New attack on glyphosate requires immediate action

Vietnam’s decision to ban farmers from using glyphosate is troubling in three ways: it appears to rely on decisions set by lay juries rather than science, it appears also to apply to imports, and it may be the beginning of a trend.

Canada exports about $297 million in agricultural products annually to Vietnam, so the trade is not major (wheat, flax and pork, among others).

The government of Vietnam is a one-party communist system that doesn’t entertain dissent, so despite the fact that the country has 25 million farmers (out of a population of 97 million) the rulers don’t have to explain their decisions.

It appears that Vietnam’s decision is a response to two court judgments in California assigning blame to glyphosate for cancer.

If this keeps up, a series of court decisions could well pressure governments to restrict the use of glyphosate, or importers could decide not to allow any glyphosate residue in grain.

If glyphosate were banned, farmers would either return to tilling to deal with weeds, which would dramatically increase the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, or use other herbicides that may be worse for the environment.

Sri Lanka banned glyphosate in 2015 but lifted the ban in 2018 after a drastic drop in tea production.

There is a strong global initiative by environmental organizations to ban glyphosate, despite the science.

And what of the science?

Glyphosate is among the most extensively tested pesticides in the world. As Health Canada notes, “No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.”

Numerous studies have found similar results on grain consumption in diets.

Health Canada released a statement in 2017 that concluded, “Glyphosate is not genotoxic (cell mutations possibly leading to cancer) and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk…”

Following objections, Health Canada reviewed glyphosate again, this time using 20 government scientists who were not associated with the review two years earlier. In January, Health Canada released a statement saying it left “no stone unturned” in reviewing glyphosate — and upheld its earlier findings.

Critics say these scientists aren’t independent enough. They want a review done by scientists with no ties to governments or Monsanto (now Bayer, which makes Roundup.) That assumes hundreds of scientists throughout the world have colluded, a conspiracy theory greater than the moon landing that never happened.

Critics also cite a 2015 finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which concluded glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” and placing it in the Group 2A category, along with red meat, very hot drinks and shift work that disrupts circadian rhythms.

Yet the following year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that “the only large cohort study of high quality found no evidence of an association (with cancer) at any exposure level.”

Italy has used the presence of glyphosate residues as a political tool to dramatically curtail imports of Canada’s durum to protect its domestic market. India initially issued a statement warning consumers about the presence of glyphosate in lentils, but later backed off. But in both countries, levels of glyphosate in Canadian imports were found many times lower than the maximum residue limits.

The voices of the opposition are loud and they are gaining ground. It would be prudent for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor to advocate Health Canada’s findings and reassure consumers, and countries that import Canada’s agricultural products, that Canada’s grain is among the best quality and safest in the world.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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