Farmers’ tool, not politicians’ tactic

Many urban voters have a negative impression of glyphosate, the most popular brand being Roundup, due to frivolous (even if successful) lawsuits in the United States, and pressure from the so-called environmental-defence crowd. | File photo

Ahead of a federal election call, three federal ministers called a halt to a process that would likely have yielded quick results on increasing the maximum residue limits for glyphosate applied to dry beans, lentils and peas.

Regular reviews of the scientific data for safe levels of pesticides on food products and in the environment take place to ensure the rules are in keeping with the science of the day and in harmony with our trading partners and other larger economies around the world. This ensures Canada operates within international trade standards.

Normally, politicians don’t intervene in scientific reviews. But when three ministers put a pause on the regular review process for a controversial, but scientifically-proven-safe chemistry at the same time an election is called, it appears self-serving.

Many urban voters have a negative impression of glyphosate, the most popular brand being Roundup, due to frivolous (even if successful) lawsuits in the United States, and pressure from the so-called environmental-defence crowd. And it appears the federal Liberals might be counting on avoiding another issue that could shift some votes to the New Democratic Party, or even the Greens, during the Sept. 20 election.

Glyphosate is drawing special attention despite herbicides such as bromoxynil and dicamba being reviewed for a variety of crop uses, and more than half a dozen popular fungicides are also up for MRL reviews.

In glyphosate’s case, one company that registered it for use on these crops has asked that it be reviewed with the intention that the MRLs be shifted into line with international standards, likely allowing expanded use of the product to dry down pulse crops.

Health Canada’s Pesticide Regulatory Management Agency has legal obligations under the Pest Control Products Act to scientifically and impartially assess the risks of all pesticides, including MRLs, using internationally accepted approaches.

Health Canada sets science-based MRLs for each pesticide-crop combination at levels well below the amount that could create health concerns.

Canada works with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius, as well as the U.S. and other international partners to ensure pesticide use is safe and globally acceptable for trade.

The glyphosate review is supposed to bring Canada’s low MRL on dry beans, of four parts per million and five ppm on peas, into line with the FAO-WHO recommendation from May 2019 of 15 for beans and 10 for lentils and peas.

Initially, the period for comments on the review of glyphosate’s MRLs would have closed July 20 after 45 days of public consultations. At that point it was extended to Sept. 3 due to the large number of public responses and due to delays related to COVID-19 staffing issues. This was a responsible move to allow any interested Canadian to provide their perspective on the matter, science-based or not. But intervention by elected politicians is a step too far.

The ministers claim the delay will improve the process and create greater transparency about the review, including the implementation of previously announced expanded, and much needed, funding in the department.

There is nothing wrong with improving the process and creating added transparency, including listing who has prompted this MRL review. But there may be something wrong with halting it mid-review and delaying the outcome ahead of an election. At the very least, it is a bad look and creates the perception of political interference.

Glyphosate is a tool for farmers, not politicians.

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

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