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Federal Pesticide Audit Reveals Canadians at Risk From Incomplete, Outdated Reviews

A Scientific Systematic Review Audit Would Reveal Further Shortcomings

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (Commissioner), revealed today that Health Canada:

  • applied the “safety factor” for vulnerable individuals (e.g. children or those with compromised health) for one out of ten chemicals audited;
  • is falling behind on re-evaluations of old pesticides;
  • has been lax in granting “temporary” registrations, including of pesticides posing risks to pollinators, for up to 20 years;
  • is slow to re-evaluate pesticides that have been completely banned in other OECD countries;
  • is slow to cancel registrations when the pesticide is deemed unacceptable; and
  • has been keeping the public in the dark.

Go here for Prevent Cancer Now’s analysis of temporary registrations, and Health Canada’s consultation.

The Commissioner reports on auditable processes, but not on the substance of the science and scientific methods underlying pesticide registrations.

“Issues highlighted today signal deep-seated inadequacies in both scientific rigour and transparency in pesticide assessment,” stated Prevent Cancer Now Chair, Meg Sears, PhD. “In my experience, there is every indication that Health Canada does not have the infrastructure or capabilities for systematic review of pesticides.” *

* For example, see Prevent Cancer Now’s recent discussion of the most-used, but probably cancer-causing weed-killer, glyphosate, and our submission to the PMRA.

“Temporary registrations, lacking key scientific data, clearly put the health of Canadians, our food supply and the environment at risk,” commented Dr. Sears. “Delaying registration also delays public consultation, and keeps the public in the dark. Under the Pest Control Products Act the public can access test data for fully registered products, but not for “temporary” products. We applaud Health Canada’s proposal to end new temporary registrations, and hope that present ones are ended as well.”

The Commissioner, within the Auditor General’s office, assesses compliance of Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) with mandated processes. There is no audit of the validity and quality of scientific review, including the science and the scientific methods used for pesticide registrations.

Pesticide products frequently contain more than one active ingredient, often chosen for their different, interacting modes of action, with hopes of synergistic toxic effects to counter growing resistance of pests. Thirty-one products with temporary registrations contain two to five active ingredients. Today’s report indicates that methods to assess mixture toxicity are still a work in progress.

“Even if a single chemical poses an acceptable risk in the laboratory, the PMRA is nowhere near grappling with Canadians’ daily exposures to myriad chemicals, and how they contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer,” Sears said.

“The real world contains mixtures of many different agents. The absence of definitive proof of harm, is not proof of safety,” said Dr. Devra Davis, Visiting Professor of Medicine, The Hebrew University Medical School, and President of Environmental Health Trust. “The only rational approach is to minimize pesticide use, with least-toxic pest control strategies.”

“It is time that we put into place a national infrastructure to minimize the effects of environmental toxins on population health,” stated Dr. Richard van der Jagt, Associate Professor of Medicine and cancer researcher at The Ottawa Hospital.