PMRA faces sharp budget cuts
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency faces sharp budget and staff reductions as part of Ottawa’s drive to cut $5.2 billion out of federal spending.
The PMRA, housed within Health Canada, will lose $6 million annually and 54 position over the next two years. The 12 percent cut is larger than most government agencies.
The cuts include PMRA scientists but will mainly lead to more streamlining of the pesticide registration process, said Steve Backhouse, communications director for health minister Leona Aglukkaq.
“What we’re doing with PMRA is we’re going to be streamlining some of the administration that exists so when people want to get a pesticide approved, instead of needing to start a Health Canada assessment from scratch, we are going to be relying more on existing evaluations or safety assessments that have been done,” he said.
That could include accepting the assessments of new pesticides done in the United States, the European Union or jurisdictions “that have comparable standards to Canada,” he added.
“It’s about getting decisions more quickly to ultimately serve farmers better.”
The plan is good news for farm groups that have complained about bureaucratic delays and approval constipation at PMRA.
“If the budget cutting results in efficiency improvements and getting rid of redundant regulation, then it’s good budget cutting,” said Bob Friesen, president of the Farmers of North America Strategic Agriculture Institute.
“We think there is a lot of room to get rid of redundant regulations at the PMRA.”
At the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, environment and science policy director Greg Northey also saw it as good government news.
“It is important that we maintain our international engagements because it means we get the products more quickly in Canada,” he said.
“If they are finding cost savings by improving their international joint review process on new chemicals, that’s a good thing.”
New Democratic Party agriculture critic Malcolm Allen had a different view.
“This really is farming out responsibility to someone else for making sure the agricultural chemicals that are used in Canada are safe and appropriate,” he said.
“The government in this budget has taken a cleaver to agriculture and now it is taking a cleaver to oversight of chemicals approved for use here. It is flabbergasting.”
He said it is another example of the Conservative government neglecting its duty to protect Canadian interests for budget or ideological reasons.
“I am a firm believer in the idea of political and bureaucratic oversight, and if some company convinces some other country their product is safe, that’s fine, but I think we should do our own review to make sure it meets our standards.”
Friesen, whose FNA parent organization was formed to import cheaper generic chemicals, said chemical assessment standards in many other countries are comparable to Canada’s. It is not a safety issue.
“We can use a lot of information from the United States, and if they make sure the climate zones and the soil zones are similar, there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t use the information that has already been researched in the U.S.,” he said.
“That information can be used without compromising health and safety.”
He said the “efficacy” test on products is an example of redundant regulation at both PMRA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“The industry will decide that without the bureaucracy.”
Friesen said it will be good if the result is a more efficient process to approve chemical tools that farmers need.