Pesticides, risk and regulation – Health Canada gets this message right

When Amy and I were in Guelph, Ontario a few weeks ago, she aksed, “what’s with all the dandelions.”

I tried to explain how municipalities, and now the province of Ontario, were proposing bans on the so-called cosmetic use of pesticides, even if the use of such chemicals had been declared safe by scientists working for the federal government.

I have no intention of getting wound up in the pros, cons or otherwise of chemical use. But what has been absent in the public discussion of various risks is the voice of the government regulator, which can lead to the creation of an information vacuum, which can lead to all kinds of erroneous information amplified through various social media. It’s a well-documented phenomena, and I co-authored a 1997 book about it, Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk.

So it was an unexpected surprise when Richard Aucoin, acting executive director of Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, penned a lucid, articulate, and well-thought out letter which appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

“Health Canada’s priorities are the health and safety of Canadians and their food supply, and this primary mandate is applied when approving pesticides for use in Canada.

Under the Pest Control Products Act, if a pesticide (herbicide, insecticide, fungicide) meets our stringent health and environmental safety standards and proves value in its application, it must be approved for use. Only those products that meet Canada’s strict health and safety standards are registered for sale and use in Canada.

When determining if a pesticide can be used in Canada, Health Canada conducts extensive health and environmental scientific reviews.

Testing methods must have adhered to accepted international standards. The evaluation takes into account the available scientific information on potential health and environmental effects from publicly available studies including epidemiological and incident reports both nationally and internationally.

Health Canada employs over 300 qualified scientists dedicated to the evaluation of pesticides, many of whom have doctorates and masters credentials in the fields of human health sciences, environmental and agricultural sciences. This team carefully scrutinizes the scientific information available on all of the components of a product, including both the active and non-active ingredients.

In addition, before Health Canada makes a final decision on whether to allow the use of a pesticide, the Canadian public is invited to submit comments and questions.

All chemical substances have inherent risks, which is why Health Canada has a dedicated regulatory program in place to review pesticides.

Given the rigour of the evaluation process, we are confident that the pesticides approved for use in Canada, including lawn and garden products, can be used safely under the prescribed circumstances indicated on the label.

Canadians should use pesticides judiciously, carefully follow label directions, and take measures to become better informed about their safe and effective use.
Any questions about pesticides can be addressed to Health Canada’s Pesticide Information Services at 1-800-267-6315.”