Backgrounder to appeal

Who We Are

  • Canadian non-profit, founded in 2016, dedicated to promoting health and protecting the environment, with a focus on the safety of food production technologies.
  • Campaigns have included GM foods and synthetic biology.
  • Taking Health Canada to the Federal Court of Appeal over its risk assessment of glyphosate.

Context

  • Glyphosate (Roundup) was registered for use in Canada in 1976 as a weed killer.
  • In the 2000s farmers started to spray it right onto growing crops to kill them. 
  • The goal was to “dry-down” or “desiccate” the crops for efficiency purposes: (1) the timing of harvest could be scheduled, and (2) crops wouldn’t be wet so easier to harvest in one pass with big machines. This is “pre-harvest treatment” or “desiccation”.

Problem

  • When glyphosate is sprayed on crops that are growing, it moves through the roots into the plant’s circulation system and then binds to and moves with the nutrients right into the priority growing locations: the seeds, beans and fruits we eat.
  • This “seed sink” is the part of the plant we eat when it comes to grains, including cereals, legumes and mustards.  These include wheat, barley and oats (all cereals);  chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, dry beans, faba beans and peas (all legumes or pulses) and canola and mustard (both mustards). So glyphosate accumulates in these seed sinks.

Case History

2017 Reregistration

  • Since glyphosate was registered for use prior to 1995, a review of its registration was to be initiated by April 1, 2005 (s. 16 Pest Control Products Act). The reviewing agency was the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), under Health Canada.
  • The preliminary review took 10 years: it finished in 2015. It went final in 2017. By this time glyphosate had been on the market for almost 40 years.
  • PMRA decided to allow glyphosate products to stay registered in Canada until the next review in fifteen plus years. The Preliminary Re-evaluation Decision (PRVD 2015-01), and the Re-evaluation Decision (RVD2017-01) both held that the PMRA’s evaluation of glyphosate products indicated that they do not present risks of concern to human health or the environment when used according to label directions.

2017 Notices of Objection are Filed

  • Safe Food Matters and 7 other objectors were given 60 days to file Notices of Objection (NoO) to the registration decision, and they did. At the end of June, 2017 they filed their NoOs and asked the Minister of Health to establish an independent panel of persons to review the reregistration decision.
  • The NoOs presented scientific rationale and evidence to support their objections that the PRVD2015-01 evaluation of the health and environmental risks of glyphosate was not valid.

2019 NoOs are Rejected

  • PMRA took 3,883 hours to review the NoOs, and on January 11, 2019 it rejected the request.  
  • PMRA presented a form letter to each Objector, indicating that the objections did not “raise scientifically founded doubt about the validity of [PMRA’s] evaluation of the health and environmental risks of glyphosate.”  It then attached an appendix to each letter in which PMRA countered or ignored the science and arguments raised.
  • PMRA has not provided information to the objectors concerning the qualifications it required for the reviewing scientists.

2019/20 Federal Court

  • Safe Food Matters and its president Mary Lou McDonald in February 2019 filed for the Federal Court to review PMRAs rejection of its NoO on the basis that the rejection was unreasonable.
  • They claim PMRA made many mistakes:
    • It did not examine desiccation and the risk of increased levels of glyphosate in food that it causes;
    • It ignored evidence of markedly increased consumption of desiccated foods (like chickpeas);
    • It used outdated dietary exposure models and old information on diet from the 1990s and from the US;
    • It applied the wrong legal test by requiring objections about the scientific information behind the evaluations. The objection can be about more than that, including a lack of scientific information.  
    • It ignored the fact that labels on spray containers can’t work and the evidence that the labels aren’t followed anyways (as shown by the government’s own studies);
    • It arbitrarily reduced the safety factor imposed by law for spraying glyphosate around children
  • On January 30, 2020 the case was heard. On February 13, 2020 the Federal Court Judge held, in written reasons, that the NoO did not show a scientifically founded doubt about the validity of the evaluations, and that the cased be dismissed.

Current Case: 2020/21 Federal Court of Appeal

On March 13, 2020, Safe Food Matters filed for appeal of the decision of the Federal Court Judge.  The argument is the Judge erred in her approach of her review of the PMRAs decision to reject the NoO.

On October 7, 2020, Canadian environmental groups Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defence and David Suzuki Foundation, represented by Ecojustice, were granted status to intervene in the case.  

A key issue is the interpretation of “scientifically founded doubt about the validity of the evaluations of health and environmental risks”.  The Judge provided her own interpretation of what that standard means. 

Safe Food Matters argues for a wide interpretation of the standard.  An objector should be able to raise scientifically founded doubt about many aspects of the PMRA evaluation process, including the quality, currency and accuracy of the information provided; about the methodologies used; and about the completeness of the evaluation of risks.

Safe Food Matters also argues that its NoO raised scientifically founded doubt, and that a review panel should be created to consider the risks to human health arising from the high accumulation of glyphosate in cereals and legumes that have been desiccated.

Timing/ Procedure

  • Timing details: Arguments are expected to be filed in the winter of 2020, and the case is expected to be heard in 2021.

Objectives

Regulatory Objective: Use legal activism to improve the risk assessment process conducted by direct Health Canada. PMRA should use complete, accurate and current science and methodologies in its risk assessment process, and a wide definition of “scientifically founded doubt” should be granted to objectors to ensure PMRA accountability. This will allow for a better risk assessment process on many fronts.

Campaign Objective: Cause the PMRA to recommend that the Minister of Health strike an independent panel to evaluate the health risks associated with desiccation with glyphosate, which should lead to a ban on desiccation with the chemical.

Organization Objective: Raise funds through GoFundMe to continue the legal case.

How to Help

  • Help Safe Food Matters in its GoFundMe campaign, proceeds of which go only to legal fees. 
  • Share articles from Safe Food Matters published on its website: SafeFoodMatters.org 
  • Share other social media from Safe Food Matters:
  • Contact your grocery store and ask for organic grains, including legumes and cereals.

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