Canada’s pesticide regulator “captured by industry”

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The Conservation Council’s Executive Director, Lois Corbett, was quoted in a July 26 National Observer article about Canada’s problematic pesticide management agency.

In the article, investigative journalist Bruce Livesey (a Fredericton High School graduate in the 80s) takes an in-depth look at the failings of Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to protect people, pollinators, wildlife, and the environment from pesticides linked to a range of health problems.

The article opens with Munro Bees in Ontario, a family-run operation for more than 100 years that is now involved in a class-action lawsuit with other Ontario beekeepers who say chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta are damaging their bees with unsafe products.

After massive die-offs in its bee colony in 2012, Munro Bee’s tested the bees to discover traces of neonicotinoids, or neonics, an insecticide produced by Bayer and Syngenta which is now the world’s most widely used.

Livesey cites droves of research and studies showing pesticides — including glyphosate, the active ingredient in herbicides widely used in New Brunswick’s Crown forest — are linked to widespread environmental, animal and human health damage.

Included in this run down is research showing neonics have been linked to declining bee colonies across North America and Europe, and a series of papers conjecturing that glyphosate could be responsible for increased rates of diabetes, asthma, obesity, dementia, autism, cancer, Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases.

The Conservation Council’s former science advisor, Inka Milewski, says in the article that “it’s not so much that these chemicals make you dead – they just make you sterile, infertile, or they make you dumb or sick or they compromise your immune system.”

This, of course, begs the question: where are the regulatory agencies amid all of this?

Enter our own Lois Corbett, who tells Livesay that “over time (the PMRA) was captured by industry. This is not unique to Canada – it’s the same in the U.S., same in Europe… I don’t think it is a deep conspiracy here. (Industry representatives) are on the phone all the time. They are providing science advice and papers. Because there are billions of dollars of interest at stake here. And they’ve got the money.”

Livesey cites three investigations into the PMRA conducted by the Auditor General of Canada since 2003, in which the Auditor pointed out the agency’s “heavy use” of temporary product registrations — now called “conditional” registrations — that allow chemical companies to sell pesticides without turning over complete data on the safety and human- and animal-health impacts of their products to the PMRA.

That’s the case with neonics and bees. Kathleen Cooper,  a senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), tells Livesey that agrochemical companies keep delaying studies to show the PRMA how neonics impact bees.

“We’re still… waiting for the final re-evaluation of the entire group of pesticides and we’re still waiting to see the results of those chronic toxicity studies in bees that, you know, they just kept on extending the deadline. And there’s no penalty for missing the deadline,” Cooper says.

Stay tuned to this space and the National Observer website for the next installment of Livesey’s work, How the PMRA dropped the ball on Canada’s most controversial pesticides.

[Don’t have a subscription to read Bruce Livesey’s full article? Read a PDF version here]

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