Court Orders Health Canada To Reassess Safety of Roundup

A Canadian federal court determined Health Canada did not follow its own rules in re-approving the controversial weed killer.

Canadian regulators must conduct a new review of the safety of Roundup weed killer products, following a court’s decision that they did not follow their own rules in granting the glyphosate-based herbicide approval.

In the U.S., more than 125,000 Roundup lawsuits have been brought against Monsanto and its parent company Bayer, alleging that consumers developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other forms of cancer after spaying the weedkiller. The lawsuits have uncovered evidence that Monsanto knew about the risk for years, yet failed to warn consumers and manipulated data submitted to regulators.

In response to the growing concerns over the safety of Roundup, new restrictions and bans have been imposed in many countries, and a number of regulators are reassessing the popular weed killer. It has also led to activists pushing for agencies to take a much harder look at the underlying data about the potential side effects of exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient.

In Canada, glyphosate was approved in 1976, and was reauthorized in 2017, a few years after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deemed glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen in 2015. However, consumer safety activists in Canada contested that decision, saying Health Canada did not follow its own rules in reaching the decision.

Last week, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeals agreed, determining that Health Canada did not properly explain its decision to continue to authorize glyphosate use, and now has to review its decision. The ruling does not negate the previous authorization, but rather forces Health Canada to review its approval process again and make a new ruling.

The group that brought the lawsuit, Safe Food Matters and a number of other activist groups, hope the decision will force Health Canada to create a group of independent scientists to conduct the glyphosate safety review in order to avoid potential undue influence by Monsanto.

A similar decision issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which also determined glyphosate is safe, is also being challenged by activist and environmental groups in the U.S.

Last month, environmental and farm worker groups asked a three-member panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to vacate a 2020 decision by the EPA to approve the continued use of glyphosate here in the U.S.

The plaintiffs claim the EPA did not adequately review the safety or environmental impacts of the ubiquitous herbicide before agreeing to re-approve use of the weed killer.

Several agricultural industry groups have opposed the lawsuit, arguing that other governments have found glyphosate to be harmless, despite revelations that many of the studies used to reach those conclusions were secretly written by employees from Monsanto.

Observers say the panel of judges appeared inclined to send the issue back to the EPA to re-evaluate Roundup safety based on all of the available evidence. However, the panel has the option of banning glyphosate and Roundup outright as well, which legal experts think is unlikely.

Roundup Product Liability Litigation

Following a string of massive losses in cases that went to trial in 2018 and 2019, Bayer has engaged in efforts to settle the Roundup litigation, and indicated last year that it would pay more than $11.6 billion to resolve pending claims. However, finalization of the settlements has been slow, with many plaintiffs rejecting their individual offers and new claims continuing to be filed by individuals diagnosed with cancer following prior use of the weed killer.

Late last year, Bayer indicated it had reached agreements to settle 98,000 of the Roundup complaints. However, while pursuing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which it hopes will end its Roundup liability, the company announced in December that it was suspending all settlement negotiations.

To limit its future liability over Roundup, Bayer finally announced plans last year to remove the active ingredient glyphosate from weed killers sold to U.S. residential customers by 2023. The products would still be sold under the Roundup label, but would use a different active ingredient, which has not been linked to a risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, glyphosate would still be used in products sold to agricultural businesses and farmers, and in product sold in other parts of the world, Bayer officials said.

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