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Pesticides

The term “pesticides” includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

The industry promised that genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) crops would reduce the use of pesticides in farming. Instead, herbicide use has increased with the use of GM crops. CBAN’s latest research has found that herbicide sales in Canada increased by 130% since genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops were introduced (1994-2011). For details see our report “Are GM crops better for the environment?”

After 20 years, 88% of the GM crops grown in Canada are herbicide-tolerant, and the rest are insect-resistant (some are both).

Take Action

You can sign the petition asking for stronger laws for pesticide approvals in Canada. September 2018.

Background

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 21.9 million kilograms of herbicides were sold in Canada in 1994. Numbers from Health Canada’s annual reports show that by 2011, this number had increased by 130% to 50.3 million kilograms.

The widespread cultivation of GM glyphosate-tolerant crops, in particular, has driven up the use of glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosate is the top pesticide ingredient sold in Canada, followed by 2,4-D and glufosinate ammonium. Glyphosate use in Canada tripled between 2005 and 2011, climbing from 30.2 million litres to 89.7 million in Western Canada, and from 3.8 million litres to 12.3 million in Eastern Canada.

This increased use of glyphosate has resulted in the emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. In response, biotechnology companies have genetically engineered crops to be tolerant to the older herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. These GM crops will further increase the herbicide load in the environment and lead to even more herbicide-resistant weeds.

GM insect-resistant (Bt) crops have reduced insecticide use in some countries. The Canadian government has not monitored the impact of Bt crops on insecticide use in Canada. However, insects are beginning to develop resistance to Bt crops in the US and other countries, and farmers are turning to other insecticide applications to control them. Additionally, Bt plants themselves produce insecticidal toxins that are released into the environment.

Herbicide-tolerant crops reduce weed diversity in and around fields, which in turn reduces habitat and food for other important species, including the Monarch butterfly. Studies have also observed that GM insect-resistant crops can have negative impacts on non-target insects, including pollinators, and soil and water organisms.

For details see “Are GM Crops Better for the Environment?” CBAN’s second report in our GMO Inquiry

For an introduction to the herbicide glyphosate see the National Farmer’s Union: Glyphosate – Frequently Asked Questions.

Updates

 

Jury orders Monsanto to pay $289 million to US groundskeeper with cancer

“This case is way bigger than me. I hope it gets the attention that it needs.”
– Dewayne Johnson, former school groundskeeper awarded $289 million from Monsanto

August 2018: A California jury reached a verdict in a personal liability lawsuit against Monsanto, in the case of Dewayne Johnson, finding that Monsanto’s glyphosate product, Roundup, caused a school groundskeeper’s terminal non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury not only found that Roundup caused the plaintiff’s cancer, awarding him $39.3 million in pain and suffering and economic damages, but also that Monsanto acted “with malice or oppression” and awarded an additional $250 million in punitive damages. Read the article in The Guardian “One Man’s Suffering Exposed Monsanto’s Secrets to the World” by Carey Gillam.

Following the verdict and the documents revealed through the court case, Canadian environmental group Equiterre wrote to the Minister of Health: “We urge you to reopen Canada’s evaluation of glyphosate, develop an expert panel of independent scientists to review it, and then decide anew if glyphosate is safe enough to be used in Canada. Further, we request that you launch an internal investigation into the validity of the documents used by Health Canada, and into its process and its collaboration with the EPA as well as with Monsanto to determine if Monsanto, Health Canada and Canadian civil servants acted illegally in the process of re-authorizing glyphosate.The credibility of your pesticide assessment.”

Glyphosate gives way to Dicamba

As glyphosate-resistant weeds spread across North America and the herbicide glyphosate loses its power as a weed-killer, Monsanto is replacing its GM glyphosate-tolerant soy with GM dicamba-tolerant soy. In the US, the new dicamba-tolerant varieties are increasing the use of dicamba. Monsanto said its new dicamba formula would be less prone to drift but, across the US, neighbouring crops that are not dicamba-tolerant are being damaged by drift. This is leading many farmers to buy GM dicamba-tolerant seeds. See, for example, Latest Monsanto GMO seeds raises worries of monopoly, The Daily Mail, December 14, 2017

Glyphosate is “probably human carcinogen”

The International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that:

  • Glyphosate, the world’s most-used chemical ingredient for weed control, is a “probable human carcinogen” (March 2015)
  • 2,4-D, the second most-used herbicide in Canada, is a “possible human carcinogen” (June 2015)

Other Updates

October 2017: You can watch video of testimony at the European Parliament explaining the contents of internal emails dubbed the “Monsanto Papers” released by court order in the US.

April 2017: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published the results of its testing of foods for glyphosate residues (2015-2016) The CFIA tested 3,188 food samples for the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate was found in 29.7% of samples. Glyphosate residues above MRLs were found in 1.3% of samples. (The majority of GM crops are genetically modified to be glyphosate-tolerant.)

April 2017: CBAN submitted comments to the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency on the Cumulative Risk Assessment Framework, to raise the need to assess the impacts of GM herbicide-tolerant crops on herbicide use/exposure. Click here to read the comments from CBAN.

April 2017: Article – Big Agro on Campus: Universities claim industry-funded research on chemical and pesticide safety is scientifically sound. Not everybody is convinced, The Walrus.

October 2016: A new review (monograph) on glyphosate from Pesticide Action Network Interantional

August 2015: A new article in the New England Journal of Medicine argues that assessment of genetically modified food safety should also be tied to assessing the human health risks of the herbicides applied to GM crops. “We believe that the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology…The National Toxicology Program should urgently assess the toxicology of pure glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides.”

Resources

Pesticides and GM Crops

Click here for more information on 2,4-D tolerant crops

“Are GM Crops Better for the Environment?” May 2015, CBAN’s second report in the GMO Inquiry documents the rise in herbicide sales with genetically modified crops in Canada and examines the environmental impacts.

“What next after a ban on glyphosate—more toxic chemicals and GM crops? Or the transformation of global food systems?” The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Network for a GE Free Latin America (RALLT) and the Third World Network. June 2015. A number of countries have already taken action to reduce or halt the use of glyphosate in response to the IARC assessment. While glyphosate is still in use and is heavily relied upon for GM soy production in particular, Monsanto and other biotechnology and agro-chemical companies are already planning for business after glyphosate. A plethora of GM crops that are tolerant to multiple toxic herbicides – including 2,4-D and dicamba – are already approved for the market, while Monsanto has recently sought the potential acquisition of Syngenta, the world’s largest producer of herbicides.

Pesticides and Pollinators

Hidden Costs of Toxic Seed Coatings: Insecticide Use on the Rise, Factsheet, Center for Food Safety, US, June 2015. Scientists have identified pesticides—specifically a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids (abbreviated as “neonics”)—as likely to be an important cause of declining pollinator populations and poor pollinator health. Neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the world, and have been repeatedly shown to have lethal and sub-lethal effects on beneficial insects.

Pesticide Toxicity

Glyphosate and Cancer Risks: Frequently Asked Questions, Center for Food Safety, US, May 2015

The world’s most used weed-killer is probably carcinogenic – so what? Meg Sears, Prevent Cancer Now, June 2015

Pesticides and Our Health, Greenpeace International, May 2015

Synthetic pesticides have been widely used in industrial agriculture throughout the world since the 1950s. Over time, many of these chemicals have become extremely pervasive in our environment as a result of their widespread repeated use and, in some cases, their environmental persistence. Some take an extremely long time to degrade, such that even those banned decades ago, including DDT and its secondary products, are routinely found in the environment today.

As a consequence of this persistence, and potential hazards to wildlife, effect-related research on the impact of pesticides has increased exponentially over the past 30 years (Köhler and Triebskorn 2013). It is now clear that these effects are wide and varied. Over the same period, scientific understanding of the effects of pesticides on human health and their mechanisms of action has also expanded rapidly, with studies revealing statistical associations between pesticide exposure and enhanced risks of developmental impairments, neurological and immune disorders and some cancers.

Nevertheless, proving definitively that exposure to a particular pesticide causes a disease or other condition in humans presents a considerable challenge. There are no groups in the human population that are completely unexposed to pesticides, and most diseases are multi-causal giving considerable complexity to public health assessments (Meyer-Baron et al. 2015). Furthermore, most people are exposed to complex and ever changing mixtures of chemicals, not just pesticides, in their daily lives, through multiple routes of exposure. Pesticides contribute further to this toxic burden.

More Resources

Synthetic pesticides are not permitted for use in organic food production. Here is more information on the organic standard in Canada.

Organizations with up-to-date information on pesticide toxicity and related issues: