The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has developed an invasive plant policy that will have far reaching effects on horticulture in Canada. While the draft policy calls for a ban on any plant deemed to be invasive in Canada, it also amounts to an effective ban on any plant new to horticulture or agriculture in Canada.
According to Wendy Asbil, National Manager of the CFIA’s Invasive Plants Program, the new policy will establish a "black list" of plants that will not be permitted entry into Canada, and a "white list" of plants that will be allowed in. Everything else not on either list must be formally assessed by the CFIA’s invasive plant specialists. So far the invasive plant program has assessed 25 "least wanted" species deemed to be a risk of becoming invasive in Canada. Most of these will be added to a list of pest plants that are already regulated by the CFIA, and these two lists together will amount to what will be a "black list" of prohibited or restricted plant species. There is no "white list" of acceptable species yet, but as Asbil indicated to us, any plant that is native or already fully naturalized in Canada, or is deemed to be incapable of becoming invasive in Canada, will make up a "white list" of species that will be allowed in.
The fate of more than 100,000 species hangs in the balance, in a regulatory no-man’s land -- a "grey list" of species, as Asbil put it, that must be assessed by the CFIA when anyone wants to bring them into Canada. The draft policy gives few details of the assessment process and how it will work, and we don’t know what it will cost importers who want to bring in new plants. According to Asbil, assessments could take up to two years, although she insisted that most would take less time. If the assessments of the 25 "least wanted" species are any indication, the process is likely to be deeply flawed as we discovered when we looked at the assessments of the four herbs included among the 25. The CFIA is recommending banning two of the herbs based on a theoretical risk analysis. But we have been growing and selling these two herbs in Canada for years, and as the CFIA’s assessments admit, there is no evidence at all that these two herbs are invasive in Canada. Since almost every important plant in cultivation is a weed somewhere in the world -- tomatoes, marigolds, and petunias are but a few examples -- we assume that the CFIA is relying too heavily on world weed lists and is not taking into account local factors.
With so little revealed about the critically important assessment process, it is alarming that stakeholders were asked to comment on the new policy anyway. Stakeholders who support the need for control of invasive plants may nonetheless discover that an obtrusive assessment process effectively bars new flowers, vegetables and herbs from coming to Canada. According to Asbil, the policy will soon be implemented, and already the CFIA is asking us to stop selling some of our herbs in anticipation.
Perhaps the biggest misstep by the CFIA is the failure to include the gardening public, herbalists and small specialty growers in the consultation process that is now closed. They, who love to try new plants in their gardens and greenhouses, had no voice in shaping a policy that will have a profound impact on future access to plants in Canada.
The comments period ended September 30, 2010.
Wendy Asbil, National Manager, Invasive Plants, Plant Health and Biosecurity Directorate, CFIA (firstname.lastname@example.org) was responsible for receiving comments.
The draft Invasive Plant Policy is posted here. The CFIA’s background paper is posted here. A summary list of 25 species considered to be "least wanted" in Canada is posted here. Risk Management Documents for four species with herbal uses are found here:
Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis)
Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
Syrian rue (Peganum harmala)
Cinnamon yam (Dioscorea polystachya)
Our comments on the proposal can be found here and here.
[Updated Apr. 16, 2011]