U.S. regulator announces crackdown on carbofuran, and Canadian health
authorities are considering whether to follow suit
Mark Hume Vancouver – Globe and Mail Update, Wednesday, May. 20, 2009
A toxic agricultural pesticide blamed for killing up to 100 million birds a
year in North America and for poisoning lions in Africa, is facing a
proposed ban in Canada this summer.
Following a ruling last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to
forbid the sale of any domestic or imported food crops that have traces of
the chemical carbofuran, Health Canada is proposing to “phase out all uses”
of the pesticide.
But the move comes decades after Canadian government officials first
learned carbofuran was wiping out everything from flocks of songbirds in
the Prairies to eagles in British Columbia.
One of the first warnings about the pesticide came in 1984 when a
Saskatchewan farmer went to inspect a canola field he’d treated with
“He returned to find the bodies of several thousand Lapland Longspurs
dotting the field,” according to a report on the incident by the Canadian
The Lapland Longspur is a sparrow-like songbird that breeds in the Arctic
and winters in open fields across southern Canada and the United States.
In 1993, Agriculture Canada published a special “discussion document” on
the chemical that states “carbofuran has one of the highest recorded
toxicities to birds of any insecticide registered for use in Canada.”
A single grain of carbofuran – the size of piece of sand – or a single
tainted earthworm can be lethal, the document says. “On the basis of kill
rates reported in company studies conducted in cornfields, it can be
concluded that the use of granular carbofuran will result in the death of a
large proportion of the songbirds breeding in and around treated fields.”
Despite such findings, the government allowed use of the pesticide to
Pierre Mineau, a research scientist with CWS and one of the world’s leading
experts on carbofuran’s environmental impact, declined an interview request
yesterday, saying he couldn’t speak without clearance.
When The Globe and Mail refused to provide questions in advance,
Environment Canada officials said Dr. Mineau was not available.
Agriculture Canada directed all questions to Health Canada, which declined
to provide anyone to be interviewed.
“Health Canada is in the process of preparing a publication on the
re-evaluation of carbofuran to be released this summer, which will be
proposing to phase out all uses,” Philippe Laroche, a ministry media
spokesman, stated in an e-mail.
“The re-evaluation of carbofuran indicates that this insecticide poses
unacceptable risks to human health and the environment,” he wrote.
Michael Fry, director of conservation advocacy for the American Bird
Conservancy, was delighted to hear Health Canada proposes following the
lead of the EPA.
“That’s great news. That’s wonderful,” he said yesterday.
He said estimates on the number of birds killed annually by carbofuran
range from 17 million to 100 million.
Asked why it has taken so long to ban the chemical when its devastating
impact on birds had been known for decades, Dr. Fry commented: “I think
there’s been a very aggressive campaign by the [manufacturing] company to
keep the pesticide on the market.”
Jim Fitzwater, a spokesman for FMC Corp., a Philadelphia company that
manufactures carbofuran under the trade name, Furadan®, said he wasn’t
aware of the Health Canada proposal.
“Let’s see what their analysis is first [before responding],” he said.
Mr. Fitzwater said FMC is planning to file an official objection to the EPA
ruling, and hopes to have that decision reviewed.
He declined to say how much Furadan® is sold in Canada, but a 1991 report
by Health Canada states that between 100,000 and 500,000 kilograms was
being used annually on crops.
Furadan® made international news in March when the CBS news program 60
Minutes reported that 75 lions had been killed in Kenya, apparently by
poachers who poisoned baits with the chemical.
FMC Corp. responded to the reports by withdrawing the chemical from the
market in Kenya.