Trust Health Canada on pesticide issue, meeting hears

Nigel Armstrong
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David Thompson, president and owner of Weed Man speaks to a workshop on pesticides hosted by Stratford Town Council. Thompson and the company are based in Halifax with branches in all Maritime provinces.

Stratford hosts municipal leaders from across P.E.I. to hear industry heavyweights

A title match was held on P.E.I. last week as pesticide heavyweights squared off in Stratford.

A workshop was hosted by Stratford Town Council for the benefit of all Island municipalities considering a pesticide ban. By invitation, mayors and councillors attended from Charlottetown, Cornwall, Summerside and Montague, as well as host Stratford and the Federation of Municipalities.

The national regulator of pesticides was on hand from Ottawa, as was an industry group called CropLife Canada; along with Peter Gordon, a voracious opponent of pesticides, the Canadian Cancer Society and the lawn spray company Weed Man.

The take-away seemed to be that if using a reasonableness principle, there isn’t a drop of science worthy of local pesticide bans, leaving such bans as a strictly political issue.

Cementing that interpretation with a lead-off presentationwas Lindsay Hanson, down from Ottawa with the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada.

He outlined how 300 scientists within the agency sift staggering amounts of data to find safe exposure levels to individual chemicals, then set limits even lower than that to be super sure. Pregnant women and children who might play right on a treated area are part of the calculations and deliberations, said Hanson.

Most chemicals have some risk but low doses make them safe.

“People ask, what is acceptable risk,” said Hanson.

Turns out to be “reasonable certainty of no harm to health, future generations and the environment for user exposure when used according to label conditions.”

Studies used by Health Canada are paid for by the chemical company, but have to be done according to processes demanded by Health Canada by independent laboratories following international standards.

So who are you going to trust, asks Pierre Petelle of Ottawa, vice president of Crop Life Canada, which represents chemical manufactures.

The chemical companies want to protect their brand and don’t want to jeopardize the science of Health Canada’s assessment system, he said.

He said getting approval takes about 10 years and $250 million.

Roger Gordon, of Pesticide Free P.E.I., said he has success with salt, vinegar and soap in getting rid of dandelions and eating them when they are young. He highlighted studies, and studies of studies, to say that pesticides increase risk of cancer.

So again, who do you believe, asked David Thompson, president of Week Man in the Maritimes

“Well I have a pretty simple answer to that,” he said “It’s Health Canada. That’s what Health Canada does. It analyzes all the available data.

“Why are we second guessing their judgment when they do their job and they do it so thoroughly,” said Thompson.

Bill Whelan, chair of the board of the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Cancer Society, said that acceptable risk is not acceptable at all.

“The Canadian Cancer Society asks, you, our community leaders, to but the health of your constituents ahead of the health of a green lawn. We implore you to do that,” said Whelan.

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society, Health Canada, Stratford Town Council Federation of Municipalities Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada Crop Life Canada P.E.I. division

Geographic location: Ottawa, Stratford, Iceland Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Anne
    June 28, 2015 - 23:42

    William HG & NG.... Who are you a mouthpiece for ? Apparently you're butting in to every city and province's affairs concerning pesticide bans. Since you can't live everywhere...why not MYOB ?

  • pedro the farmer
    May 08, 2015 - 20:31

    CropLife International's members include most of the world's largest agriculture companies such as BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC Corp., Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. Croplife has such an axe to grind that they are not even worth reading.

  • Amy Macpherson
    May 08, 2015 - 15:04

    Wow is definitely the first word that comes to mind. I have to ask, if the people of this province want a ban then why wouldn't we get one? And why have we decided that some of the first food our struggling pollinators( yes that's right bees pollinate food so we can eat it) get to eat in the spring is unworthy of our sight? It's so foolish its hard to know whether its one huge joke or not. People are so farm removed from nature and what is required to keep a healthy balance that they are actually willing to spray chemicals on their lawns and parks to kill a flower!!!! How anyone can stand infront of the citizens they have been elected to represent and say that its ok to spray chemicals, which most of us do not want, to reduce unsightly weeds, and not realize how ridiculous they sound.

    • Anne
      June 28, 2015 - 23:49

      Maybe since it's an election year all the cities and provinces should get together and insist the federal government, and the other parties all agree to put in a proper ban right across our country. Shall we start a petition ?

  • JOHN
    May 08, 2015 - 14:10

    Weed Man sprayed the lawn next to us a number or years ago and yes there must have been a slight breeze because what ever chemical they used on the lawn drifted over onto our property and killed all the flowers planted in our front flower bed. We contacted the local company at the time and were told that wouldn't be the reason that all the flowers in the flower bed died. Don't tell me that these chemicals are safe! We eat and breathe more crap then is reasonably safe and that is why we have the high rates of most diseases in the country. Peter Gordon is right on this issue! The businesses dealing with chemicals are in this for themselves. They want to make money and they don't give a darn about people's health. It is all about MONEY!

  • Once a Smoker
    May 08, 2015 - 13:57

    This is the tobacco fight all over again only with pesticides. They do everything humanly possible to stall the inevitable. Nobody was stupid enough to REALLY believe you could breath carcinogenic substances and expect it not affect your health. Same thing with the pesticides only in this case its even worse because there are so many being mixed together in a carcinogenic cocktail. It's big industry going after our money and people are wising up. No surprise that they'll buy Health Canada and lie and cover up and everything else that the tobacco industry did.

  • Roger Gordon
    May 08, 2015 - 12:30

    "this Roger Gordon guy has no clue what he is talking about." Oh, hive me a break. He has published over 60 scientific articles in peer-reviewed international journals about his research on biological and chemical pesticides, received an award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada for over 25years of continuous, peer-reviewed funding, served as Editor of a leading scientific journal, supervised the programs of numerous graduate and honours students, and I could go on. Roger Gordon s program was not funded by the pesticide industry, so he has no vested interest in presenting biased or false information. The closed door meeting in Stratford was biased in so far as having a majority of presenters speaking from the pro Health Canada perspective. This Guardian article is totally biased, very poor journalism. If HC and the PMRA do such a wonderful job, why are ddt, lead arsenate, carbofuran, aldrin, etc etc not being used any more? They were all once approved for use.

    • Quiet Observer
      May 08, 2015 - 14:19

      Both sides of this debate need to be careful about their interpretations and presentations of fact - not everything said in these comments is true and a lot of what is said is said for self-serving purposes. Let the peer-reviewed science speak for itself. Leave personal emotion and feelings out of it.

      June 13, 2015 - 22:57

      Bill Whelan is wasting our time. Even Canadian Cancer Society’s own web-sites state repeatedly that scientific research does NOT provide a conclusive link between pest control products and cancer.

    May 08, 2015 - 11:27

    I am not concerned with Health Canada, I am concerned with the individuals out spaying these poisons. The last time they were in my area I requested an MSDS from the person and he did not know what it was. Any individual using chemicals of any kind must have a MSDS on hand for treatment in case something happens. How can this company operate safely and responsibility when their employees do not even know what they are spraying? MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)

  • Matilda
    May 08, 2015 - 09:49

    The Government of Canada's website tells us approved Health Canada products have a PCP label for bug sprays that says "for use on humans". They also state to never use a product labelled as an insecticide on your body. Chemical companies establish a safe exposure level in their controlled testing. What control do they have after that insecticide or herbicide product gets sprayed on a farmer's field? Volatilisation (vapor drift), and runoff that contaminate drinking water supplies, can then take place and cumulatively expose us beyond those "so-called" safe exposure levels in that one farmer's field, especially in a small province so densely farmed. How difficult is that to figure out? How many years did it take to finally get the tobacco industry to admit that the cigarette-cancer link was a fact and smoking did indeed cause 90% of lung cancers? We can only hope something is done sooner rather than later. An interesting article for anyone who cares to read it and an insight into what chemical companies will resort to to discredit the findings of a scientist (hired by their own company) when that scientist finds fault with one of their products is a Feb 10, 2014 article in the New Yorker entitled "A Valuable Reputation". Global News also has a video on the same story published in April, 2014 called "Full Story : Pesticide Peril".

  • Eyes wide open
    May 08, 2015 - 09:05

    For those who think the citizens who are against pesticides base our decisions on Roger Gordon alone, who incidentally bases his decisions on meta analyses, read this and tell me we have no reason to be concerned. Do any of these health issues sound familiar?

  • Trust Health Canada?
    May 08, 2015 - 08:00

    In the 90s, Health Canada followed the FDA's lead and approved the use of Oxycontin in the treatment of chronic pain. Up until then, opioids like Oxycontin were used for end of life pain (i.e. cancer). Health Canada listened to the pharmaceutical companies who heavily marketed it as safe for chronic pain. That marketing campaign is considered one of the most successful campaigns in US history. The perceived safety of oxycontin was based on the pharmaceutical company’s flawed and biased studies. Yet, Health Canada approved Oxycontin based on these studies, and many other opioids followed. Opioids became a huge money maker for pharmaceutical companies who continued to market it as safe despite the rise in addictions and death. Today, we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic with thousands of people dying every year and communities being destroyed. Pharmaceutical companies in the USA have been criminally convicted and fined for misleading the FDA and medical community about the addictive qualities of Oxycontin and other opioids. Too little too late. This is why I cannot put my entire faith in Health Canada, especially when industry is behind the studies.

  • Island Observer
    Island Observer
    May 08, 2015 - 07:23

    This is quite interesting. We rely on Health Canada to review and allow the use of human health products and pharmaceuticals, but some people think they're not to be trusted when reviewing pesticides. Those same people get upset when Stratford Town Council invited Health Canada to actually present information to them about their methodology and processes for reviewing and approving products for use in Canada so that the elected councillors and municipal representatives could hear that directly rather than to rely on second hand, biased presentations about Health Canada's methodology by the activists. I wish this had been a public meeting, because I'd like an opportunity to hear Health Canada myself. The activists don't represent me - I trust Health Canada more than them, and that's who we need to hear from to make up our minds on issues like pesticide bans. Thanks for covering this, and I can only imagine the backlash of comments that will be on the story shortly.

    • Quiet Observer
      May 08, 2015 - 08:50

      Well said.

    • Matilda
      May 08, 2015 - 10:09

      To Island Observer: Thalidomide was licensed for prescription use on April 1, 1961 in Canada. Need I say more?

    • Island Observer
      Island Observer
      May 08, 2015 - 11:45

      To Matilda: a lot of things have changed in the 55 years since. Do we avoid using all pharmaceuticals because of thalidomide? There have been many drugs approved that have helped many of us since then as well. I think it's good to hear from Health Canada about their process and scientists. That's all I'd like.

  • Peter Johnsson
    May 08, 2015 - 07:07

    Trust Health Canada on pesticide issue, meeting hears ... Why would, or how could, anyone trust Health Canada when they (HC) want to ban e-cigs which haven't been proven to be harmful, but refuse to ban tobacco cigs which have been proved harmful time and time again?

  • Quiet Observer
    May 08, 2015 - 07:06

    This certainly confuses things.

  • Mike
    May 08, 2015 - 05:57

    So why is Chtown looking at putting a ban in place and spending a whole lot of money they dont have? Health Canada and 300 scientist vs Roger Gordon and high paying salaries "cancer society"....This Roger Gordon guy has no clue what he is talking about salt vinagar do you know how toxic both are very toxic and it kills all living plants including the lawn grass! Ban these companies and I will cross the boarder and by the products myself! Or get my buddies at the golf course to mix me up some juice!

  • Grany Johnson
    May 08, 2015 - 05:56

    Thank you Bill for standing up for "Reasonableness"! It's reasonable to just not use pesticides. Just say no. I love my kids and pets.

  • Jim
    May 08, 2015 - 05:26

    Pretty well sums thing up (Studies used by Health Canada are paid for by the chemical company) So we know how those studies are going to turn out. Whatever the chemical company tells health canada they want in the report.

  • Kazimiera J. Cottam, PhD
    May 08, 2015 - 04:02

    First, how do you expect readers to decipher the text below? Does it have to be so messy or else the comment will be compromised? Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has no labs of its own and completely depends on the chemical industry for products' evaluation. Most definitely the PMRA cannot be trusted. Also biased in favour of the chemical industry is CropLife Canada, a branch of an American company.

    • Henry
      June 14, 2015 - 11:40

      Jean, you are so confusing. Yesterday I was reading comments by Jean Cottam, for this comment you are using a different name for your introduction. So please answer me this, does your name depend on the day, your emotional state, time of day, or which ghost writer is using it. Your PhD, History isn't it? European and Russian?

  • Tanya
    May 07, 2015 - 23:13

    It's nice to see Health Canada using science and evidence to get the point across. Of course it fell on deaf ears to those oppossed to what they don't understand.

    • Wake-up
      May 09, 2015 - 12:35

      You are naive!..check into Health Canada's history of approving chemicals that later proved harmful to humans, animals and the planet. They approved DDT, 2 4 D, thalidomide, neonicotinoids and a whole slew of other crap that should never have been approved and were later withdrawn from market BUT they favour corporations over the citizens' health - if you investigate you will see. A few years ago a couple of Health Canada scientists resigned because a compromised Minister of Health at the time (forget who) was pressuring them to approve the bovine growth hormone for dairy and they found some serious problems with it and did not want it approved. And you as a cancer survivor I would think would be strongly motivated to check deeply. For instance, the World Health Organization just announced that glyphosate was carcninogenic! That is in Roundup, used widely on PEI for eg.: used on 35,000 acres of GMO soybeans grown on PEI last year, used on GMO corn and widely used by farmers and homeowners to destroy what they consider to be noxious weeds.

  • K. J. Cottam, PhD
    May 07, 2015 - 22:58

    Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has no labs of its own and merely cites the results obtained in industry labs in the United States. Thus it is not to be trusted. CropLife Canada is an American organization that promotes pesticides as well.

  • wayne k
    May 07, 2015 - 22:42

    Killing Dandelions to have a rug with "Kentucky Blue Grass" only is so important any side effects to our ground water which is what is in Islander's taps will be ignored??? What's wrong with clover, wild flowers berries maybe and whatever comes up. Being too lazy to hand weed some is that it?