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Opinion: The glyphosate challenge

spraying farm field agriculture working equipment fragment

The roller-coaster ride for the use of glyphosate continues due to recent rulings in California and Brazil. These decisions have been closely watched by both those who see the need to use this product and by those who are concerned about its effects on human health.

Recently a California judge rejected Monsanto’s appeal of a verdict in favour of a groundskeeper who said glyphosate-based weed killers caused his cancer.

In September, a Brazilian Federal Appeals Court judge overruled the decision of a lower court to ban the use of glyphosate, saying that the ruling was imposed “without previous analysis of the grave impact it would have on the country’s economy and on production in general.” Agriculture is a big industry in this nation, and a hasty ban would have had huge economic consequences.

Last month, at Farm & Food Care Ontario’s Environmental Council meeting, a representative from the biotechnology company Syngenta presented his organization’s perspective on the ongoing dilemma. Syngenta supports testing and research to show the safety of various products, and supports efforts to ensure that testing is based purely on scientific factors.

There has been an increase in public demand to ban glyphosate because it is assumed that there is a presence of glyphosate residue in our food. Despite this fear, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports that in its 2015-16 testing of 3,188 imported and domestic food products for glyphosate residues, 98.7 per cent of products were compliant with Canadian maximum residue limits. In fact, 70.3 per cent of samples tested did not even contain detectable residues.

One of the necessary actions on this issue is that users of products that include glyphosate need to follow the instructions, including correct ratio of product and water. Companies that develop and sell these products are required to complete an intensive testing program to ensure correct use and desired results. The recommendations on the product labels for proper use and application have met the environmental tests.

The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario believes that government should incorporate three crucial conditions for potential product reviews:

  • That testing be done according to science-based research.
  • That any ruling in favour of a ban must allow time for industry to develop and provide replacement products, rather than forcing producers to revert to older, potentially more dangerous products.
  • That, should a product ban be introduced in Canada, government should also close the borders to imports that are produced using the same banned product.

Canada’s testing process must be both timely and effective. There are concerns that the agency does not have enough resources to conduct thorough and efficient testing. Delays in making final decisions may in turn cost companies time and opportunities. If the consumers demand safe food, they also need to be willing to bear the cost for proper testing and analysis.

Paul Bootsma is field services manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.

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