Liberal MP Jenica Atwin, filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, and others holds a news conference on Parliament Hill to call for the ban of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide for killing weeds. Atwin’s private member’s bill (C-287) to enact the ban completed first reading in the House of Commons in June 2022. Author Margaret Atwood, who supports the ban, provides a recorded statement.
August 4, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Health Canada
The controlled use of pesticides is an important tool for the agricultural sector. Prior to approval for sale in Canada, all pesticides must undergo a rigorous science-based review by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and meet strict standards for health, safety and environmental protection.
While the current regulations provide robust protection of human health and the environment, some of its provisions now warrant review to ensure the pesticide approval process meets the expectations of Canadians in the areas of transparency and sustainability.
That is why, today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced that the Government of Canada is putting a pause on proposed increases to Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), including for glyphosate. As a result, there will be no increases to MRLs until at least spring 2022.The Ministers also announced the Government of Canada will begin consulting on specific provisions of the Pest Control Products Act (2002) to consider, among other elements, ways to balance how pesticide review processes are initiated in Canada and increase transparency.
In addition, the Ministers announced $50 million in investment in Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s pest management research, to be supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada. $42 million will be invested over three years in the Heath Canada’s PMRA to further strengthen its human and environmental health and safety oversight and protection, including improving the availability of independent data to further support pesticide review decisions, and the transparency of decision-making. A further $7 million will be invested to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and $1 million to Environment and Climate Change Canada in supporting work, to accelerate the research, development and adoption of alternative pest management solutions.
When conducting pesticides approvals, Health Canada considers data and information provided by manufacturers; published scientific reports; federal, provincial, and territorial governments; other regulatory agencies; and Canadians. This new funding will increase the availability of independent data in this process by parties such as universities, NGOs and governments. This funding will allow Health Canada to increase independent data generation, including new water and agricultural monitoring data. It will also allow the creation of a new expert panel process to provide advice, as appropriate, prior to evidence-based decisions of the PMRA on pesticides, including on MRLs.
Quote from Patty Hajdu
“Canadians rightfully expect transparency in any decision regarding pesticides use. Health Canada is a world-class regulator whose experts put the safety of Canadians first in everything they do. The decisions announced today will give them more tools to ensure pesticides used in Canada are safe and sustainable, based on the latest available scientific evidence.”
According to the FAO and Quick Facts
- The Pest Control Products Act was adopted in the House of Commons in 2002. The Government of Canada will begin consultations to modernize targeted aspects of the Act.
- Under authority of the Pest Control Products Act, Health Canada registers pesticides after a stringent, world-class, science-based evaluation that ensures any risks are acceptable, re-evaluates the pesticides currently on the market on a 15-year cycle to ensure the products meet current scientific standards, and promotes sustainable pest management.
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s funding will be distributed to accelerate research into alternative pest management solutions and facilitate the adoption of alternative pest management solutions through demonstration and technology transfer. This work will be supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) are science based, and are established to ensure the food Canadians eat is safe. In May 2019, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) Meeting on Pesticides Residues (JMPR) recommended use of new glyphosate MRLs for consideration by the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius Commission. Bayer CropScience submitted an application requesting to align certain MRLs with those being proposed. In response to the application, Health Canada launched a public consultation on MRLs relating to the import of dry beans, dry peas and tree nuts in May 2021 on the proposed change.
- There is no change to the Canadian use pattern of glyphosate. Neither how much nor how frequently glyphosate can be used changes as a result of the proposed MRL changes.
- As a result of today’s announcement, all of the proposed increases to MRLs currently under consideration by Health Canada will be paused. This pause will remain in effect until all evidence and submissions have been reviewed and assessed.
Does glyphosate Leave Scorched Earth
The battle to ban glyphosate, Canada’s most widely used pesticide, has made it to Parliament.
On Tuesday, Liberal MP Jenica Atwin tabled a petition signed by 18,385 people and environmental organizations calling for a ban on the common pesticide. She also asked the auditor general to evaluate what the government is doing to reduce pesticide use, which Canada pledged to do at the COP15 biodiversity conference last December.
Glyphosate is used in farming to control weeds and by foresters to limit the growth of lower-value deciduous trees. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified the chemical as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and researchers have linked it to certain types of cancer. It can also impact humans’ reproductive and endocrine systems and microbiome and is known to harm biodiversity.
“There is an alarming and growing body of independent scientific research proving glyphosate’s harm to humans and all other life (that) Canada’s regulator, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), is ignoring,” said filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, who co-led the petitions with Atwin and recently released a CBC documentary about the pesticide.
Glyphosate has become increasingly common in recent years, driving a roughly 30 per cent increase in pesticide sales in Canada over the past decade. Estimates by cancer research group CAREX Canada found that roughly two million people in Canada — about six per cent of the population — live in areas with high concentrations of the chemical.
In 2017, the federal government reapproved the use of glyphosate until at least 2032, even as some European countries like Germany have plans to ban it or severely restrict its use. Despite these international concerns, in early 2021, federal officials proposed to increase how much glyphosate residue was allowed on commodities like lentils, peas and beans. Officials put these plans on hold following public outcry but have not indicated they will permanently reverse course.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement that the government “ensure(s) that pesticides used in Canada are safe for human health, wildlife and the environment. All pesticides must undergo rigorous scientific review before being approved for sale in Canada, and they are regularly reviewed to ensure they continue to meet health and safety standards.”
Critics say Canada’s departure from the more stringent glyphosate regulations developed by many of its European peers highlights the country’s failure to help farmers and foresters reduce how much pesticide, including glyphosate, they use.
“The big issue is how are we going to have all-of-government support?” said Friends of the Earth Canada CEO Beatrice Olivastri. “We can’t just ban pesticides and not do something different (to) support farmers.”
Glyphosate is not the only pesticide environmental and health advocates say federal officials should be regulating more tightly, with many emphasizing systemic issues within the PMRA, the agency responsible for these rules. For instance, a January investigation by Canada’s National Observer found the agency had downplayed its own research into the health risks of chlorpyrifos, a once-common pesticide it decided to phase out in 2021.
Olivastri would like to see the government overhaul its rules to reduce pesticide use while helping farmers stay afloat and protecting biodiversity. Canada joined dozens of countries last year when it pledged at the COP15 conference to curb its pesticide use by half by 2030.
Baichwal echoed many of these concerns in the petition she filed this week with the auditor general. The document, which remains under review, lists several questions for the ministers of environment, health, agriculture and natural resources about Canada’s continued support for glyphosate and their plans to overhaul the regulatory system for Canada’s pesticides.
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