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Use of pesticides on ginseng farms in British Columbia

Petition: No. 20

Issue(s): Human health/environmental health and pesticides

Petitioner(s): Nelson Riis, Member of Parliament, on behalf of residents from the Kamloops region of B.C.

Date Received: 25 August 1999

Status: Completed

Summary: The petitioner raised concerns about the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on ginseng farms throughout central British Columbia and how these chemicals might be affecting the land, local river systems, and the health of farm workers. 

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Health Canada



August 16, 1999

Mr. Denis Desautels
Auditor General of Canada
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G6

Dear Mr. Desautels:

Pursuant to amendments to the Auditor General Act in 1995, I am writing this letter on behalf of a number of residents of the Kamloops, British Columbia region who are concerned about the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers on ginseng farms throughout central British Columbia.

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence on excessive use of these substances. Many of the chemicals find their way into the river systems, due to the location of these ginseng farms almost exclusively on river benches. Concerns have also been raised regarding the impact on farm workers who are required to work on these ginseng farms, often beneath vast polyethylene covers.

Research conducted by Agriculture Canada has reinforced concerns on the impact of these substances on the land, in the river systems and on the health of those both directly and indirectly related to these farms.

I understand that this letter will be forwarded to the appropriate federal minister for response and that a response may be expected within 120 days. I appreciate your cooperation and support on this matter and anxiously await the minister's reply.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Nelson A. Riis]

Nelson A. Riis, MP
Kamloops, Thompson & Highland Valleys

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Minister's Response: Health Canada

October 27, 1999

Mr. Nelson Riis, M.P.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Mr. Riis:

Mr. Brian Emmett, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, has provided me with a copy of your letter of August 16, 1999, regarding your constituents' concerns over the use of pesticides in ginseng farms.

Let me assure you that Canada has one of the most stringent pesticide regulatory systems in the world. As you may know, pest control products are regulated under the authority of the Pest Control Products Act, which requires that each product be registered prior to import into, sale or use in Canada. Pest control products are registered by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada only if sufficient scientific data has been provided to assess the safety and value of the product and the assessment concludes that the human health and environmental risks associated with the prescribed use of the product are acceptable, and that the product is effective for its intended use.

Products registered for application on ginseng have been assessed for their safety and value and can be employed for their intended use. No undue harm to human health and the environment will occur when the label directions are carefully read, understood and adhered to. Growers are responsible for ensuring that pesticides are applied according to label directions. In this regard, provincial governments play an important role with regulatory authority for the certification and training of pesticide applicators according to nationally established standards. Provincial governments also have regulatory responsibility for the use, storage, disposal and transport of registered products within their boundaries. To further ensure the proper use of pesticides, provincial and federal governments have compliance and enforcement programs.

The PMRA has recently completed a program directed at ginseng growers. Ginseng growers located in British Columbia were part of this program which was intended to familiarize them with the pesticide regulatory system and to inspect for pesticide use. Recent inspections showed that ginseng growers use the proper products for growing that crop and are aware of the importance of careful and judicious use of pesticides.

Worker exposure to pest control products during application, and to residues upon re-entry into treated fields is also considered in the exposure portion of the assessment of control products. Generally, treated fields can be re-entered once the application has dried completely. In instances where the exposure assessment indicates otherwise, specific re-entry intervals are indicated on the product label.

The PMRA is presently involved in two initiatives related to re-entry exposure. First, together with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency, the PMRA is providing technical guidance to two industry-wide task forces that have been formed to develop generic pesticide exposure data for agriculture re-entry use scenarios, including greenhouses. Second, the PMRA has initiated a project to develop guidelines on interim label statements concerning restricted re-entry intervals after pesticide application.

I appreciate having had the opportunity to contribute to the federal government response to the questions you raised with the Auditor General. I hope that the information I have provided will address the concerns of your constituent.

Yours very truly,

[Original signed by Allan Rock, Minister of Health]

Allan Rock, P. C., M. P.