Opinion – We must end our addiction to pesticides

On May 15, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, launched consultations on the development of Canada’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to follow up on the promises made at COP15, held in Montreal last December. In order to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, Target 7 — much less ambitious than originally planned — aims to reduce the overall risk from pesticides by 50% by 2030.

Whereas 60 years ago, the book silent spring, by Rachel Carson, already denounced the excessive use of pesticides and their repercussions on biodiversity, it is appalling to see that Canada has never had and still does not have a plan aimed at reducing the use of pesticides. Despite a rhetoric advocating the reduction of these, their use has continued to increase over the past thirty years, particularly in the agricultural sector. Glyphosate-based herbicides (HBGs) are the most widely used pesticides on the planet as well as in Canada, where a total of nearly 470 million kilograms were sold between 2007 and 2018. HBGs accounted for 58% of pesticides used in the agricultural sector in Canada in 2017, particularly for genetically modified crops and legumes, but also in forestry. Overall, sales of agricultural herbicides in Canada increased by 234% between 1994 and 2020, including those based on glyphosate, whose sales increased by 51% between 2007 and 2017 alone.

Impacts on the health of ecosystems and populations

For many years, specialists have been pointing out the serious threats to biodiversity and our entry into the sixth mass extinction. Indeed, pesticides have been recognized as one of the causes of the rapid and catastrophic collapse in the number of animal and plant species. In study after study, the decline of birds, pollinators and insects is associated with the massive use of pesticides that find their way north from the Arctic to the depths of the Amazon rainforest. In Canada, HBG is sprayed on the boreal forest, a place of great biodiversity, despite the repeated requests to stop by many indigenous communities, and even though this practice is not necessary (as shown by the example of Quebec, which has banned it since 2001).

National and international objectives for the preservation of biodiversity can therefore only be achieved if the use of pesticides is considerably reduced. We believe that Canada must adopt a biodiversity strategy that includes clear and strong objectives in this area.

Moreover, while the deleterious effects of pesticides for exposed people are very well documented in the independent scientific literature, a major reduction in the use of pesticides would make it possible to both protect biodiversity and the health of populations, the government making thus killing two birds with one stone, he who also has a duty to protect human health.

Ratings and Uses of Concern

It is therefore urgent to put in place a credible reduction plan to meet our commitment to reduce the effects of pesticides by 50% by 2030.

This plan must be accompanied by an in-depth reform of the evaluation of pesticides carried out by Health Canada. This new evaluation will have to take into account the effects of the commercial formulations used, and not only the ingredients declared “active” by the agrochemical companies. It must also be based on the most recent independent scientific studies reviewed by peers, and not mainly on confidential studies carried out by the firms themselves.

This strategy must put forward a national reduction target for pesticide sales of at least 50%, like the one set by the European Union in 2020. To this end, it is important not only that all policy guidelines Canadian agricultural producers take these targets into consideration, but also that they support and finance agricultural alternatives integrating an important biodiversity (such as organic farming) to allow farmers to move away from this model of cash crops based on chemical inputs. There is also a need to increase public support for independent agricultural research and knowledge transfer, which builds on resilient and self-sustaining agroecosystems and does not rely on the increased use of inputs, but rather on knowledge and ecological services.

Achieving these objectives cannot be done without resolving the major problem of scientific and regulatory capture of the Canadian agencies responsible for the evaluation and regulatory supervision of pesticides by the agrochemical industry. As long as it exists, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency “will promote commercial interests over the imperatives of public health and environmental protection.” This regulatory capture was recently illustrated in the file of new GMOs with the volte-face of the Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau, on the voluntary transparency finally granted to agrochemical companies, or in the file of the maximum residue limit that Health Canada has proposed to increase at the request of pesticide vendors.

We are therefore calling on Mr. Guilbeault for a 2030 Biodiversity Strategy that respects the demands repeatedly made by independent scientists, citizens and Indigenous communities in Canada. We also collectively hope that the decisions emanating from this strategy will — finally — be consistent with the stated intentions and commitments made by the Canadian government before the 20,000 delegates from more than 190 countries and Member States at COP15.

* Also co-signed this letter:
-Thibault Rehn, coordinator of Vigilance OGM
-Amandine François, coordinator of Pesticide Victims of Quebec
-Léon Bibeau-Mercier, agr., president of the Cooperative for Ecological Local Agriculture (CAPÉ)
-Louise Vandelac and Marie-Hélène Bacon, Ecohealth Research Collective on Pesticides, Policies and Alternatives (CREPPA), UQAM
-Maryse Bouchard, PhD, Associate Professor, National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS) – Armand-Frappier Health Biotechnology Center and Researcher, Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center
-Stéphanie Harnois, Communications and Public Affairs Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation
-Karelle Trottier, Project Manager in Sustainable Development and Environmental Health, Women in the Environment Network
-Meg Sears, PhD, Prevent Cancer Now
-Mary Lou McDonald, President, Safe Food Matters
-Gaspar Lépine, coordinator, Union Paysanne
-Catherine Lambert Koizumi, Executive Director, Mi’gmaq and Wolastoqey Aboriginal Fisheries Management Association (AGHAMW)
-Lise Parent, TÉLUQ University, Ecohealth Research Collective on Pesticides, Policies and Alternatives (CREPPA), UQAM
-Diego Creimer, Finance and Biodiversity Director, Society for Nature and Parks – CPAWS Quebec
-Sarah-Katherine Lutz, Executive Director, YOUTH ENVIRONMENT
-Claire Bolduc, agr., former president of the Ordre des agronomes du Québec and prefect of the MRC de Témiscamingue
-Chantal Levert, General Coordinator, Quebec Network of Ecological Groups – RQGE
-Bernie McKenna, President, Halifax Field Naturalists Society
-John Roff, Chair, St Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association

– Sydnee McKay, Stop Spraying and Clearcutting Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia)
-Beth Cranston, Communications & Social Media Manager, Annapolis Waterkeepers
-Bev Wigney, Annapolis Environment & Ecology Group
-Charlotte Dawe, Conservation and Policy Campaigner, Wilderness Committee
-Bob Bancroft, President, Nature Nova Scotia
-Patricia Egli, Treasurer, Eastern Shore Forest Watch (ESFW)

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