An email from a high-level official in Canada's pesticide regulatory agency is raising eyebrows for what observers say it reveals about the agency’s pro-pesticide bias.

The official comments that the appointment of four researchers to a scientific advisory board might anger the Big Ag lobby.

The email, obtained by Canada's National Observer was sent in 2022 by Jason Flint, a director general in Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency to Tom Rosser, currently an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The comments followed the first meeting of a scientific advisory committee created by then-minister of health Jean-Yves Duclos to help the regulator update its practices.

Flint's notes outline how the presence on the committee of four Canadian experts in public health, sustainable agriculture and toxicology may frustrate agricultural lobby groups. Notably, the document suggests that one of the researchers, University of Saskatchewan professor Christy Morrissey, is "seen as biased" by Croplife Canada, the main lobby group for synthetic pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers.

"There were a few comments and questions by the members that may generate concern among ag stakeholders," he wrote. "It is my expectation that ag stakeholders will be reaching out in the near future to voice their concern."

An email from a high-level official in Canada's #pesticide #regulatory agency is raising eyebrows for what observers say it reveals about the agency’s pro-pesticide #bias.

The email also recalls questions raised in the meeting by Bruce Lanphear, a professor of public health at Simon Fraser University, about the agency's assumption that low levels of exposure to pesticides is safe – an assumption that emerging research suggests is often untrue. The questions "will create further uneasiness," Flint wrote. The email also notes that his presence on the board "may be seen as activists taking control" due to Lanphear's past efforts calling for stronger pesticide rules in the U.S.

In a recent email exchange with Canada's National Observer about Flint's comments, Lanphear wrote that his "goal – as a scientist-advocate — is to protect Canadians from toxic pesticides. Who is Flint trying to protect?"

Laura Bowman, a lawyer at Ecojustice who specializes in pesticides, echoed Lanphear.

"It is disappointing to see [Flint] concerning himself with whether the chemical pesticide industry will like the advice of fully independent scientists," Bowman wrote in an email. "The scientists on the advisory committee are independent experts that were appointed by the Minister and it is not the PMRA’s job to second-guess them."

An AAFC spokesperson said in a statement that the federal government "is supportive of science and evidence-based decision making. One of its roles is to work with industry stakeholders, portfolio partners, other departments, and other levels of government to address issues that may impact competitiveness." Flint did not respond to questions sent to his Health Canada email.

At the time, Flint was "an employee of AAFC on temporary assignment. He was not working with Health Canada, the PMRA or the [Scientific Advisory Committee] at that time," the AAFC spokesperson said.

Federal lobbying records also show a "Jason Flint" registered as a lobbyist from 1996 to 2005 and working for BIOTECanada, a national biotechnology industry association.

Criticism has been growing toward the regulator's transparency and its effectiveness at protecting Canadians from harmful pesticides. The scientific advisory committee referenced in the email was convened to address some of these concerns.

Instead, the committee became its own source of controversy after Lanphear publicly resigned his position as co-chair in August 2023, citing the agency's minimal transparency and reluctance to change its "obsolete" approach to regulating pesticides. In his resignation letter, he wrote he worries that the committee provides a "false sense of security" that the regulator is protecting Canadians from pesticides.

In an interview with Canada's National Observer last summer, he said his resignation decision came 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 being blocked from proactively helping the agency rework those rules while watching pesticide industry representatives shape regulations instead.

In his more recent correspondence, Lanphear added that his concern there are "no safe levels" of exposure to pesticides in the light of emerging research was likely "creating uneasiness" because it questions the "basic assumption" there are acceptable levels of exposure — an assumption regulators cite to downplay evidence to the contrary.

Canada's pesticide rules require the government to take a so-called "risk-based approach." That approach evaluates the likely risk the use of a pesticide, according to its label, poses to human health and the environment — not whether it could cause harm. But growing concerns that being exposed to small amounts of pesticides can cause health problems over time have pushed some researchers — including Lanphear — to criticize the approach.

Even some federal officials have called on the government to be more cautious in its pesticide regulations. Last month, Canada's National Observer reported that former AAFC deputy director David Cox repeatedly raised concerns within the ministry about Canadian farmers' widespread use of glyphosate, the herbicide key to Roundup.

Last year, Canada's National Observer found the agency had for years downplayed health and environmental concerns from its own scientists about another toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos. The agency also downplayed the health risks of the pesticide dimethyl tetrachloroterephtalate (DCPA) in the wake of an emergency warning from the EPA about the chemical.

Viewed in this context, Flint's email is not surprising, wrote Morrissey, the University of Saskatchewan professor he named as being perceived as “biased,” in a recent email to Canada's National Observer.

"I don't think this is news that the agriculture industry and notably Croplife have long-standing issues with me and other scientists that conduct research that has shown that certain pesticide products are harmful to human and environmental health," she wrote.

"My reason for joining the scientific advisory committee is to improve [the regulator’s] transparency and accountability to ensure the best available science is used to inform pesticide registration decisions. It's what Canadians expect."

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No one with links to an industry, including a lobbyist for that industry, should EVER be appointed to a regulatory body over the industry or its products. That ought to be rule #1 in appointments.

We need to go back to smaller farms; to do that we need more people working in the rural areas. Then we could apply crop rotations, using small machinery or horses, and mixed farming - the animals provide

We need small farms with more people working in them. Then we could have smaller crops side by side on a mixed farm with pastured animals providing the fertilizer along with green manure. We have to stop compacting the soil with heavy machinery and poisoning it with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

"Better living through chemistry". An Ad man's relic of a far more naive era.

The idyllic picture of smaller less mechanized farms employing age old farming techniques belongs to a very different world. One to which we may return when global human society has been chastened by climate disasters and recurrent viral attacks and has been forced to restore a more survivalist attitude, instead of the predatory capitalist economy ravaging humanity and all other living entities on this planet.

As to the composition and responsibilities of "advisory" bodies, they sometimes exhibit the wisdom of the elders even though they may be grappling with new scientific advances.

Reducing the burden of the human species on this planet is the first pre-condition of survival. Listening to wisdom and at least attempting to act on it are generally good evolutionary strategies. Listening to the allure of greed and power are not, since history suggests that societies founded on the accumulation of whatever passes for wealth, are blips on the evolutionary time scale.

The current version of civilization is so far outstripping the carrying capacity of this planet, we are at risk of wiping ourselves off the map. Again, the lessons of what we have so far learned about human history, should be obvious. Nothing lasts forever, change is inevitable when we ignore the delicate balance of the planet's sustainability. Adapt or die.

"But growing concerns that being exposed to small amounts of pesticides can cause health problems over time have pushed some researchers — including Lanphear — to criticize the approach"

Are there 'growing concerns'? For most pesticides, I'd say the opposite is true. The author of this article has a habit a making claims like these without any supporting data. As it's said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

The main thrust of the article seems to be that the author is alarmed that a bureaucrat thinks a member of the stakeholder panel will have views that may upset other stakeholders. Why is that a story?

Another journalist may want to look into any possible relationships between the author and Ecojustice. Nearly every story he's written seems to have input from them. The editor should look into that.

Eco Justice is a good source of information on issues of government involvement in environmental issues. What's the problem?

PMRA and PHAC have taken a contradictory path when dealing with Lyme disease prevention. They have banned the sale of 0.5% permethrin sprays [ synthetic chrysanthemum, a non-persistent insecticide] which can be sprayed on shoes, socks and clothing and kill ticks before they can bite you. This is consistent with PHAC/ PMRA downplaying and ignoring the Lyme and tick-borne diseases [TBDs] epidemic while exaggerating the harms of permethrin. This is because the long-term disability insurance industry has red-flagged Lyme as being too expensive to treat. PHAC has prioritized the preservation of the antibiotic supply over returning Canadians to health. So far the ticks are winning. I suggest that people substitute ant spray with 0.25% permethrin. Wear gloves and spray shoes socks and clothing when the cat, and pollinators are not in the vicinity. Allow clothing to dry and mark the date on the calendar and respray in 4-6 weeks. The clothing can be hand washed up to 6 times.

Big ag might get angry? Eff their feelings.

I offer a different perspective to consider: CFIA policy and program analysts have a duty to report accurately on developments, small "p" politics, etc., within and related to one of the industries the department is responsible for regulating: the ag chemical industry. I do not feel that words describing the likely attitude of the industry toward a scientific advisory panel are "biased." They are just accurate. Does anyone reading this article expect that that industry would welcome peer-reviewed research conducted in the interests of public health? It would be good if we also had access to the Public Health Agency of Canada's briefing notes on the same topic, which would reflect the probable reaction of the public health community regarding the scientific advisory panel. The matter of the industry background of the DG responsible for this note is something of interest to all, in the same way that a DG at PHAC who may have worked in the past for an NGO that campaigned for vigorous non-industry research into ag chemicals is of interest to all of us.

Like the oil industry in Alberta 40 years of neoliberal ideals that less government, less regulation , the free market and industry self regulation, Is it any wonder industries object to any questions on health, safety, pollution that the industry feels are not welcome. And frankly given the Alberta UCP government in totally captured by Big Oil, The Federal Government by Big Pharma, now Big Chemical throwing their weight around to increase profit as that is more important than our health and environmental safety. We have become externalities