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Health Canada to allow even more glyphosate in our food?

Peter Ewart
Peter Ewart

BY PETER EWART

Special to the News

The federal government agency Health Canada is proposing to dramatically increase the allowable amount of glyphosate in the food that Canadians eat, as well as that found in imported food.  To that end, it is conducting a public consultation that has been extended to September 3, 2021, to allow for more public input (see below for submission link). 

Glyphosate, sometimes known as Roundup, is a potent weed killer that is sprayed extensively on crops, forest and lands across the country and around the world.  Pesticide companies like Bayer-Monsanto that manufacture glyphosate and various government regulators in North America claim that the weedkiller is harmless.  However, many scientists, foresters, environmentalists, and members of the community believe that glyphosate-based products pose a significant danger to the health of humans, animals, insects and the environment at large (1). 

Despite the ongoing controversy over the safety of glyphosate, Health Canada is seriously considering a proposal that the Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for the weedkiller be jacked up (2).  For example, according to Safe Food Matters, a Canadian-based, non-profit group, the MRL for dry beans is to be raised from 4 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm, a 375% increase.  For lentils, the increase is from 4 ppm to 10 ppm, a 250 per cent increase; for wheat germ and wheat bran, from 5 ppm to 15, a 300 per cent increase; and for rolled oats, an increase of 233 per cent.  Dry peas, chick peas, and tree nuts will also have their MRLs raised significantly (3).

Besides the impact on the health of the general population, Safe Food Matters argues that the sectors that will be most affected are Canadian children who already have alarming levels of glyphosate in their cereal, as well as vegetarians and “everyone who gains protein from ‘conventionally’ grown legumes and nuts”.

Safe Food Matters lists a number of serious concerns that it has with the raising of glyphosate limits in our food.  These include that glyphosate has been designated a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  In that regard, tens of thousands of patients who now suffer from cancer, have launched lawsuits in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere against Bayer-Monsanto costing the company billions of dollars.

In addition to pointing to a range of other health and environmental problems, scientific research has shown that glyphosate “depletes beneficial species in the human gut microbiome” and “perturbs the balance of microbes in the bee gut” potentially contributing to a decline in the insects pollinating capability which affects crop yields and environmental health.  A recent study by UNBC researchers has shown that, far from disappearing quickly from plants and berries, as alleged by Bayer–Monsanto, glyphosate residue can linger for some years (4).

In its submission to Health Canada, the National Farmers Union (NFU) expresses concern that “higher MRLs will increase farmers’ and other nearby residents’ exposure to glyphosate directly by occupational exposure and indirectly through spray drift” (5).  It further goes on to say that “recent research reveals that exposure to glyphosate and other pesticides causes harmful epigenetic changes in humans, animals and microorganisms, which are passed down to subsequent generations through inheritance” and that “exposure to glyphosate has been shown to cause significantly higher incidence of certain diseases in the third generation decedents of exposed animal subjects.”

In recent years, Health Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies, have given credibility to a number of so-called “independent” scientific reports by researchers supporting the claims of Bayer-Monsanto.  However, in several court cases in the U.S., evidence has emerged that a number of these reports have been “ghost-written” by Bayer-Monsanto personnel under false pretenses (6).

In another development, the European Union’s General Court has just ruled European lawmakers “must have access to scientific studies used by European authorities” that have claimed (in support of Bayer-Monsanto’s claim) that glyphosate does not cause cancer (7).  Previously, European authorities had used these studies to classify the weedkiller as safe, but had refused to make them public, “based on the argument that it could harm the commercial interests of companies that presented the studies.” It will be interesting to see what the scientific verdict is on these previously secret studies, a number of which were submitted by the weedkiller corporations themselves.

So, despite all the controversy over glyphosate and the scientific evidence against its use, why is Health Canada pushing forward with this proposal to increase the permissible levels of glyphosate even higher?  What’s the hurry?  Could it be because the big weedkiller manufacturers like Bayer–Monsanto are launching a counter-offensive of their own in response to the growing movement in the world calling for a glyphosate ban? Or that they are trying to pre-empt even more damning research that is emerging about the dangers of the chemical?

Still another reason could be that, because the residue levels continue to rise in crop samples as a result of the widespread over-use of the weedkiller, the amount permitted by regulation has to be upped to compensate for the increase in order to sell the crops domestically and internationally as being “safe” and within regulations.

Whatever the case, the deadline for submissions to the Health Canada public consultations has been extended to September 3, 2021, because, according to the government, of “the level of interest and number of comments received to date and COVID delays” (8)

Here is the link to the Health Canada website and details on filing a submission: Proposed Maximum Residue Limit PMRL2021-10, Glyphosate – Canada.ca (#Note: Go to the “Next Steps” section of the website to submit comments) or go to:  https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/contact-us/pest-management-regulatory-agency-publications.html

Peter Ewart is a writer based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

  1. Stop the Spray BC. http://stopthespraybc.com/
  2. Health Canada Proposed Maximum Residue Limit PMRL2021-10, Glyphosate – Canada.ca
  3. Safe Food Matters. Health Canada wants to increase glyphosate in food. July 10, 2021 https://safefoodmatters.org/2021/07/10/health-canada-wants-to-increase-glyphosate-in-food/
  4. Botten N., Wood L.J, & Werner, J.R. “Glyphosate remains in forest plant tissues for a decade or more.”  Forest Ecology and Management. 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112721003479
  5. Submission to PMRA on glyphosate Maximum Residue Limit. National Farmers Union. July 15, 2021 : https://www.nfu.ca/policy/submission-to-pmra-on-glyphosate-proposed-maximum-residue-limit/
  6. Monsanto’s unethical ghost writing practices revealed in emails between executives. September 26, 2019. https://www.mainstreetlawfirm.com/post/monsanto-ghost-writing-revealed
  7. Glyphosate: EU agency must release censored study, court says. DW. Accessed August 4, 2021 https://www.dw.com/en/glyphosate-eu-agency-must-release-censored-study-court-says/a-47804040
  8. Honeycutt, Zen L. “Big Ag pressures Canada to raise allowable glyphosate levels on food during health crisis.” July 9, 2021. https://www.momsacrossamerica.com/big_ag_pressures_canada_to_raise_allowable_glyphosate_levels_on_food_during_health_crisis

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