Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on November 12, 2018 (updated: December 3, 2018)

The notorious “Monsanto papers” and their role in Canada’s approval of glyphosate

Ecojustice senior scientist Dr. Elaine MacDonaldDr. Elaine MacDonaldScientist
Randy ChristensenLawyer
Chafer Sentry via CC BY 2.0

Glyphosate is one of the most common weed killers in the world. First introduced by Monsanto as the active ingredient in their herbicide, Roundup, the product is used by many, including farmers for their Roundup ready crops — crops that have been genetically modified to withstand Roundup —and home gardeners in their backyards. This means glyphosate’s presence can be found in our food, our water and where our children play.

That’s why for years, we’ve been cautioning the government that the continued use of glyphosate in Canada comes with unacceptable risks. Our concerns are not unfounded.

In 2015, 17 experts from 11 countries met under the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization. The group’s task was to assess the carcinogenicity of five pesticides, including glyphosate. After expert analysis of the science, IARC determined that the chemical is a probable carcinogen to humans.

Despite having access to this information, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) chose to disregard the IARC’s findings and rely on studies co-written or even ghost written by chemical giant, Monsanto the very pesticide company that stands to benefit from the continued use of this substance to approve the widespread use of glyphosate for another 15 years.

Ecojustice is not letting this decision go unchallenged.

Late last month, we submitted a letter to the Minister of Health, urging her to re-consider the approval of glyphosate given the damning internal documents — commonly known as the ‘Monsanto papers’ — that have come to light in recent months thanks to a California lawsuit that alleged that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused Dewayne Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

These documents show that Monsanto changed scientific research studies without disclosing their involvement to downplay the cancer-risks of its glyphosate products for years.

What’s concerning to us about this revelation is that Canadian regulators relied on many of these same studies when it re-approved glyphosate in 2017.

As the body responsible for regulating and approving pesticide use, Canadians should be able to have confidence in the PRMA’s ability to objectively and effectively make credible, evidence-based decisions that are in the best interest of our communities and the environment.

When it instead bases its decisions on research that has been described by Mr. Johnson’s lawyers as misconduct, it undermines public trust in the PMRA and its conclusions. This is why we’re calling on the Minister to strike an independent review panel to re-consider the decision to approve the widespread use of glyphosate for years to come.

Unfortunately, glyphosate is not the only instance in which we’ve called the PMRA’s actions into question.

Up next in our fight to protect the environment and pollinators from pesticides

The review process the PMRA uses to approve pesticide use in Canada has a number of systemic flaws. We need to look no further than what it had done for more than a decade with a known bee-killing neonicotinoid, Thiamethoxam.

Thiamethoxam-based pesticides have been registered for years in Canada without ever being subject to public consultation required by the Pest Control Products Act and sold to Canadians despite critical data gaps in understanding all the risks.

Science tells us that neonicotinoids can be found in all tissues of treated plants, including pollen and nectar, and pose threats to non-target organisms like native bees. The science also tells us that pollinator populations are plummeting and neonicotinoids play a big role in that decline. So why has the PMRA continued to allow their use? We’ve been asking ourselves the same question.

That’s part of the reason Ecojustice lawyers will be in court in a few short weeks.

We’re challenging the PMRA’s decision to conditionally approve pesticides like Thiamethoxam without having the full picture of the impacts it will have on pollinators. The PMRA’s act first, study the science later approach is bad news for the environment, for our communities, and for important pollinator species.

Whenever there is the possibility that the use of a certain pesticide may endanger human health or environment, we believe in adopting a precautionary approach. This means looking to the best available scientific research to guide decision-making about what we allow to be put in the air, water and land that sustains life on this earth.

Until that happens, you can rest assured Ecojustice will continue use the power of the law to compel governments to live up to their responsibility to protect our communities and the environment. We hope you’ll stand with us.

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