional Municipality and were used by lawncare companies through 2006 - six years after it was recognized that this pesticide needed to be removed from the domestic market! Apparently one reason for the extension was to allow existing stocks to be sold off. Such extensions and deference to the manufacturers, distributers and pest control professionals (over the health concerns of citizens) are not consistent with the PMRA’s contention that products registered by the PMRA “are determined to be safe when used according to label directions”, and are a major factor driving the movement towards more restrictions by other levels of government. Similarly, the process of review of carbaryl use in the domestic environment seems to have been greatly delayed. A PMRA document released in 2000 indicated the reevaluation would be completed within 2 years12, but that process apparently has not yet been completed. There is considerable concern about health and environmental effects of carbaryl13; the products are banned for non-professional use in the U.K.14.
It is worth noting that these sorts of pesticides would not be included in the SS category - and hence there would be much less ambiguity about their safety in domestic situations - if the Harmonization Proposal incorporated QC/PBL criteria for allowable materials in criteria applied to the proposed Self Select category of domestic pesticides as suggested above.
Suggestion 5: Facilitating registration of less aggressive/less hazardous pesticides
The PMRA should play a more proactive role in the registration of less aggressive/less hazardous pesticides that are acceptable under QC/PBL provisions, particularly for use on lawns, and accept a lower level of efficacy for such products than traditionally called for with more toxic pesticides.
A specific example: insecticidal soap products are not registered in Canada for use against lawn chinch bug (a major lawn pest) although they are registered for other insects in Canada and they are registered for use against chinch bug in the U.S.15 Over the period 2001-2006, the only registered pesticides for use against chinch bug were products containing diazinon or carbaryl, both banned under the Halifax Pesticide By-law and most QC/PBL provisions, except in some places (including HRM) by special permit. In 2007, an insecticidal soap + pyrethrin product was registered for this use but not pure insecticidal soap; while pyrethrins (but not pyrethroids) are legal under the most QC/PBL provisions, there are significant concerns about possible widespread use of pyrethrin products to control chinch bug in lawns and consumers and professionals should have access to much less hazardous products. There is some indication that the PMRA has reservations about registering pure insecticidal soap for use against chinch bug because of efficacy concerns.16 In regard to efficacy of these sorts of less aggressive, less hazardous products, it needs to be recognized that such materials are commonly used in within comprehensive management programs in which less aggressive materials often suffice. Also in the case of insecticidal soap, it is accepted that several applications may have to be made to control chinch bug so a single application comparison with stronger products does not tell the whole story. In any case, when QC/PBL provisions are introduced, communities are making a decision to err on the side of protecting human health rather than on the side of ensuring absolutely no pest damage. In such cases, some control is better than none and better than total control involving unacceptable pesticides. The PMRA (Health Canada) should ensure that citizens have ready access to the acceptable alternatives.
Suggestion 6: Eliminating bias
The PMRA should make a serious effort to avoid the appearance if not the existence of a strong bias in favour of the pro-pesticide lobby in relation to the use of lawncare pesticides.
One way that impression is fostered is through the strong endorsement of IPM approaches on the Healthy Lawns website, while not putting forward a package of strategies for dealing with pests when traditional sorts of pesticides simply cannot be used. While in principle it can be argued that IPM covers both situations17, IPM as presented on the Health Lawns website does not make that clear. By not declaring elimination of the cosmetic use of pesticides as a goal of IPM for lawncare and outlining a set of steps towards that goal, the IPM strategies outlined on the Healthy Lawns website tacitly accept IPM with some use of pesticides as a permanent solution to urban pesticide issues; that supports the perspectives of the pro-pesticide lobby, while not providing equivalent consideration to the perspectives and choices of the “no pesticide” lobby.
Further, the lawncare industry (with some notable exceptions) has now severely tainted the IPM option by presenting it in debates about pesticide by-laws as a reason not to ban pesticides and as the option favoured and supported by the PMRA.18 This use of IPM as a political tool in the pesticide by-law debates is unfortunate: IPM approaches have a much better face (and record) in agriculture at large. I am not suggesting that the promotion of IPM approaches be deleted from the Healthy Lawns Strategy but rather that a clear package of strategies for dealing with pests under pesticide bans be presented. This would convey a much less biased message and provide tangible practical support to the communities where QC/PBL provisions are in effect or to individuals anywhere who do not want to use the more toxic pesticides; the IPM strategies (as currently presented) would continue to provide practical support to communities and individuals choosing IPM approaches with some use of the more toxic pesticides.
References and Notes
1. Michael Christie. Private Property Pesticide By-laws In Canada
Population Statistics by Municipality Updated Aug 3. 2007
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
Other provinces are actively considering introduction of legislation similar to that in the Quebec Code, e.g., recently Ontario Premier McGuinty announced that a ban on lawn pesticides would be part of the liberal’s reelection campaign.
2. The Pesticides Management Code.
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
3. See for example HALIFAX REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NUMBER 23 at http://www.halifax.ca/legislation/adminorders/ao023.html
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007).
4. Halifax Regional Municipality 2006 Program Overview. Available at
http://www.halifax.ca/pesticides/overviewreports.html (Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
5. CGSB Info>Standards on the Net: Organic Agriculture
Allowable substances for pest control are contained under sections 4.3 and 4.4 on the Organic production Systems PERMITTED SUBSTANCES LIST.
6. See: Sarah Pralle. 2006. The “Mouse That Roared”: Agenda Setting in Canadian Pesticides Politics. The Policy Studies Journal 34(2): 171-194.
This paper includes a case study of the municipal movement to restrict the nonessential use of lawn and garden pesticides in Canada and offers an excellent overview of the processes involved in the development of pesticide by-laws and the Quebec Code. Pralle defines a “policy principle” as follows: “A policy principle is the stated or unstated, formal or informal basis upon which policymakers deliberate and make decisions. Policy principles constitute an identifiable set of claims that, together with such things as causality and symbols, comprise the politics of problem definition. A policy principle is the stated or unstated, formal or informal basis upon which policymakers deliberate and make decisions. Policy principles constitute an identifiable set of claims that, together with such things as causality and symbols, comprise the politics of problem definition..”
7. There can be little doubt that the PMRA (Health Canada) is having great difficulty in coming to terms with Canadians’ increasing demands for more protection from exposure to pesticides in the domestic environment than is provided by PMRA regulations alone. Thus the Harmonization Proposal makes no mention of the introduction of pesticide by-laws by municipalities which now affect more than 40% of Canadians and which have withstood legal challenges to the level of the Supreme Court of Canada. Nor, as I have pointed out, does the Harmonization Proposal acknowledge the specific provisions of the Quebec Pesticide Management Code even though the proposal cites the need for harmonization between provinces and the proposed subdivisions of domestic class pesticides are essentially in conflict with the provisions of the Quebec Code. The PMRA is clearly uncomfortable with the concept of “cosmetic use of pesticides” which is commonly applied in the language of pesticide by-laws and is well understood by citizens.
www.pmra-arla.gc.ca> Sustainable Pest Management>Urban>Healthy Lawns>>Frequently Adked Questions>> What is meant by the term "cosmetic use"? (http://www.healthylawns.net/english/municipalities/cosmeticuse-e.html)
The term "Cosmetic Use"
Over the past decade, the term "cosmetic use" has been frequently associated with the application of lawn care pesticides. This term implies that pesticides are being used for aesthetic purposes only.
The Pest Control Products Act requires that each pesticide, for which a registration application is submitted, be evaluated to determine its acceptability for registration for the proposed uses. Where evaluation of the scientific data supporting the application determines that the risks and value of the product are acceptable when the product is used as intended, in accordance with the label directions, the product must be registered. If any of the health or environmental risks or value is determined to be unacceptable, registration of the product, or of any unacceptable use, must be refused.
Accordingly, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency registers only those products that provide effective management of pest problems and are determined to be safe when used according to label directions.
Information on how the PMRA conducts health evaluations, environmental risk assessments and value assessments on proposed pesticide products is in the PMRA Overview Document.
The comments following the first paragraph are in effect arguing that the concern about cosmetic use of pesticides is not justified because the Pest Management Regulatory Agency “registers only those products that provide effective management of pest problems and are determined to be safe when used according to label directions.” This argument is the one most commonly advanced by opponents of pesticide by-laws when such by-laws are proposed.
8. See: Legality of Using Soap to Control Chinch Bug
& Update: Use of Pyrethrins and Neem Oil to Control Chinch Bug
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
9. In response to a a recent inquiry to the PMRA on the status of Lower Risk Pesticides, I was informed that the PMRA is working on a document titled Guidelines for the Registration of Low Risk Biochemicals and Other Non Conventional Pesticides, which will soon be released and available for public consultation.
10. See The Food We Eat An International Comparison of Pesticide Regulations http://www.davidsuzuki.org/Publications/Food_we_eat.asp
REV2007-09. Response from the Pest Management Regulatory. Agency (PMRA) to the Request for Special Reviews of. Pesticides from the David Suzuki Foundation ...
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
11. PMRA. 2000. Update on the Re-evaluation of Diazinon in Canada
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
12. Action Plan on Urban Use Pesticides. PMRA 2000.
PDF document at
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
“..the PMRA is undertaking a priority re-evaluation of the lawn and turf uses of the insecticides diazinon, carbaryl, and malathion and the herbicides ….. The PMRA will complete the re-evaluations of the seven products most frequently used for lawn care in 2001.”
13. Sierra Club if Canada Pesticide Fact Sheet. Carbaryl
14. EVALUATION SHEET CANDIDATES FOR REASSESSMENT PRIORITY LISTING Name of Substance: Carbaryl CAS No. 63-25-2 Listing Proposed by: ERMA New Zealand www.ermanz.govt.nz/consultations/ceir/f.pdf (2006. Accessed 11 Sep. 2007):
United Kingdom Carbaryl is no longer approved:
- for non-professional uses (ie home garden) because
exposure from such use are not possible.
- to treat poultry houses (animal husbandry)
15. See the website Control of Chinch Bug Without Pesticides
(Accessed 11 sep. 2007)
for a full discussion of issues surrounding control of chinch bug under pesticide by-laws.
16. Halifax Regional Municipality 2006 Program Overview. Available at
http://www.halifax.ca/pesticides/overviewreports.html (Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)
This report mentions discussions with the PMRA regarding soap products for control of chinch bug and comments that “The main barrier to the registration of these products appears to be a lack of access to efficacy data.”
17. This argument was made in 2001 in response to comments I made in regard to the Healthy Lawns Strategy as a member of the Pest Management Advisory Council (1998-2001). Wrote the Chair of the PMAC: “I believe the that the healthy lawns Strategy as described to the Council is robust enough to incorporate your suggestion of supporting both integrated pest management and no-pesticide approaches….It should not be inconsistent with the Strategy to think that those practices [IPM] can and would, in some cases, mean no pesticides would be necessary. Presumably then, those who feel pesticides are never necessary can find a place within the Strategy”.
18. For an illustration of a close link, at least conceptually, between the pro-pesticide lobby and the PMRA, see various pages on the website of the Urban Pest Management Council of Canada.
(Accessed 11 Sep. 2007)