The Resiliency of Canadian Ag Production

By Andrew Joseph, Editor

When is a ban not a ban? When it’s a Canadian decision regarding Lambda-cyhalothrin insecticide.

It’s another case that has the ag community scratching its head wondering if the federal government and its agencies are serious about making science-based decisions.

“Lambda-cyhalothrin is an insecticide that is widely used around the world under many different product labels covering a cornucopia of crops. That includes registered uses on all grains in Canada,” said Gord Kurbis, the Vice-President, Trade Policy—Crop Protection on behalf of the Canada Grains Council.

The product is sold under many trade names, including Syngenta’s Matador and ADAMA’s Silencer brands here in North America.

“The chemical has been found to be highly effective in combating flea beetles in canola, as well as grasshoppers on multiple other crops,” Kurbis related.

However, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), a government group responsible for regulation of all pest control products in Canada under the federal authority of the Pest Control Products Act and Regulations, has a different opinion.

Following a routine review of Lambda that the PMRA does from time to time on all crop protection products, the agency has determined that changes need to be made to the Lambda label to continue to ensure there are no risks to human health or environment. There are no changes to the MRLs (maximum residue limits) or specific uses on the current label for grains, oilseeds, pulses or special crops, with the major exception of a provision that cancels ‘all feed uses’ (among the minor exceptions is the cancellation of uses on mustard).

This is understood to mean that if a crop is treated with Lambda-cyhalothrin according to label provisions, that a crop and its components (fractions, meal, screenings) cannot be fed to any livestock in Canada.

In other words: food crops are okay – animal feed crops are not.

It’s a decision that was delivered in April of 2021, but is scheduled to come into effect April 2023.

US regulators also renewed Lambda recently, and came to a completely different conclusion than the PMRA. It’s why US farmers will be using it in 2023.

At the time, extensive outreach was done by the ag community to the PMRA to explain that crops used for food vs. feed don’t have the kind of clean separation that the agency thought.

So… has Canada banned Lambda-cyhalothrin? No.

Kurbis explained: “There is no ban in Canada except for the feed/food distinction. And there wouldn’t be an issue if the distinction was actually possible to comply with.

“But as we all know in agriculture, every single major crop is used for both.”

Kurbis noted that a lot of countries use Lambda-cyhalothrin on a multitude of crop types out there, and that Canada’s PMRA appears to have taken one of the most conservative decisions on Lambda among global regulators, surpassing even the highly precautionary EU.

“Farmers are pretty upset with PMRA’s decision on this, because they may not be able to protect their crops adequately in 2023,” said Kurbis, adding that grain companies and commercial players will also be affected. “It’s not clear what compliance with the new label will look like, but at face value it has the potential to be a de facto ban.”

He continued, “Anyone who imports feed from the US will be wondering how it will be determined if US grain is in compliance with the decision, and Canadian farmers will be on the lookout for lighter enforcement rules for feed of US origin.

“It could really affect the livestock groups in Canada who depend on that feed.”

So what’s the big deal? If there’s no more Coke or Pepsi, surely there’s another product out there which will do in a pinch?

Kurbis agreed that there are other insecticides available for farmers to use, but cautioned that it’s looking like farmers either won’t have products that work as well, or products that have sufficient availability, or both.

“It is hard to not overstate the concerns of farmers about no longer having Lambda-cyhalothrin. They will be forced to either use a product that doesn’t protect their crops as effectively, or be out of options as the alternatives are out of stock. And this comes at a time when Prairie provinces are predicting that insect pressures in 2023 could be at severe levels, with the potential for dramatic losses in the field.”

So did the PMRA use bad science to come up with a flawed decision? “We would never question the science of PMRA, because in spite of our concerns about process they’re world-class scientists and pesticide regulators, and play a hugely important role—we really, really depend on PMRA regulating pesticides on the basis of objective science rather than public opinion,” Kurbis said.

“The PMRA didn’t make a mistake with their science, they made a mistake on the new label because they didn’t understand that all crops are used for both food and feed.”

And then there was also an important data deadline problem. “Once in a while because of deadlines or limited resources, the PMRA might issue a decision that excludes important data that was in the pipeline, or that could have benefited from real-world data rather than modelling.

“That’s what happened in 2018 when we were about to lose neonics, and that’s what’s happening now with Lambda. We’re simply asking them to take a look at that data before taking this important crop protection tool away. If that’s what they decide after they do, fine—we don’t think they will because the US EPA didn’t, but absolutely don’t remove it until that’s happened.”

But Why Now?

Canada’s Pest Control Products Act ensures that all previously registered pesticides must be re-evaluated by Health Canada’s PMRA to ensure that they continue to meet current health and environmental standards and continue to have value.

This re-evaluation consists of examining data and information from pesticide manufacturers, published scientific reports, commentary from other regulatory agencies, and any comments received during public consultation periods.

The Government of Canada said that Health Canada applies internationally accepted risk assessment methods as well as current risk management approaches and policies in its decision-making process.

According to the final decision released in 2021, “the following uses of Lambda-cyhalothrin are cancelled since health risks were not shown to be acceptable when used according to the current conditions of registration, or when additional mitigation is considered: lettuce, mustard seed (condiment type), all feed uses, all registered commodities from Crop Group 3-07: Bulb Vegetables, and all registered commodities from Crop Group 20: Oilseeds (Revised), except for flax seed, mustard seed (oilseed type), and rapeseed (including canola).”

However, the following are still okay, as risks were shown to be acceptable when mitigation measures were considered: Brassica head and stem vegetables; Legume Vegetables (succulent or dried); Fruiting Vegetables; Cucurbit Vegetables; Tree Nuts; Cereal Grains; turf; greenhouse tobacco seedlings; tobacco; shelterbelts; poplar and willow; conifer seed orchards; structural sites (indoors and outdoors) and surrounding soil; outdoor nests (wasp, hornet, ant and termites); outdoor ornamentals.

Also acceptable are: alfalfa; apple; arrowroot; asparagus; beef and non-lactating dairy cattle; carrot; cassava; celery; cherry; Chinese broccoli; cover crops; dasheen; flax seed; garden beet; ginger; Jerusalem artichoke; kohlrabi; mustard seeds (oilseed type); nectarine; peach; pear; plum; potato; rapeseed (including canola); Saskatoon berry; strawberry; sweet potato; tanier corms; timothy; turmeric; yam bean; and yam.

For the Canadian ag industry, the PMRA decision is being seen as neither practical nor workable in the grain value chain, as Kurbis pointed out, “given the obvious grey area between what constitutes a food versus feed crop.

“For example, canola is both food and a feed crop. And screenings from all crops go into feed,” he exclaimed.

From the time the PMRA made its decision known in April of 2021, associations made their concerns known regarding the anticipated difficulties—major concerns by the grain value chain in the spring and summer of 2021 through meetings, calls, and written correspondence.

The Canada Grains Council also invited cattle feeders into those conversations to get their point of view, given the unusual feed distinction.

Looking at all of the concerns, a new, separate application was made to the PMRA to reinstate as many livestock feed uses as possible, resulting in a new label without the unworkable food/feed distinction.

The reinstatement request had an anticipated regulatory decision date of January 2023, which would have superseded the April 2021 decision and its implementation in April 2023.

“However,” said Kurbis, “we all found out pretty abruptly in late November 2022 that the PMRA was going to miss the January 2023 deadline.

“Because of the short notice, the impacts are still being evaluated,” acknowledged Kurbis, adding that areas where further work is required include:

  • potential impact on US corn imported for feed, as well as impacts on the trade of
  • live animals and animal products imported from the US into Canada.

On November 28, 2022—and appended November 29, 2022—Syngenta circulated a letter to its customers advising it would not be selling Lambda-cyhalothrin in western Canada in 2023.

While many crops are able to use Lambda-cyhalothrin, it decided that in order to avoid confusion amongst users of the product, it would simply refrain from selling the insecticide in western Canada.

It did say that it would continue to sell the Matador 120EC insecticide to its horticulture customers in eastern Canada—an assumption that would include Ontario and every place to the right of the province on a map.

ADAMA Canada also announced that it had recalled its Silencer product from customers and is no longer accepting new orders for it until it, like Syngenta, can resolve its labeling issues and ensure it complies with the revised Canadian rules for Lambda-cyhalothrin.

Kurbis stresses that the PMRA took a much more conservative approach than the American counterpart, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

He said that the EPA used a newly-developed dataset from a US task force that resulted in an adjustment to its previously used safety factor.

“The PMRA received—but did not consider—the new data as part of its April 2021 decision,” said Kurbis.

Although Kurbis said that the PMRA received the new US dataset well beforehand over a period of time between 2017 and 2019, he noted that the PMRA considered the data to have arrived too late in the process to be factored into its April 2021 final decision.

As noted, a new separate application was made to the PMRA to reinstate as many livestock feed uses as possible, but Kurbis said that the PMRA has opted to not consider the new data as a direct part of the reinstatement application.

Have important data and science been ignored because of a deadline? Why is a self-imposed target date allowed to affect the agri-producers, agri-retailers, and farmers go about their business?

Right now, it doesn’t matter if Lambda-cyhalothrin can be used for application on Canadian fields, be it for food or for feed, because the manufacturers of the chemical may not be supplying it and at least one has communicated that they won’t—except for the lone eastern Canada horticultural usage.

Among the biggest concerns is what will be done about feed coming into Canada from the US, where Lambda can still be applied to crops without and food/feed restriction.

Kurbis pointed out that the PMRA has not demonstrated the scientific justification for this lack of alignment with our largest trading partner or considered potential disruptions in an integrated North American market for livestock and animal products.

“The PMRA and EPA have a long history of regulatory cooperation and there are no other jurisdictions in the world that benefit from such a high degree of regulatory alignment. And yet, the two agencies have made completely different decisions. That alone deserves reconsideration,” said Kurbis.

The restrictions placed upon how Lambda-cyhalothrin can be used on certain crop products will affect the way Canada goes about its agri-business in 2023 and beyond.

Related articles