Health Canada decides not to review glyphosate herbicide again

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      Health Canada has decided to continue to allow glyphosate to be used as a herbicide after a review of objections filed after its 2017 reevaluation of the controversial chemical.

      In a statement filed on its website today (January 11), the federal department announced that its "final decision [2017] will stand" after extensive review of the substance once known as Roundup (before agrochemical company Monsanto's copyright expired in 2000. Monsanto has since been purchased by German multinational Bayer, a deal that became final in June 2018).

      The decision means the chemical can be used, subject to regulatory guidelines and recommendations, for another 15 years.

      The department also promised to post replies next week to the objections to its 2017 decision: "Health Canada will publish its response to each notice of objection in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s Public Registry on January 14."

      Health Canada's 2017 review was itself the result of a previous review, in 2015, by its Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). That review—which contained recommendations for revised labels and spray buffer zones to protect nontarget species of plants and insects and which was a standard cyclical review that all registered pesticides must undergo—concluded that "products containing glyphosate do not present unacceptable risks to human health or the environment when used according to the revised product label directions".

      In part, the notice read: "Following the release of the Department’s final re-evaluation decision on glyphosate in 2017, Health Canada received eight notices of objection. There have also been concerns raised publicly about the validity of some of the science around glyphosate in what is being referred to as the Monsanto Papers.

      "Health Canada scientists reviewed the information provided in these notices, and assessed the validity of any studies in question, to determine whether any of the issues raised would influence the results of the assessment and the associated regulatory decision.

      "After a thorough scientific review, 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."


      The nonprofit group Ecojustice (formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund) published a same-day response on its website to the Health Canada decision. It claimed that "manipulated data and flawed analyses" influenced Health Canada's "scientific process".

      Ecojustice stated: "Environmental and health groups are disappointed by Ottawa’s decision not to strike an independent review of its evaluation of this herbicide, despite concerning evidence that industry-manipulated science features in the assessment."


      As background, Ecojustice provided the following information about glyphosate and its potential risks:

      "Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in Canada and worldwide. It is sprayed on major staple food crops including corn, soy, canola, wheat, oats and barley. Glyphosate is found in our waterways, drinking water, and about one third of our food products.

      "In 2015, the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency panel of independent scientists classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen”. In 2018, a California court found that Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) glyphosate-based pesticides contributed to an American citizen’s cancer, and that Monsanto knowingly covered up the risks[1]. Over nine thousand court cases have been brought forward by cancer patients in the U.S."

      Health effects

      The Sierra Club Canada Foundation describes some of the health and environmental effects of glyphosate on its website (which includes the following footnotes links):

      "Acute symptoms of glyphosate exposure include, destruction of red blood cells, lung dysfunction, low blood pressure, kidney damage, erosion of gastrointestinal tract, dizziness, fever, and nausea.[2],[3],[4] 

      "A study of Ontario farmers, found that those using glyphosate had an increase of miscarriages and premature births within their family.[5] Also, glyphosate has been shown to disrupt hormones that regulate oestrogen synthesis, important reproductive hormones that have also been shown to have a role in bone growth and testicular function. 

      "Examinations of the effects of Roundup™ on human lymphocytes have shown an increase in the frequency of sister chromatid exchanges, genetic exchanges during cell division resulting in point mutations.[6],[7]"

      Environmental effects

      Environmental effects, especially of nontarget species, are also discussed:

      "Glyphosate has been shown to kill beneficial insects including parasitoid wasps, lacewings and ladybugs.[8] Other insect populations have been drastically reduced by glyphosate populations, which negatively impacts on birds and small insect-eating mammals.[9] These changes in plant communities impact birds’ sources of food, shelter and nest support.

      "Glyphosate in its commercial form is 20 to 70 times more toxic to fish than glyphosate alone[10]. It is also increasingly toxic at higher temperatures. This is significant when one considers that glyphosate is a defoliant and the lack of plant cover increases the temperature of waterways. Sublethal effects on fish include erratic swimming, gill damage, and changes in liver structure.[11],[12] 

      "Glyphosate also impacts non-target plant species in several important ways. In low doses it decreases both the number of seeds germinating and the seedling weight as compared to untreated plants.[13] It also affects the ability of bacteria located on the nodules of leguminous plants to perform nitrogen fixation, an essential process converting nitrogen from an unusable form to a compound that is able to be used by the plant. Studies have shown that at typically application rates, glyphosate inhibits up to 70% of nitrogen fixation.[14]"