When Bruce Lanphear decided to resign in June as co-chair of a scientific committee meant to advise Canada's pesticide regulations, his choice was fraught with the moral discomfort of a man caught between civic duty and personal sanity.

The role promised the possibility Lanphear — a public health expert and Simon Fraser University professor — could help Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) transform the country's pesticide rules to make them more effective and transparent. Research on pesticides' health and environmental impacts conducted since those rules were first devised decades ago suggests Canada's existing regulatory regime for pesticides is "obsolete" and threatening human health and the environment, he said.

But after months of being refused access to key health and safety data that the committee needed to evaluate the effectiveness of Canada's pesticide rules due to "legal constraints" and blocked from proactively helping the agency rework them while watching pesticide industry representatives shape regulations, his patience had worn thin.

"I was disappointed that I wasn't able to help the PMRA be more transparent and enhance protections for Canadians. I felt some guilt that I didn't stay," he said in an interview a few weeks after his resignation. "(But) I was relieved that I didn't have to spend hours in meetings being frustrated because I couldn't get important questions answered and I didn't think we were making progress."

Lanphear's departure shines a light on long-standing transparency and accountability problems surrounding the PMRA. Critics have for years said the agency's refusal to share lots of the health and environmental data it uses to register pesticides, its close relationship with Canada's pesticide industry and its refusal to integrate new research and data into its regulatory system make it hard to assess whether it is adequately protecting health and the environment.

There is growing concern about the impact of pesticides on human health and biodiversity, with countries, including Canada, pledging at last fall’s COP15 global biodiversity conference to tackle the issue. The European Union, for example, has promised to reduce pesticide use by half by 2030.

But pesticide use in Canada is growing, with farmers and foresters using about 30 per cent more of the chemicals in 2020 than in 2008. It is a problem environmentalists and health advocates say the PMRA is ill-equipped — and reluctant — to address.

"There are fundamental flaws in what they are doing," explained Ecojustice lawyer and pesticide specialist Laura Bowman. These include failing to regularly assess the cumulative impacts of pesticides and other chemicals on health, not keeping or using adequate health and environmental monitoring data, and ignoring predictions from its own models in addition to avoiding data from real-world human studies in developing regulations.

Overarching these problems is the agency's level of transparency, which makes it hard for researchers to scrutinize the health and environmental safety data used to make regulatory decisions. Heeding criticism of this approach, officials last year announced the PMRA would overhaul its regulatory process to improve transparency, a push that included creating the scientific advisory committee Lanphear co-chaired until June.

When Bruce Lanphear decided to resign in June as co-chair of a scientific committee meant to advise Canada's pesticide regulations, his choice was fraught with the moral discomfort of a man caught between civic duty and personal sanity. 

But Lanphear said that in his experience, the agency is reluctant to be more transparent — including with its own scientific advisory committee.

"They just would distract us or ignore" the committee's requests to review pesticide data, he said. "They were always very pleasant, but would just not answer."

That made the committee's work difficult. For instance, as part of an effort to better understand the PMRA's methods for assessing pesticides, he asked them for its data on chlorpyrifos, a toxic and well-studied pesticide that was commonly used in Canada until the agency banned it in 2021. The researchers planned to compare the government data and decision-making process against independent research to better understand why the agency had allowed its use in Canada after independent research determined it posed major health risks.

The request was denied, with officials citing "legal constraints" limiting the data they could share and proposed the committee review a simple and less controversial pesticide instead. Group members even struggled to ensure they could ask the PMRA unsolicited questions and advice, powers that were prohibited in the committee's initial terms of reference, Lanphear said.

"They don't want independent scientists to agree" with criticisms of Canada's efforts to regulate pesticides, said Bowman. "They don't want to let those things be made public."

In a statement, the PMRA said the committee's mandate "is to provide PMRA with independent scientific expertise to support PMRA in evidence-based decision-making on pesticides." The agency has "a robust pesticide regulatory system, which is globally recognized. It takes its role as a regulator seriously and the pesticide review process used by the PMRA remains fully rooted in science."

While Lanphear said the decision to resign comes with some regrets that the PMRA did not change more during his tenure, he is confident the committee's remaining members will continue to push for better rules and transparency.

"I hope if there's any positive thing that might come out of my resignation, (it will) bring some attention to this," he said.

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Surprisingly, nowhere in this much needed article (thanks) was there mention of Health Canada who is ultimately responsible for their arm PMRA and pesticide use.
I think we need a top to bottom overhaul of Health Canada to focus on what does matter which would also entail having them stop micro managing what doesn't matter.

Industry makes the rules, unless public pressure forces the government to do the right things, like put health over business revenue.

So have we learned anything from Dr. Shiv Chopra's example?!! Slightly different issue, as a "whistleblower", but same principles..

Sadly, I think nothing has changed since Shiv Chopra’s whistle blowing days for which he paid in legal struggles until he passed away. I hosted him and we spent hours talking of Health Canada’s dependence on industry research. Everyone should read his book “Corrupt to the Core” about Health Canada.

PMRA falls under the control of PHAC and director Dr. Richard Aucoin. Deputy Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Howard Njoo is an infectious disease doctor and he has the Minister’s ear. The private Association of Medical Microbiologists and Infectious Disease [AMMI] Canada have a death grip on Lyme disease in Canada and have downplayed and denied the hidden ignored epidemic of Lyme and tick-borne-diseases [TBDs] in Canada. Lyme is a multi-staged, life-altering, life threatening disease, the infectious disease equivalent of cancer. No repellents work well against ticks. Canadians are not allowed to purchase over-the counter permethrin sprays to treat their footwear and socks. Prevention requires dressing properly, avoiding ticks and using both permethrin treated footwear, socks and clothing [without a liner] plus a repellent such as 20% icaridin or picaridin. It’s not one or the other. PHAC has followed the lead of the CDC which misclassified Lyme as a minor nuisance disease when the insurance industry red-flagged it a s too expensive to treat. The long-term disability insurance industry doesn’t want to underwrite the cost of treating complex disseminated [chronic] Lyme and tick-borne illnesses. Ticks are responsible for 95% of vector-borne illnesses in Canada yet it’s the mosquito-borne diseases that get all the press.

Dr. Aucoin and PHAC have determined that they must support industry and deny Canadians protection from Lyme disease. Permethrin is not perfect but it is much safer than risking being bitten by an infected tick and then denied adequate treatment. “An ounce of permethrin equals a pound of antibiotics.” -Dr. EL Maloney

"Research on pesticides' health and environmental impacts conducted since those rules were first devised decades ago suggests Canada's existing regulatory regime for pesticides is "obsolete" and threatening human health and the environment, he said. "

So, yet another Canadian captive regulator. What a surprise.

Unfortunately, major changes to lobbying regulations and the early departure of senior staff to artificially-greener pastures in industry are likely to be the only ways to restore some public-interest sanity.

Not holding my breath for this to happen. There are too many other government agencies where this same reform is long overdue. And besides, with a possible return to a Conservative government, creating openings for political appointments of replacement senior bureaucrats could make matters even worse.

That's why I am supporting the IJF:

https://theijf.org/databases