Environmental groups taking Health Canada to court for giving OK to pesticide containing glyphosate



Environmental and food groups are taking Health Canada to Federal Court again to challenge its decision to approve the renewal of a pesticide that contains glyphosate as an active ingredient.

The lawsuit has been filed by Ecojustice on behalf of four groups and comes in the wake of the Jan. 11 release of an American research study that found that people exposed to glyphosate have biomarkers in their urine linked to the development of cancer and other diseases.

“Health Canada has a long track record of granting renewals for harmful pesticides without requiring new information on their impacts on human health and ecosystems,” said Laura Bowman, a lawyer with Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity with a history of taking governments and polluters to court and trying to shape new laws that meet the urgency of the climate and ecological crises.

“We need Health Canada to stay on top of the science, particularly for glyphosate, which is the most widely used pesticide in Canada by a large margin,” Bowman said.

Ecojustice, on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defense Canada, Friends of the Earth Canada and Safe Food Matters, filed the judicial review application in Federal Court this week.

The groups argue that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), an arm of Health Canada, has a duty to only renew registrations for pesticide products if it can determine with reasonable certainty that no harm will occur to human health and the environment.

Herbicide registration renewed

In December, Health Canada renewed the registration for the herbicide Mad Dog Plus for five more years.

The product, which contains glyphosate as the active ingredient, is used on a variety of crops and trees but Health Canada renewed the registration without updating the risk assessment for glyphosate.

“The most recent science shows that glyphosate may pose dangers to human health and can cause ecosystem damage,” Bowman said. “We are suing Health Canada because products containing glyphosate should not be renewed without first considering the most up-to-date scientific evidence.”

Some of that evidence can be found in a study published on Jan. 11 in the Journal of National Cancer Institute in the United States, which had 12 government scientists and cancer experts reach a conclusion that links glyphosate to cancer and other diseases.

“Our findings contribute to the weight of evidence supporting an association between glyphosate exposure and oxidative stress in humans and may inform evaluations of the carcinogenic potential of this herbicide,” the abstract conclusion of the study reads.

The groups launching the lawsuits argue that Canada has legal responsibility under the Pest Control Products Act to use the most up-to-date and accurate science when renewing glyphosate products.

Since the re-evaluation of glyphosate in 2017, scientific evidence has evolved and these new scientific studies on glyphosate show potential risks that Health Canada needs to evaluate, the complainants argue.

“Health Canada is supposed to regulate, not rubber-stamp, these hazardous pesticides,” Cassie Barker, toxic program manager at Environmental Defense Canada, said in the release.

“If we are going to achieve significant pesticide use reduction by 2030 globally and domestically, we need health and environmental leadership from this government. Human and pollinator health will continue to suffer until this government steps up and moves us away from these over-used and under-regulated pest products.”

Emerging risks

There are many emerging potential risks associated with glyphosate, including impacts on the microbiome, neurodegenerative and reproductive toxicity, adverse impacts to monarch butterflies and ecological harm to freshwater ecosystems that Health Canada has not previously considered, proponents of the lawsuit say.

US courts have also recently criticized the approach that North American regulators took in determining whether glyphosate is a human carcinogen.

“This is the fourth time we’ve had to sue PMRA over glyphosate, which is no easy task for a small NGO,” Mary Lou McDonald, president of Safe Food Matters said in the release.

“PMRA needs to listen to what the Federal Court of Appeal said in our recent win: show us that your decisions protect Canadians and the environment.

According to the PMRA’s annual sales report, glyphosate is by far the most heavily used pesticide active ingredient in Canada. In 2020, more than 50 million kilograms of glyphosate sold in Canada. For comparison, only one other pest control product’s active ingredient sold more than 10 million kilograms.

McDonald said PMRA appears to have been “captured by industry” and is unacceptably slow at responding to the science.

In addition to the lawsuit that’s been filed, environmental, health and food groups supported a House of Commons petition calling on the health minister to ban the sale and use of glyphosate to protect human health and the environment.

The petition closed on Jan. 13 with more than 18,000 signatures.

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