Environmental activist groups in Canada have accused the country's health ministry, Health Canada, of being secretly influenced by Monsanto when it renewed its approval of the chemical glyphosate, the primary ingredient in the company's flagship product, RoundupTM. Specifically, the coalition of environmentalists allege that the ministry relied on supposedly “independent” studies that turned out to be written by Monsanto itself.
Under Canadian law, all pesticides used in the provinces must be registered by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) prior to being allowed into the country. In 2015, the PMRA determined that “products containing glyphosate do not present unacceptable risks to human health or the environment when used according to the revised product label directions.” The decision was based on “...information provided by the manufacturer...a large volume of published scientific literature, [environmental] monitoring...and reviews conducted by other regulatory authorities.”
It was the information provided by Monsanto that environmentalists found troubling. Monsanto presented the material as having come from independent sources. Environmental groups are now claiming that those studies were either performed or underwritten by Monsanto. The allegations have been of enough concern to scientists at Health Canada that they are now reviewing those studies in order to determine their validity and whether or not the use of glyphosate should be suspended on the most common commercial crops (primarily chickpeas, maize, oats, soybeans, and wheat).
Sidney Ribaux, head of the Montreal-based environmental group Equiterre, is demanding more immediate action, calling for an immediate ban on the use of glyphosate. He says, “The risk assessment that led to the decision by the Canadian government’s regulatory agency to re-register glyphosate was based on fraudulent studies by Monsanto. This fact alone constitutes grounds for canceling the decision to renew the approval of glyphosate in Canada.”
Scientists with Equiterre and other activist organizations are conducting their own investigations, although Ribaux points out that, in the case of pesticides, “...the Health Minister has the discretion to establish a special review panel in such cases and to suspend a re-registration until a final decision is made based on this review.”
Ribaux's accusations are well-founded. Canada is not the first country in which Monsanto has faced such allegations. In 2017, court documents came to light in the US revealing a history of close collaboration between Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency. It turns out that Monsanto representatives were in close communication with EPA regulators in efforts to conceal evidence of glyphosate carcinogenicity.
At the time of Monsanto's collusion with the EPA, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was releasing its own report, which determined that glyphosate was indeed a “probable carcinogen.”
More recently, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $289 million to a former groundskeeper who claimed his terminal lymphoma was caused by glyphosate exposure. Although this award was later reduced by several million dollars, the judgment itself against Monsanto stands – and there are more than 8,000 plaintiffs with similar cases awaiting their day in court.
The allegations in Canada are still just that – allegations. Nonetheless, it will come as little surprise if Health Canada scientists confirm that Monsanto has gone to go to great lengths to cover up the harmful effects of glyphosate and even convince consumers that it is somehow “beneficial” and “necessary.”