Glyphosate is being sprayed on crops to kill them for harvest, and the poison gets right into the still-growing seeds and beans: the food we eat. High and illegal levels in “healthy” foods like chickpeas result from this “desiccation” technique.
Health Canada just renewed the registration for glyphosate for another 15 years, and only tweaked the labels for spraying. It didn’t examine the effects of desiccation, and the tweaks won’t change desiccation exposure. Labels won’t work, aren’t followed, can’t be enforced, and Health Canada’s own law even admits it.
These points were made in a Notice of Objection (“NOO”) filed with Health Canada on June 27, 2017. The NOO was filed to object to Re-evaluation Decision RVD 2017-01 of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (“PMRA”) to grant continued registration of glyphosate.[i] A summary of the NOO is below.
- Residues exceed legal limits (eg. chickpeas)
Desiccation is occurring on a large scale in North America. The literature indicates when glyphosate is applied to crops that have already emerged, it moves preferentially to growing points, to where the sugars are, which are called “sinks”. In cereals and legumes the sink is the seed, and studies have found high levels of glyphosate in spring wheat, field pea, barley, flax, canola, dry beans and lentils, among other crops.
The scientific literature indicates that the early application of glyphosate as a desiccant or application when moisture content is too high has resulted in exceedances of the Maximum Residue Limits (“MRLs”) for some crops: in Canada and/or countries that import the particular crop. Studies have shown this with respect to wheat seed, red lentils, dry beans and field peas, at a minimum.
In Canada, chickpeas are of particular concern. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (“CFIA”) sampled foods for glyphosate in 2015-16, and found exceedances of the MRL in certain crops, particularly chickpeas. The data was recently obtained pursuant to an Access to Information Request submitted by Mr. Tony Mitra, and it indicated violations for chickpeas and wheat.
“Food containing a pesticide residue that does not exceed the established MRL does not pose a health risk concern”, according to PMRA in RVD 2017-01. Based on PMRAs own criteria, desiccated chickpeas are a health concern.
- Exposure in diet not examined
There is no discussion of dietary exposure through harvest management or desiccation applications of glyphosate in the content of RVD 2017-01, or its predecessor document that set out the evaluations conducted, PRVD 2015-01.
- Consumption levels show huge increase
Exposure to a pesticide is determined by combining the amount of pesticide that is in or on the food (residue levels) and the amount and type of food that people eat. But the data on the amount of food consumed is incredibly outdated. PRVD 2015-01 adopts Science Policy Note SPN 2003-02, which points to food survey data from at best 1998 from the Canadian Survey of Food Intake II (CSFII). Even if more current data available to PMRA is taken into consideration (based on the fact Science Policy Note SPN2014-01 indicates PMRA was adopting the United States WWEIA (What we Eat in America)), this data goes back to 2010 at best.
Such outdated data can’t provide an accurate evaluation of current dietary exposure. The consumption of chickpeas in the United States has grown at least 90% since 2010. Hummus is a dip made form chickpeas, and over a quarter of Americans reported in 2014 that they had the dip in the refrigerators. Consumer spending on hummus reached $1 billion a year in 2014, after growing some 18% a year over the previous five years – six times faster than the overall growth of the American food market. Lentils and other leguminous crops have also trended high for several years, and lentils and chickpeas will reach record highs in the 2016/17 marketing year.
Because consumption is increasing, production is as well. The production in the United States of dry beans (including chickpeas) and lentils increased from less than 3 billion pounds in the 2011/12 production year to approaching 6 billion pounds in the 2016/17 production year. Statistics Canada numbers on the domestic use of “Pulse and Special Crops” indicate an increase from 769,000 metric tonnes in 2010-11 to a projected 1,914,000 metric tonnes in 2016-17, an increase of 250%.
- MRLs for unregistered products not valid
Glyphosate has to be registered for use as a desiccant in Canada. There are two ways registration can occur: one is if the chemical company actually does the registration, and the second is under a program called “URMULE”: User Requested Minor Use Label Expansion, where an “applicant” does the registration.
The Minister of Health sets the MRLs under URMULE, and in so doing under law he or she must evaluate only the health risks of the product, and he or she must consider these to be acceptable.
Chickpeas are registered under the URMULE program for the use “Crop Staging for Preharvest Applications”. At a minimum, the following crops have also been so registered under the URMULE program: canary seed, mustard, lupin and faba bean.
It appears from the RVD 2017-01 that MRLs for the use of glyphosate as a desiccant on conventional (non-URMULE) crops were established based on field trial studies, but there is no indication in either RVD 2017-01 or PRVD 2015-02 that URMULE crops have been examined for such use, nor is there evidence that, in any such examination, only health risks were evaluated. The historical evidence is that the limit is set based upon the amounts of residues in fact found in the proponents’ studies, not based on health considerations. So it appears the legal requirements for setting MRLs for URMULE crops have not been followed.
- Label Amendments don’t address the risk
The result of the Re-evaluation was that PMRA required changes to labels about spray buffer zones for glyphosate. The risk from eating glyphosate contained in desiccated crops is not mitigated by such changes, because the crop is located right in the spray zone.
The risk would still exist even if labels required spraying when moisture content is low, especially with indeterminate crops such as pulses, canola and flax. These plants continually produce flowers as the plant grows, resulting in mature pods at the bottom and greener, more wet, material at the top, so there will always be wet material containing higher glyphosate levels in the plants. Also moisture content is determined not only by physiological maturity of the plant, but also by the weather, and the weather cannot be controlled or predicted. Studies indicate if a crop is desiccated and then after that heavy rains occur, the moisture content can be affected. Also, the determination of moisture content by visual indicators is a subjective determination, and so subject to error. Moreover, even if visual indicators do provide accurate determinations, they are at best guidance and not prescriptions that can be enforced.
- Labels aren’t followed anyway
The successful implementation of any label amendment is based on the assumption that labels will be followed. The problem is that labels are not in fact followed in Canada; a fact that has been reported by PMRA.
One example is from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency/ Regulatory Operations and Regions Branch. The Compliance and Enforcement Report for 2015-2016 indicated that most of the instances of non-compliance for that year were of three types, including “use contrary to the label approved by PMRA”.
- Enforcement won’t work
The Compliance Policy followed by PMRA is unlikely to lead to label enforcement. The only applicable inspection tool for the PMRA is “monitoring inspections”. Because the seeds on even one plant have different maturity levels depending on their stage of growth, the inspector would need to examine the crop at the exact time the determination is made, and this would be administratively and practically difficult. He or she would also need to ensure that the moisture content is not increased after desiccation because of rain. Moreover, because the determination of moisture content is a subjective judgement, there is no clear line for when moisture content is appropriate. Enforcement without clear lines is administratively and legally difficult.
- Health Canada’s own law admits labels don’t stop exceedances
It is hard for Health Canada to argue that label amendments will solve the glyphosate problem when the federal government already has a law on its books that admits MRLs are exceeded even when the label is followed.
The Pesticide Residue Compensation Act provides compensation for any loss suffered by a farmer as a result of the presence of pesticide in or on an agricultural product of that farmer, if (a) an inspection disclosed the presence of a residue that would render a sale contrary to the Food and Drugs Act (i.e. the MRL would be too high); (b) the pesticide is nevertheless registered or deemed registered under the Pest Control Products Act: (c) the pesticide was used in accordance with practices approved, recommended, directed or concurred in by the Minister of Health (i.e. in accordance with label directions); and (d) the Minister is satisfied that the presence of the pesticide is not the fault of the farmer, his employees, agents etc. or those of the previous owner.
Thus this compensation act contemplates that MRLs will be exceeded even when label directions are followed.
When timely notice of a Notice of Objection is received, the Minister of Health can establish a review panel to review the decision (pursuant to Section 35 of the Pest Control Products Act). The Minister must either give public notice of the establishment of the panel or provide written reasons without delay to the objector. The above objections warrant the prompt establishment of a review panel.
[i] This decision was based on a re-evaluation set out in PVRD 2015-01, which looked at “available scientific information” but did not ask for any new information to be supplied by the registrant beyond that provided in the initial evaluation. Glyphosate was first registered in Canada in 1976, and the registration on record of glyphosate for pre-harvest use is based on Agriculture Canada’s Decision Document E92-02 (June 15, 1992) Pre-Harvest Use of Glyphosate.