“Obstructed Transparency” at Health Canada | A scientific adviser on pesticides slams the door

“False sense of security”, “obsolete regulatory system”, “obstructed transparency”: the co-chair of Health Canada’s independent scientific committee on pesticides resigns, severely criticizing the federal agency which oversees the approval of these chemicals.

Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Dr. Bruce Lanphear, was appointed to lead Health Canada’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Pest Control Products in June 2022. This committee of nine independent experts was created in the wake of a fierce controversy that made headlines in 2021. Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) then proposed – following a request from pesticide manufacturer Monsanto Bayer – to raise the maximum residue limit of the herbicide glyphosate on beans and peas.

“Troublingly, I am concerned that the Scientific Advisory Committee-and my role as co-chair-is giving a false sense of security that the PMRA is protecting Canadians from toxic pesticides. Based on my experience over the past year, I cannot give that assurance,” Mr. Lanphear wrote in his English-language resignation letter that La Presse obtained.

The news was first reported Monday afternoon by The Canadian Press. Dr. Lanphear did not respond to our interview requests.

” Not trust “

The Scientific Advisory Committee is responsible for providing “independent scientific advice” to Health Canada to assist in its “decision making” surrounding the assessment of the health and environmental risks of pesticides.

In his letter, Dr. Lanphear deplores the fact that the scientific committee has a more limited mandate than another advisory committee on which representatives of the pesticide industry sit: the Pest Management Advisory Council.

If its mandate “is more restricted […] I have little or no confidence in the Scientific Advisory Committee’s ability to help PMRA become more transparent or ensure that Canadians are protected from toxic pesticides,” he added in his missive.

Should industry representatives – who have a clear and undeniable financial conflict of interest – be allowed to sit on the Pest Management Advisory Council? Absolutely not. Research over the past 50 years has clearly shown that people with financial conflicts of interest should not be allowed to serve on advisory boards of federal health agencies.

Dr. Bruce Lanphear, in his resignation letter

Dr. Lanphear also added that during a working session on the regulatory review process, several members of the advisory committee requested information on the evaluation and registration history of pesticides such as glyphosate (l most used herbicide in the world) and clorpyrifos, a controversial insecticide suspected of harming the neurological development of children.

“My requests-which have been amplified by other members of the scientific advisory committee-have been rejected,” he wrote.

“To be fair, legal considerations may have prevented PMRA staff from discussing the disputed pesticides. However, if legal constraints prevent the PMRA from discussing regulatory decisions—that is, they impede transparency—how can Canadians be sure they are protected? »

That’s why he concludes his letter by writing that the way the PMRA regulates pesticides needs to be overhauled.

” Seriously “

Called to respond, Health Canada sent us a written statement by email. In particular, she states that the PMRA takes its role as regulator “seriously”.

“The pesticide review process it uses remains completely science-based. In March 2022, the PMRA established a Transformation Process, which, among other initiatives, aims to increase transparency to support public participation in pesticide decision-making. This includes taking advice from a variety of sources and committees, including scientific experts, industry representatives and other stakeholders. These include the Scientific Advisory Committee on Pest Control Products and the Pest Management Advisory Council.

The file of the increase in pesticide residues in food had caused an outcry in Quebec. A few weeks before the federal election was called in 2021, the government had suspended the plans for an increase in progress. This suspension was partially lifted on June 20. It currently affects certain products whose names have not been revealed, but not glyphosate.

Mr. Lanphear’s letter of resignation is dated June 27.

“The resignation of Mr. Lanphear and the dossier of maximum pesticide residue limits are revealing of the fact that Health Canada is struggling with regulatory capture,” reacted Laure Mabileau, spokesperson for the activist group Vigilence OGM.

“As long as Health Canada does not address this obvious issue, government policies will primarily favor the commercial interests of pesticide manufacturers rather than the health of the population,” she added.

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