Transparency key to public acceptance: toxicologist

Crop protection companies say safety information is available but because consumers don’t understand it, they ignore it

Environmentalists argue that Canada’s pesticide registration process is broken because crop protection companies conduct their own safety studies and submit the results to government regulators but don’t make the data public.

Companies and regulators are conspiring to bury the truth, they say.

John Giesy, a globally recognized toxicologist, said there’s a simple way to circumvent such conspiracy theories: make the corporate data public.

“My bottom line is I think companies are better served to be more transparent,” said Giesy, Canada research chair in environmental toxicology at the University of Sask-atchewan.“Otherwise, people assume you’re trying to hide (something) … and that’s not a good situation for anyone.”

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency doesn’t post the corporate safety data on the internet to protect corporate intelligence. It can cost millions to do safety tests, and competitors could steal and use the data if it was public.

As well, the toxicology data is complex and would be meaningless to most Canadians.

Giesy said those arguments have merit, but industry safety data is robust and releasing it could silence some critics.

“Industries are held to a pretty high standard by regulators, so the quality of science is generally much better than say a guy like me at a university,” he said.

“Make the information publicly available with some interpretation…. I think it stops a lot of the silliness.”

Critics of Health Canada consistently raise the issue of “secret” corporate data, but in reality company test data for registering a pesticide is not confidential.

As noted on the Health Canada website, it’s possible to examine the corporate data at the PMRA headquarters in Ottawa.

“Through the Reading Room, the public now has the opportunity to inspect the confidential test data supporting the decision to register a new pesticide active ingredient or a major amendment, re-evaluation or special review of a registered pesticide.”

The information in the Reading Room cannot be copied or re-moved but is available, thanks to the Pest Control Products Act.

“It’s probably the most transparent piece of legislation (for pesticides) in the world,” said Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry for CropLife Canada.

Environmental groups did use the Reading Room when the act came into effect a decade ago, but the safety information is mostly pages and pages of lab results.

“They (groups) weren’t happy because it was overwhelming,” Petelle said. “It was too much raw data (and) they didn’t know how to synthesize it.”

Regardless, Petelle said groups who slam Canada’s “broken” system for registering pesticides don’t really care about transparency. They oppose pesticides on principle and use the confidential safety data argument as a tool to hammer the crop protection industry.

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