Health Canada has concluded a re-evaluation of glyphosate, the herbicide sold under the brand names Roundup and Vision, and determined the chemical safe for use, a move that has received criticism from environmental groups.
Part of the regular re-examination of all registered pesticides, the assessment looked at the potential human health risks of glysphosate in relation to drinking water, food, occupational and bystander exposure and environmental risks to other life forms.
“Following a rigorous science-based assessment, Health Canada has determined that when used according to the label, products containing glyphosate are not a concern to human health and the environment,” reads a Health Canada statement.
The re-evaluation includes an update on requirements for product labels and further recommendations for home use of glyphosate products. By April 2019, product labels must state that re-entry into sprayed agricultural areas should be at least 12 hours after application, that the product should be applied only when the potential to spread to areas of human activity is minimal, as well as instructions for spray buffer zones and reduction of potential runoff into aquatic areas.
As a weed-killer for food and fibre crops, home gardens, turfs and lawns across the country, glyphosate is the most-used herbicide in Canada. The new report concludes that products containing glyphosate are “unlikely to affect your health” when used according to product label directions and that dietary risks from glyphosate residue in food and water are “not of concern.”
The news has been greeted with criticism from environmental groups who maintain that Health Canada has ignored scientific evidence on glyphosate’s negative health and environmental impacts. “The widespread use of glyphosate is contaminating the environment and the food we eat,” said Louise Hénault-Éthier, science projects manager at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Research shows that glyphosate is persistent and that buffer zones are not necessarily effective in preventing run-off to streams.”
In a joint statement, the David Suzuki Foundation along with the environmental groups Équiterre and Ecojustice have called on Health Canada to reconsider its evaluation and restrict the use of glyphosate, adding that glyphosate use has played a role in the decline of monarch butterfly populations, which depend on milkweed, a plant that has been “virtually eradicated” in corn- and soy-growing regions of North America.
“Health Canada recognizes there are risks to using glyphosate that warrant those labelling changes,” says Annie Berube, director of government relations at Équiterre, “but the burden cannot be on users to manage the risks of using glyphosate by following instructions on labels. It is incumbent upon Health Canada to protect Canadians’ health and our environment, and pesticide labels alone are insufficient.”
The Health Canada report maintains that glyphosate plays “an important role in Canadian weed management,” that it is essential for glyphosate tolerant crops like canola, soybean, corn and sugar beet and that it serves as an effective tool in controlling invasive weed species and toxic plants.
“Health Canada will continue to monitor research on potential impacts of glyphosate products to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and the environment,” reads the statement.
Last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released a report which found traces of glyphosate in almost 30 per cent of 3,200 food products tested, along with residue levels above the acceptable limits in 1.3 per cent of samples tested.