Health Canada dismisses glyphosate objections

Health Canada’s 2017 decision requiring no major changes to product labels for glyphosate herbicide will stand, despite the objections filed in its wake.

The federal health department said Friday it has reviewed eight notices of objection received after it released its final re-evaluation decision on glyphosate in April 2017.

The objections were filed with Health Canada in June and July that year by individuals and on behalf of groups including Safe Food Matters, Right On Canada, Environmental Defense Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, among others.

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Health Canada, in a statement Friday, said its scientists “assessed the validity of any studies” raised in the objections, “to determine whether any of the issues raised would influence the results of the assessment and the associated regulatory decision.”

The department also noted “concerns raised publicly about the validity of some of the science around glyphosate in what is being referred to as the Monsanto Papers.”

However, Health Canada said, “we have concluded that the concerns raised by the objectors could not be scientifically supported when considering the entire body of relevant data.”

Furthermore, the department said, “the objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate.”

That re-evaluation, launched back in late 2009 as per routine federal practice for registered pesticides in Canada, ruled in 2017 that products containing glyphosate are “not a concern to human health and the environment” when used following updated label directions.

Crop chemical companies in 2017 were given until late April this year to revise their glyphosate product labels as per Health Canada’s ruling.

Health Canada’s “overall finding” from its re-examination of glyphosate found the product is “not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.”

Dietary exposure, via food or drinking water, associated with the use of glyphosate is “not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health,” the department said at the time.

Occupational and residential risks linked with use of glyphosate are also “not of concern, provided that updated label instructions are followed.”

Each notice of objection is to receive a separate response from the department, which will be posted publicly Monday in the public registry of Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

Health Canada said Friday its scientists “left no stone unturned in conducting this review,” having access to “all relevant data and information from federal and provincial governments, international regulatory agencies, published scientific reports and multiple pesticide manufacturers. This includes the reviews referred to in the Monsanto Papers.”

It also had access to “numerous individual studies and raw scientific data during its assessment of glyphosate, including additional cancer and genotoxicity studies.”

To help ensure an “unbiased assessment” of the information, Health Canada said, it chose a group of 20 of its own scientists, none of whom were involved in the 2017 re-evaluation, to evaluate the eight notices of objection.

‘Actual risk’

Glyphosate, which Monsanto (now part of Bayer) first brought to market under the Roundup brand in 1974, has run up against new scrutiny from a human health angle in the past few years.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, announced in a 2015 report that it would move glyphosate into its Group 2A — “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

More recently, a California jury last summer found in favour of a school groundskeeper’s claim that glyphosate-based herbicides had caused his cancer and Monsanto failed to warn consumers about the risks. The jury awarded him US$289 million, later reduced to US$78 million.

Health Canada’s re-evaluation, while not related to the IARC report, had described the IARC reclassification of glyphosate as “a hazard classification,” not a health risk assessment.

“This means that the level of human exposure, which determines the actual risk, was not taken into account by IARC.”

‘Industry-manipulated’

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers, in a separate release, said it was “pleased and proud” with Health Canada’s announcement Friday.

“The defense of many modern agriculture practices, like the use of crop protection products, has been exhausting these past few years and its refreshing to see science win this battle,” WCWG director Cherilyn Nagel said in the release.

“The strong language used in the Health Canada statement is clear and it has certainly renewed my faith in our regulatory system.”

Several of the groups who filed objections said jointly Friday they were “disappointed” by Health Canada’s decision, which they said was reached “despite concerning evidence that industry-manipulated science features in the assessment.”

“We maintain that the scientific process at Health Canada appears to have been compromised by manipulated data and flawed analyses,” Annie Berube, director of government relations for Equiterre, said Friday in the groups’ release.

“Today’s decision continues to entrench glyphosate-based agriculture in Canada at the expense of our health and the environment. Meanwhile, other countries like France are implementing plans to phase out glyphosate and encouraging healthier, more sustainable food production.”

Right On Canada, in a separate release last month, noted several groups have called on federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor to hold a “new, independent review” of glyphosate. The groups alleged Health Canada’s 2017 review was “scientifically defective and ethically tainted.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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