Pesticide Reform: Letter to Ministers

Re: Steps that Can Be Taken Now without Act Amendment

Dear Ministers of Health, Environment & Climate Change, and Agriculture and Agri-Food,

I am a lawyer and the president of Safe Food Matters Inc., a Canadian non-profit corporation founded in 2016 dedicated to protecting human health and the environment from harmful pesticides and crop production technologies.  We think pesticide products can be quite harmful, and as a result they warrant proper and thorough assessment by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (“PMRA”). 

The issue is so serious to us that we took PMRA to court over its 2017 reregistration of glyphosate, and the case is now at the Federal Court of Appeal. For more on the case, please see our backgrounder on our website https://safefoodmatters.org/.

Because of our lawsuits, we are very familiar with the Pest Control Products Act (the “Act”) and the approach of the PMRA to the Act. We are writing to let you know about a few steps that can be taken immediately, without even amending the Act, to improve pesticide reviews and implementation of the Act. We hope you will give them serious consideration.

  1. Assess the whole Pesticide Product, not just the “active ingredient”.

The Act calls for assessment of the “pest control product”, which is defined as various things.  One definition refers to the whole product i.e. the “active ingredient” plus the formulants and contaminants added to the product.  Another definition refers to just the “active ingredient”. 

PMRA currently assesses only the active ingredient, which is a mistake. It is a mistake because the harms of pesticides to humans and the environment are obviously manifest from exposure to the whole product, not just the “active ingredient”.   The added formulants and contaminants can augment the toxicity and also present separate toxicity themselves as has been shown.   Directing PMRA to assess the whole product would be an improvement.

  1. Get all the Science and Be Transparent

Currently the PMRA uses the studies provided by industry, and has been explicit that it favours industry studies over published literature because they are “more relevant and reliable than published studies” (RVD 2017-01 Re-Evaluation Decision, Glyphosate. p. 19). It misapplies the “weight of evidence” approach to favour such science.

Also, the PMRA does not have the resources to review the published literature and update the science in an area. In its decisions, PMRA does not describe how the studies it considered impacted its decision. 

Finally, the studies it relies on are stored away under lock and key in a “Reading Room” in Ottawa and are not publicly available.

Improvements can be made by:

(a) directing the PMRA to consider the current published literature on a topic and properly applying the “weight of evidence” approach with respect to such science;

(b) providing the PMRA with the resources to conduct systematic scientific reviews of the published literature and create a database for its own use;

(c) requiring the PMRA to explain in its decisions what studies it considered and what impact those studies had to the decision; and

(d) making all studies relied upon and considered available to the public, with redacting of a narrow set of test data for which confidentiality requirements can be demonstrated.

  1. Measure Exposure to Pesticides

The exposure assessments in both the human health and environmental risk assessments in many cases do not have data on “real-world” exposures.  There is no regular data collection on the quantities of pesticides in Canada’s food, air, land or water.  Risk is defined as “hazard x exposure”, so by definition risk assessment requires accurate information on exposures.  We are in a vacuum.

Further, there is no examination of the cumulative effect of various pesticides on humans and the environment, even though no one is exposed to just one pesticide, nor are people and the environment exposed to just pesticides alone. Modelling exists to estimate such exposures.

Improvements can be made by having the various ministries obtain data on “real-world” exposures to Canadians and our land, air and water, and if it is not available, fund the research and institutions who can get it. 

  1. Establish the Advisory Council under Section 5 of the Act

Section 5 of the Act allows the Minister of Health to “establish an advisory council of persons whose interests and concerns are affected by this Act”, whose report “including recommendations and the reasons for them”, shall be made public. 

It is our understanding that there was an advisory council established in the past, but that it was effectively disbanded, and that there was little representation from NGOs on this council.  A council with representation from organizations and individuals who are concerned about pesticide regulation in Canada could be established to advise the Minister on how to improve both the Act and the approach of PMRA to pesticide products.

In closing, implementation of the above steps would help show the Ministers’ commitment to strengthen PMRA’s “human and environmental health and safety oversight and protection” as announced. Thank you.

August 15, 2021

Mary Lou McDonald, LL.B.

President, Safe Food Matters Inc.

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