(Beyond Pesticides, February 22, 2017) The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada, which regulates pesticides in the country, recently proposed changes to regulations under the Canada’s Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) that will curtail the ability of individuals living within the country to import pesticide products that do not meet Canada’s regulatory standards. Designed to address an existing loophole in the country’s law, the policy seeks to eliminate the practice of purchasing pesticide products from international online retailers that circumvent Canada’s more stringent pesticide regulations. While U.S. law does not contain a similar loophole, U.S. states that restrict pesticide sale and use more stringently than the federal government face a similar legal quagmre.
Current PCPA regulations establish a Personal Use Import Exemption that allows individuals to bring in small quantities of pest control products that are not registered for use in Canada, but do not pose an “unacceptable risk.” According to the Canadian government, the original intent of the exemption was to allow travelers to bring small quantities of pest control products, such as insect repellent, into Canada without “legally undermining the regulatory regime” under PCPA. However, with rise of online marketplaces, such as Amazon, the use of the exemption has been employed beyond its original intent, as Canadians routinely purchase illegal household pesticide products online and have them delivered through the mail. PMRA maintains that the abuse of “the current scope of the exemption poses risks to human health, the environment, and the integrity of the pest control products regulatory regime.” Given the widespread adoption of pesticide regulations that are more stringent than the federal Canadian standards throughout many provinces in Canada, it is also conceivable that the new regulation may help stop the flow of pesticides not legal for use into local jurisdictions throughout the country. A similar concern exists in the U.S. when state standards are more stringent than federal U.S. regulations.
As state regulators consider standards more stringent than the federal government, the availability of pesticide products through online marketplaces continues to pose a challenge for state regulators. For example, the state pesticide law in California, as enforced by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), restricts the use of several pesticides otherwise allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and available online. While the state has control over products physically sold within its borders, online retailers that offer pesticide products, like Amazon and Do It Yourself Pest Control, may create a way for consumers to circumvent state regulations and procure illegal pest control products with the state. Given the Trump Administration’s impending regulatory rollbacks, it is possible that more states will restrict pesticides more stringently than EPA. In the wake of an uptick in state regulation, new action will be required to ensure the public is not being exposed to illegal pesticide products obtained online in those states.
Canada is not the only country with a law that allows unregistered pesticides and their uses to legally be allowed into the country through a loophole. Beyond Pesticides has long criticized the U.S. practice of import tolerances, which essentially allow for pesticide residues on food or feed commodities coming in from other countries that are otherwise illegal, based on U.S. pesticide regulations. This allowance of hazardous pesticide residues banned, canceled, or not registered in the U.S. raises serious safety concerns. This scenario played itself out in 2012, when oranges imported from Brazil were found to have traces of the fungicide carbendazim, which is not registered for use on food within the U.S. At the time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wrote a letter to the Juice Products Association, saying that it did not intend to take action or remove from the market any orange juice containing carbendazim, despite EPA evaluations that the chemical causes liver and thyroid effects in animal studies and has been classified as a probable human carcinogen.
In the documentary Circle of Poison, which features Beyond Pesticides’ Executive Director Jay Feldman, filmmakers take an indepth look at the how dangerous chemicals that are produced, but banned for use, in the U.S. make their way into U.S. through imported food. This is largely due to the practice of U.S. chemical corporations, whose chemicals fail to maintain EPA approval and registration at home, continuing to produce the dangerous chemicals and sell them abroad. Many of these pesticides are exported to the global south, and then reenter the food stream when crops that are grown in those countries ship back to the U.S., threatening public health and safety both at home and abroad.
Congress in 1991 attempted to address this issue with the Circle of Poison Prevention Act. Introduced by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill would have placed strict controls on exports of hazardous chemicals. The bill was ultimately unsuccessful, but represented a firm acknowledgement of the loopholes in U.S. laws that allow the public to be exposed to otherwise illegal chemicals through importation.
The use of banned or highly restricted chemicals in food production is still a common practice in much of the developing world from which food is routinely imported into the U.S. By purchasing food commodities with legal tolerances for pesticides no longer used or restricted in the U.S., consumers inadvertently support agricultural production practices in other countries that are associated with the range of adverse effects as noted in the Pesticide Induced-Disease Database, including poor labor practices and environmental degradation. The Eating with a Conscience database, based on legal tolerances (or allowable residues on food commodities), describes a food production system that enables toxic pesticide use both domestically in the U.S. and internationally, and provides a look at the toxic chemicals allowed in the production of the food we eat and the environmental and public health effects resulting from their use.
To avoid potentially dangerous chemical residues in food, whose origins may be domestic or international, choose organic. The most important organic food products to purchase, especially for children, are those that are consumed in great quantity, such as juice. Purchasing organic juice is particularly important to reduce their pesticide exposure. Research has shown that switching children to an organic diet drastically reduces their exposure. For more information, visit our Organic Food page.
Source: CBC News
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.