Glyphosate has been a big story over the past 12 months: Dewayne Johnson’s multi-million dollar payout, numerous countries attempting to phase it out or outright ban it, and a new wave of certified “Glyphosate Residue Free” food labels. With this onslaught of pressure, it’s really not surprising that Health Canada had to reevaluate its previous conclusion of glyphosate’s safety.
In 2017, Health Canada undertook a “final re-evaluation” of the embattled product, in which it assessed the “potential human health risk of glyphosate from drinking water, food, occupational and bystander exposure, as well as the environmental risk to non-target organisms” (Health Canada). Their conclusion?
“The overall finding from the re-examination of glyphosate is highlighted as follows:
- Glyphosate is not genotoxic and is unlikely to pose a human cancer risk.
- Dietary (food and drinking water) exposure associated with the use of glyphosate is not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health.
- Occupational and residential risks associated with the use of glyphosate are not of concern, provided that updated label instructions are followed.
- The environmental assessment concluded that spray buffer zones are necessary to mitigate potential risks to non-target species (for example, vegetation near treated areas, aquatic invertebrates and fish) from spray drift.
- When used according to revised label directions, glyphosate products are not expected to pose risks of concern to the environment.
- All registered glyphosate uses have value for weed control in agriculture and non-agricultural land management.”
– Re-evaluation Decision RVD2017-01, Glyphosate. PMRA. 28 April 2017.
As a farmer, I knew all this. We have used this amazing product on our farm for over 40 years! It has been the single greatest contributor to the single greatest agricultural revolution in Western Canadian history: no-till (what is no-till? Read more here). It has saved thousands of tonnes of topsoil, along with all the nutrients and organic matter contained in it, and fundamentally changed the sustainability of Western Canadian farms.
Following the release of this decision, Health Canada received eight notices of objection, along with some questions about the validity of the scientific articles claiming glyphosate’s safety. So, the question had to be re-analyzed: is glyphsate safe? Or has the scientific community been unduly influenced by the much-maligned Monsanto?
For the record, I don’t and have never worked for Monsanto, and they have zero influence over what I choose to grow on my farm. Some of my crops contain the Roundup-Ready gene, including some of my canola and soybean acres, but they don’t force me to grow their crops – it is and always has been my choice!
Monsanto is often touted as the big bad of Big Ag, the lobbying powerhouse who controls governments around the world. Here’s a reality check: not only was Monsanto not the most powerful company in the world, it wasn’t even the biggest agriculture company. In fact, Monsanto no longer exists. Bayer bought them out last year, and even the Monsanto name is gone forever.
Many companies in the food industry are larger than Monsanto. Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon) has revenues several times larger than Monsanto!
So, the idea that Monsanto can influence government policy in any significant way is simply laughable. They are just not big enough.
The Re-evaluation Results
On January 11, 2019, Health Canada released a statement containing the results of the thorough scientific review they undertook to consider the objections raised to their 2017 paper.
“Our scientists left no stone unturned in conducting this review. To help ensure an unbiased assessment of the information, Health Canada selected a group of 20 of its own scientists who were not involved in the 2017 re-evaluation to evaluate the notices of objection.”
Clearly, they took the objections seriously and checked all relevant sources for information. They went to significant lengths to ensure no bias in their report. Here is their final conclusion:
“…we have concluded that the concerns raised by the objectors could not be scientifically supported when considering the entire body of relevant data. The objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate. Therefore, the Department’s final decision will stand.” (read more here)
Why This Decision Is So Important
Science has been challenged in so many places in the last several years. Too often, governments give in to non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and so on, without considering real scientific evidence. It seems sometimes that the loudest voice gets the policy they want.
As farmers, we rely on scientists to help us understand what is safe, and to present that information to an increasingly concerned public. We rely on the scientific process; the process that created this amazing technologically advanced world we live in. The process that revolutionized medicine, travel, communications; the process that gave us clean drinking water, the lights you turn on every morning, and the car you take to work every day; the process that gave us the antibiotics and vaccinations that keep our children from getting sick.
Everything we have, and everything we can achieve, is because of science. Without it, we are alone in a cold, dark and dangerous world. It is because of the scientific process that democracy can exist. Any one of us, following the scientific method of trial and error; of controls and experimentation; of recording our results and letting our peers try the same experiment to see if it works for them too, regardless of who we are or where we came from, can seek and find the truth. Science is the greatest gift we have as a society.
Health Canada’s re-evaluation initially worried me: giving in to the vagaries of activists? What if their result is influenced by them?
But as I thought about it, I realized there could be only one decision. Only one result could come out of this re-evaluation: that glyphosate, if used as directed, is safe. Because that’s what the science has been telling us all along.
This decision by Health Canada reaffirms the crucial importance of the scientific method. It cannot be influenced by money, power or even the government itself. Only by careful, meticulous research and experimentation can we learn the truth. And that is exactly what happened here: science won the day. Let’s hope it always does.
A lot of organic organizations believe the it kills the microbes in the soil
What is your take on this
My response to that is that there is no research to say that glyphosate, if used as directed, would have any effect on the soil microbiology. If so, you can bet the PMRA would have flagged it in their report. However, soil microbiology is incredibly complex, so it is possible that it has an effect, but you could argue that its complexity makes it 1) impossible to understand what the effects are, if any; 2) complex systems adapt to external stimuli; and 3) what is the alternative to glyphosate? Tillage! Tillage is far, far more destructive to soil microbiology than glyphosate. No-till research proves that.