Posted on February 4, 2022 (updated: February 28, 2022)

Court orders Health Canada to re-consider objections to approval of dangerous pesticide

pesticide spraying Chafer Sentry via CC BY 2.0
Chafer Sentry via CC BY 2.0

Glyphosate poses an unacceptable risk to human health 

Toronto, Ont./ Traditional territories of several First Nations including the Williams Treaties First Nations, Huron-Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Chippewas, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation – The Federal Court of Appeal has ordered Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to reconsider an objection to its approval of the pest control product glyphosate, a probable carcinogen. The decision is a major win that upholds Canadians’ right to participate in decision-making about risky pesticides that impact their health and that of the environment.  

This victory stems from a case brought by Safe Food Matters (SFM) who were ably represented by Andrea Gonsalves of Stockwoods, LLP. Unlike other glyphosate cases, this one focused on the actions of the regulator, the PMRA, not about whether the chemical causes cancer. SFM called for a review of the PMRA’s 2017 decision that allowed glyphosate to stay registered in Canada for another 15 plus years. 

Ecojustice lawyers represented the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence Canada, and Friends of the Earth Canada as interveners in Safe Food Matters Inc. v. Attorney General of Canada. The groups raised concerns about the unduly high threshold the Federal Court set for a member of the public to trigger an independent review panel of a PRMA decision. In its ruling, the Court reaffirmed that allowing the opportunity for public participation is a main pillar of the Pest Control Products Act that must be respected. 

This is the first time the Pest Control Products Act has been considered by the Federal Court of Appeal, providing an opportunity for guidance from the court about how the Act should be interpreted by the PMRA. In the decision, the panel found the Federal Court erred in its interpretation of the term ‘scientifically founded doubt,’ and provided guidance to the PMRA as it goes about its redetermination.  

Laura Bowman, lawyer, Ecojustice said: 

“Ecojustice is pleased with the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision which reinforces the right of Canadians to request an independent scientific review of decisions made by the PMRA about potentially harmful pest control products.  

“The PMRA needs to take the independent review of its pest control product decisions more seriously, and the Federal Court of Appeal confirmed that decisions about independent science must align with the Act’s purpose to prevent unacceptable risks. 

“The Court’s decision will help encourage the PMRA to use the best available scientific research to guide decision-making about this potentially dangerous product.” 

Mary Lou McDonald, founding member and President, Safe Food Matters Inc. said: 

“We are beyond pleased with this decision. The Court did more than just remit our objections back to the PMRA; it added strong ‘guidance’ for PMRA to follow. The PMRA needs to look at our case through a purposive, statutory lens. When making a decision, it must ask, ‘what are we supposed to be doing?’ And the answer is: ‘Protecting Canadians and the environment from the risks of pesticides.’ The answer is not advancing trade or allowing continued sales. It is protecting Canadians.  

“Safe Food Matters’ evidence raised a ‘scientifically founded doubt’ about the 2017 assessment of glyphosate. Based on the guidance provided in the Court of Appeal’s decision, PMRA will now have to explain how its decision-making approach is protective of Canadians. We don’t think they will be able to because they didn’t look at the risks associated with pesticide translocation, indeterminate crops and old data. Our expectation is the PMRA will strike a review panel, and our hope is the panel puts an end to the pre-harvest use of glyphosate.” 

Cassie Barker, Toxics Senior Program Manager, Environmental Defence said: 

 “This is an important wake-up call to government officials to ensure that they are conducting comprehensive, science-based reviews of these hazardous substances.  

“When thoughtful, evidence-based questions are raised on the health and environmental impacts of pesticides, government must consider that evidence.  

“Glyphosate residues on our food are a real concern to scientists and Canadians, and it’s time that governments look beyond corporate science and consider the independent evidence for prohibiting this carcinogen.  

“We shouldn’t have to go to court to get government regulators to consider that their information on hazardous pesticides is incomplete, and their decisions to allow these products on our food and in our water are flawed.” 

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada said: 

“This important Court decision is about protecting individuals and the environment from harm by pest control products which are designed to kill.  It reaffirms the important role citizens were given 20 years ago by Parliament when they last overhauled the Pest Control Products Act.  

“Friends of the Earth has grave concerns about the safety of products containing glyphosate as their active ingredient that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has allowed into Canada. There is a lack of confidence in PMRA’s assessment of glyphosate. As a minimum, a review panel of independent scientists is essential to building any public confidence in PMRA.”  

Lisa Gue, national policy manager with the David Suzuki Foundation said:

“We hope this court decision leads to better decision-making under the federal pesticides act – starting with an independent review of the flawed 2017 glyphosate decision. The widespread use of glyphosate in Canada continues to contaminate our environment, contributing to habitat loss for the threatened monarch butterfly. We call on Canada’s Health Minister to agree to an independent review of the science, as Safe Food Matters, the David Suzuki Foundation and others requested in our notices of objection. This time, we need the federal government to get it right.”

Background 

In April 2017, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency released its re-evaluation on glyphosate which failed to take into account its impact on human health. Despite alarming evidence brought to light by the Monsanto papers, and additional evidence submitted by Safe Food Matters and other NGOs in their notices of objection, the PMRA determined the risks to human health and the environment were acceptable without new restrictions.  

Safe Food Matters raised concerns about the decision-making process undertaken by the PMRA regarding this harmful chemical. The group looked at pre-harvest use of glyphosate on certain crops. The organization saw high levels in cereal and legume crops, and objected that PMRA had not properly considered:  

  • how glyphosate gets into these crops (mechanism of translocation);  
  • that it will always be present in crops like lentils and chickpeas (indeterminate crops); and  
  • that the consumption data PMRA used was not telling the true story.  

The dietary consumption data was based on what Americans ate in 1994-1996 and 1998, not Canadians’ diets, and Canadians are now consuming far greater quantities of chickpeas, hummus, and other legumes than in the 1990s. The PMRA should not rely on outdated scientific data from other regions when making important decisions about chemicals that impact the health of Canadians and our environment. 

Canada’s health minister subsequently refused requests from SFM and several other environmental and health organizations for an independent panel to review the decision to continue the registration of glyphosate use in Canada. In early 2019, Safe Food Matters initiated legal action. The Federal Court dismissed their application to judicially review the Minister of Health’s decision, a ruling that the Federal Court of Appeal victory overturns. Ecojustice represented the interveners David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, and Friends of the Earth Canada in this appeal. 

About

Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.

Safe Food Matters Inc. is a Canadian non-profit corporation, engaged in policy issues on pesticides and crop production technologies that harm Canadians and the environment. It works to improve the regulatory landscape and is currently active on issues relating to glyphosate, chlorpyrifos and gene editing. It would like to see improvements in the risk assessment process used by Health Canada.

The David Suzuki Foundation is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, collaborating with all people in Canada, including government and business, to conserve the environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through evidence-based research, public engagement, and policy work. The Foundation operates in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry, and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate, and healthy communities.

Friends of the Earth Canada is the Canadian member of Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest grassroots environmental network campaigning on today’s most urgent environmental and social issues.

For media inquiries

Zoryana Cherwick, Communications Specialist | Ecojustice
1-800-926-7744 ext. 277, zcherwick@ecojustice.ca    

Media Relations| Safe Food Matters Inc.
905 467-8531, SafeFoodMatters@gmail.com

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth
1-613-724-8690, beatrice<at>foecanada.org 

Cassie Barker, Toxics Senior Program Manager | Environmental Defence
media@environmentaldefence.ca

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