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Agriculture

Feds’ plan for neonicotinoids makes little sense, environment groups say

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OTTAWA — Environment groups are calling out Canada’s approach to assessing pesticides after seven years of reviews led Health Canada to simultaneously decide to allow certain popular products to keep being used with restrictions, and to propose banning the same products from outdoor uses altogether.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency on Thursday released its final decision on what limits should be placed on a category of nicotine-based pesticides known as neonicotinoids to keep them from killing bees. Starting in two years, the pesticides won’t be allowed to be sprayed at all on certain crops like apples and tree nuts and there will be limited times when they can be sprayed on many others, like tomatoes, eggplants and berries.

Products that have no alternatives are given an extra year before they are affected by the decision.

The agency said the risks the products pose to bees in other applications, such as pre-treating seeds, are acceptable and only require new labels to warn of the dangers. Most of Canada’s canola and corn crop seeds are pre-treated with neonicotinoids, along with about half the country’s soybean seeds.

However, this decision, which won’t begin to take effect until 2021, will likely be overridden in less than a year when the agency finalizes a separate assessment of the exact same products for their impact on aquatic insects. The agency found in 2016 that the most popular of the neonicotinoids was building up in ground and surface water and recommended banning it outright. It also launched a special assessment of the other two most common “neonics,” concluding in 2018 that they also needed to be banned.

The very final decision on that won’t come until January 2020.

“Right now this is strictly about the risk to pollinators and for this assessment not all uses pose an unacceptable risk to pollinators,” said Scott Kirby, the director general of the environmental-assessment division of the pest management agency.

Lisa Gue, a senior researcher at the David Suzuki Foundation, said it is “disturbing” that the agency is continuing to allow neonicotinoids at all given that the agency’s scientists have concluded they cause unacceptable harm to any kinds of insects.

“The decision-making process here is just incomprehensible and incoherent,” she said.

Beatrice Olivastri, the executive director of Friends of the Earth Canada, said the agency’s fragmented approach to reviewing the products is “nonsensical.”

Neonicotinoids are used by farmers and hobby gardeners alike to manage pests like aphids and spider mites. Scientists blame the chemicals for weakening bees, making them more susceptible to disease and bad weather.

More than one-third of the world’s food crops require pollinators, like bees, for production.

The European Union banned neonicotinoids at the end of last year after scientists concluded there was no safe way to use them without hurting bees. In 2017, a task force at the International Union for Conservation of Nature updated a compilation of more than 1,100 peer-reviewed research studies of neonicotinoids and concluded there was no doubt they harm bees.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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Agriculture

Officials flagged 900 food items from China with ‘problems’ over two years

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OTTAWA — Canadian inspectors intercepted nearly 900 food products from China over concerns about faulty labels, unmentioned allergens and harmful contaminants that included glass and metal between 2017 and early 2019, according to internal federal records.

The document provides an inside look at imports from China that caught the attention of officials for appearing to fall short of Canadian standards — from gum balls with “extraneous” metal, to three-minute chow mein that contained an insect, to spicy octopus feet flagged for a “non-specific hazard.”

The list, compiled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was obtained through access-to-information law.

Its release comes at a time of significant public interest in Canada about cross-border food inspections, especially those involving China.

The scrutiny of agricultural goods has been central to a diplomatic dispute between Canada and its second-biggest trading partner. Bilateral frictions have intensified since the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadians on espionage allegations.

The governing Liberals have come under pressure from rival Conservatives to respond by taking a harder line when it comes to Chinese imports.

In recent weeks, China asked Canada to suspend all its meat-export certificates to the Asian country after Chinese customs inspectors detected residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. A statement by China’s embassy in Ottawa said the investigation uncovered at least 188 forged veterinary health certificates and argued the Canadian system had “obvious safety loopholes.”

Chinese authorities have also blocked imports of Canadian canola seeds, alleging they found pests in some shipments. The federal government says it has tried unsuccessfully to send a delegation of inspectors to China to examine the evidence.

The economic consequences of China’s trade actions on Canadian food shipments, as well as the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, are widely seen as attempts by Beijing to pressure the Liberal government into releasing Meng.

The list from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shows it’s not uncommon for inspectors to raise concerns about imports from China.

Between the beginning of 2017 and the end of February this year, agency officials “detected problems” with 889 food or food ingredient imports into Canada from China, according to the document.

Only four food shipments, however, from China were refused entry into Canada over that period, CFIA’s quarterly reports show.

An agency spokeswoman said CFIA investigates concerns to determine if it’s a hazard or fails to comply with Canadian standards. When necessary, she said officials take action — including minor label corrections, recalls, product seizure, entry refusals and the cancellation of licences.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in an emailed statement that the issues in the CFIA list do not necessarily correlate to a particular problem with imported food products from foreign countries.

“This is a list of cases reported to the CFIA that informs operational and follow-up activities to verify compliance and take any appropriate actions, in accordance with laws and regulations,” Bibeau said.

“The Canadian food safety system is strong and recognized as one of the best in the world and the government is confident in all products approved by the CFIA as safe for local consumption as well as for export.”

The list only provides numbers for China and does not include comparable numbers for Canada’s other trading partners.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step up inspections on all products from China and to consider slapping tariffs on imports.

Bibeau’s office has said Canada has no intention of increasing inspections on Chinese imports.

Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor, an expert in agri-food trade and policy, wrote in an email that Canada would likely take a long time before implementing actions against Chinese imports.

“Canada will always play to the rules and exhaust all democratic channels available through international trade agreements such as (the World Trade Organization),” wrote Afesorgbor, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph.

“Any retaliatory action may result in trade war and that may negatively affect the two countries.”

Glenford Jameson, a Toronto-based lawyer with expertise in the food sector, said the CFIA list provides an extra level of detail that’s usually omitted from public documents. He added that none of the concerns flagged in the document are highly unusual.

“This list is a list that wouldn’t be surprising from any country, including the United States, and is really just a byproduct of having a stringent food-inspection and food-regulatory system,” Jameson said.

“No food commodity is traded at 100 per cent perfect compliance all the time.”

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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Agriculture

New immigration pilot will offer residency to some migrant farm-workers

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OTTAWA — A new three-year immigration experiment that will give migrant workers a path to permanent residency in Canada is getting a thumbs-up from industry but a thumbs-down from migrant rights groups.

Over the last several years, industries such as meat cutting and processing and mushroom farming have relied on seasonal temporary foreign workers due to labour shortages, even though the work is not seasonal.

A new pilot program announced on Friday aims to attract and retain migrant workers by giving them an opportunity to become permanent residents.

Currently, migrant farm workers who come to Canada through the program for seasonal agricultural workers are only given limited-term work permits and do not have a pathway to permanent residency.

Temporary foreign farm workers who are eligible for this new pilot will be able to apply for permanent residency after 12 months and, if they’re approved, will also be allowed to bring their families to Canada.

Industry groups are applauding the new program, which they say is badly needed to address a lack of people available or willing to work on farms and in food-processing plants.

A study by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council released last month found farmers across Canada lost $2.9 billion in sales due to unfilled job vacancies. The study also found the situation has improved, thanks to access to migrant workers and new technologies, but Canadian farms and agri-food plants are still dealing with 16,500 vacancies.

Ryan Koeslag, executive vice president of the Canadian Mushroom Growers Association, said Friday he is pleased to see the federal government willing to adapt its immigration policies to benefit certain agriculture producers.

“For the last decade or more, mushroom growers and other farmers, have fought for immigration access for our sector’s farm workers employed in year-round jobs,” said Ryan Koeslag, executive vice president of the Canadian Mushroom Growers Association.

But Chris Ramsaroop, spokesperson for the group Justice for Migrant Workers, said the access to permanent residency will only apply to those who take part in this narrow pilot program and will continue to be unavailable to the thousands of migrant farm-workers who arrive through the seasonal agriculture workers program.

“We’re dividing agricultural workers based on which industries are more deserving than others,” he said, noting migrant workers who have already been working in Canada in meat production or mushroom plants will have easier access to this program than fruit- or vegetable-farm workers.

Ramsaroop says migrant groups continue to call on the government to offer all temporary foreign workers permanent status upon arrival in Canada.

A maximum of 2,750 principal applicants, plus family members, will be accepted for processing each year during the three-year pilot. Applications are to be accepted beginning in 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press




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