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In Focus: Changes to Regulations for Imported Fertilizers and Supplements

Posted November 27, 2020

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Fertilizer Safety Section) regulates fertilizers and supplements — i.e., substances other than fertilizers that improve the physical condition of soil or plant growth — under the Fertilizers Act, which requires that all regulated fertilizer and supplement products be properly labeled, effective and safe for humans, plants, animals and the environment.

Fertilizer Elements (Blurry Ottawa in Background)
All fertilizers and supplements that are imported and/or sold in Canada are regulated by CFIA, in conjunction with provinces and local municipalities to ensure that all products meet the best possible safety standards. 


Regulated Products

Regulated products consist of traditional nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers; micronutrients; lawn and garden products; in addition to supplements such as plant growth regulators; microbial inoculants; liming materials; and waste-derived materials (such as composts, municipal biosolids, paper sludges, digestates, etc.), that are used as recycled sources of plant nutrients and organic matter.

Certain fertilizers and most supplements are subject to registration and require a comprehensive pre-market assessment prior to their import and/or sale in Canada. CFIA’s pre-market assessment consists of a detailed evaluation of product safety information and labeling.

Products that are exempt from registration are still subject to regulation and must meet all the necessary standards at the time of sale or import.


Regulatory Modernization

As part of a multi-year, agency-wide regulatory modernization initiative launched in 2011, the CFIA carried out a comprehensive review of the fertilizer regulatory framework, from which numerous deficiencies were identified. The review disclosed that the existing regulations were outdated, both overly prescriptive and inconsistent in certain areas, and generally not aligned with the risk profile of the regulated products. Moreover, they were seen as unnecessarily burdensome to Canadian businesses (particularly those whose products are safe and have a well-established history of use and relevance in agricultural/farming settings).

Accordingly, a significant number of amendments were developed over the next several years in consultation with the Canadian Fertilizer Products Forum, a private industry advisory body. These were eventually rolled out as a draft overhaul of the Fertilizer Regulations in 2018. This package of amendments incorporated numerous updates and changes reflecting the CFIA’s new risk-based approach, which it has determined is better aligned with modern science, current manufacturing practices, and industry trends, while at the same time enabling the agency to more effectively meet the various demands of its health and safety mandate.

Following an extensive consultation period in 2018-2019 and subsequent engagement with stakeholders over the past year, the updated Fertilizer Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette on October 26, 2020.  


Key Changes from the Old to New Fertilizer Regulations
  • Definitions/Terminology: Certain product definitions have been amended, added or repealed to align them with current science, industry trends, international standards and to support the revised exemption scheme.
  • General Exemptions: Amendments further clarify that both domestically produced and imported products intended for export, or for manufacturing purposes, are exempt from all provisions of the Fertilizers Act and the Regulations.
  • List of Materials: A technical document titled “List of Primary Fertilizer and Supplement Materials” has been incorporated by reference. This continually updated document will eventually replace Schedule II of the Regulations, which will be repealed upon completion of the transition period.
  • Exemption from Registration/Pre-Market Assessments: The List of Materials that are exempt from registration (Schedule II) has been expanded to 104 materials, from 56 previously and has been amended to reflect current science, modern product types, technologies and manufacturing processes. Other exemptions from registration (for products not included in the List of Materials) have been amended or removed in accordance with the risk profile of the fertilizer or supplement.
  • Labelling and Recordkeeping: The prescriptive labelling requirements that do not directly impact the identity of the product as a fertilizer or supplement, its safety or use will be repealed. Where the Regulations require certain information to appear on the label of a fertilizer or supplement, the information will now be required in both official languages. Additionally, under the new Regulations, producers of exempt products, who don’t wish to disclose the ingredients on the label, will instead have the option of maintaining records for a rolling period of five years from the last point of import or packaging.
  • Registration Applications and Other Forms: Rather than the prescriptive paper-based format for submitting registration applications (Schedule III of the former Regulations), the amendments now provide for a more flexible format that will support electronic processing of registration submissions in the future. Applications may now be made in a format at the discretion of the applicant provided it meets the regulatory objectives. Similarly, with respect to foreign companies importing fertilizers/supplements into Canada that are required to identify a Canadian resident agent for local administrative purposes, the prescriptive form is no longer required and identification may be made in a format at the discretion of the company/agent.
  • Registration Amendments: The former Regulations require that all registration amendments (even simple formatting changes) go through the review process by CFIA before any changes to product labels are made. The new Fertilizer Regulations only call for such amendments to be made if the change affects the product’s identity as a fertilizer or supplement, its safety or safe use.


Registration - Transitional Provisions

With the coming into force of the amended Fertilizers Regulations, effective October 26, 2020, the registration period has now been extended from three to five years.

The amendments contain transitional provisions that allow, for a period of 3 years, regulated parties to comply with either the “new” regulations or the “old” regulations. This applies to the manufacture, sale, import or export of fertilizers and supplements regulated under the Fertilizers Act. Combining provisions from “new” and “old” regulations is not permitted; product proponents must comply with either one or the other regulatory regimes with respect to a single product.

The CFIA advises these provisions are intended to allow regulated parties to exhaust the existing stock of products in the supply chain and minimize cost associated with adhering to the new regulatory requirements. That said, the agency strongly encourages product proponents to shift to the “new” regulatory regime as soon as possible and practical within their specific circumstances.

A notice issued earlier this month provides helpful guidance on choosing between the “old” and “new” regulations during the transition period. It also sets out the information required in support of applications and explains how to access the CFIA’s electronic application platform.


Additional Resources


Need More Information?

Should you have any questions about changes to the Fertilizer Regulations and how your imports may be affected or any other issues about importing fertilizers and supplements into Canada, don’t hesitate to contact one of our knowledgeable trade experts to discuss this subject in more depth.

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