Questions and Answers: Ontario College of Family Physicians Pesticide Report 2004
Many Activists and Organic Product suppliers quote information from the popular OCFP 2004 Literature Review on Epidemiology and Pesticides.
Jeffrey Lowes of Mrep Communications has stated several times over the last couple years that he has an email from one individual, Tye Arbuckle from Health Canada, she indicated she was not even aware of the report until it was published and denied reviewing the OCFP 2004 Report.
Finally, we are deeply indebted to those who volunteered their time to provide reviews and editing of reference lists or chapters of the report. Our peer and expert reviewers and editors provided important comments and suggestions and new perspectives during writing of the report.
Peer reviewers were Alan Abelsohn, Neil Arya and Kathleen Finlay. Expert reviewers were Tye Arbuckle from Health Canada, Patricia Harper from Sick Childrens’ Hospital Toronto, Linn Holness from University of Toronto and Judith Kaur from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester.
The Project Team:
Margaret Sanborn, MD, CCFP, FCFP, McMaster UniversityDonald Cole, MD, FRCP(C), University of TorontoKathleen Kerr, MD, Dip. Env. Health, Environmental Health Clinic, Sunnybrook & Women’sCollege Health Sciences CentreCathy Vakil, MD, CCFP, Queen’s UniversityLuz Helena Sanin, MD, MPH, ScD, University of Toronto, and Autonomous University ofChihuahua, MexicoKate Bassil, MSc, PhD(c), University of Toronto
You may have also come across Dr. Alan Abelsohn who is listed as a reviewer. He has been in the newspapers before:
TORONTO — I can’t do it without you Dr Alan Abelsohn, a 52-year-old family practitioner in Toronto, has been charged with incompetence, professional misconduct and sexual abuse, and may lose his license if convicted. Dr Abelsohn’s lawyer told a discipline committee that the female accuser couldn’t be trusted. The accuser, who complained she wasn’t able to achieve an org*sm, m*sturbat*d with Dr Abelsohn in the room, believing it would help her condition.
Alan Abelsohn’s license was suspended for 12 months.
On August 4, 2004 Health Canada (Federal Government) Issued an Information Report regarding the OCFP 2004 Literature Review.
On April 23, 2004, the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) released a literature review on epidemiology studies on pesticides. The review linked pesticides to various illnesses, and stated that children are especially vulnerable to pesticides. In light of the public interest in this report, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) prepared this document to help Canadians better understand how human health and the environment are considered by the pesticide regulatory system in Canada. PMRA is the federal regulatory body responsible for the regulation of pesticides in Canada.
Even in the UK experts have reviewed it and this is what they have said:
“Overall, the ACP has concluded that the report does not raise any new concerns about pesticide safety that were not already being addressed, and does not indicate any need for additional regulatory action in the UK.”
The ACP reconsidered the Ontario report at its September 2004 meeting, along with the feedback from the invited experts. This statement summarises the conclusions of ACP’s discussions to date.
For some years, the ACP Medical and Toxicology Panel has annually scrutinised the abstracts of published papers on pesticides and human health to check for findings that might have implications for pesticide regulation in the UK. The material covered by the Ontario review overlaps substantially with that which has already been examined by the Panel, but with some differences (the review covers a somewhat longer time period and includes a few papers written in languages other than English, but is restricted to 16 specified health outcomes).
Some of the conclusions of the report accord with those reached by the Medical and Toxicology Panel. Thus, the Panel has previously noted an apparent consistency of epidemiological reports linking Parkinson’s disease with pesticide exposure, and this led to the commissioning of a detailed review of the topic. (See Sept 2001 minutes.) Similarly, we have recently asked the Committee on Mutagenicity to review the literature on biomarkers of genotoxicity in pesticide-exposed workers, in which the frequent report of positive findings seems at odds with the absence of in vivo genotoxicity for almost all pesticides when tested individually for regulatory purposes. Other conclusions differ markedly from those of the Panel. For example, the report concludes that “large well-designed cohort studies consistently show statistically significant positive associations” between solid tumours and pesticide exposure, an assertion with which we strongly disagree.
These discrepancies arise from serious flaws in the methods employed in the review. Most important are:
- its failure to take account of all or even most of the relevant epidemiological evidence, and the biases inherent in the way in which material was picked out for inclusion;
- inadequate attention to exposure characteristics and relevant toxicology when interpreting reported associations; and
- its superficial synthesis of evidence, which inadequately explores the impact of the strengths and weaknesses of individual studies.
Overall, the ACP has concluded that the report does not raise any new concerns about pesticide safety that were not already being addressed, and does not indicate any need for additional regulatory action in the UK.
Advisory Committee on Pesticides: Supplement to Previous Statement on the Pesticides Literature Review Published by the Ontario College of Family Physicians
At its meeting on 13 January 2005, the ACP agreed the following supplement to its earlier statement on the pesticides literature review published by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.
The above comments on the Ontario review and its implications for risk assessment and regulation of pesticides in the UK in no way detract from the unanimous view of the ACP that unnecessary exposure to pesticides should always be avoided. Pesticides should be used only when the use is justified by potential benefits in pest control and better alternative methods of pest control are unavailable. Moreover, when pesticides are used, they should always be applied in accordance with the instructions on the label, and in a way that minimises people’s exposure as far as is reasonably practical.
Updated June 2010
Health Canada has a Frequently Asked Questions Section on their website
Health Canada Website Link to FAQ
Here is what they say:
What is Health Canada’s response to suggestions that pesticides lead to illnesses like cancer and Parkinson’s disease?
Health Canada will not register a pesticide that is known to cause cancer or other illnesses when used according to label directions.
Before a pesticide is allowed to be used or sold in Canada, it must undergo a rigorous scientific assessment process to ensure that no harm will occur when pesticides are used according to label directions. All pesticides registered in Canada, including for agricultural, forestry and domestic uses, undergo this level of scrutiny.
If there is strong evidence that exposure to a pesticide causes Parkinson’s disease, cancer, other serious illness or negative environmental effects then regulatory action will be taken.
Has Health Canada reviewed the Ontario College of Family Physician’s report on pesticides and, if so, what actions did PMRA take as a result?
Scientists within Health Canada and elsewhere have carefully reviewed the Ontario College of Family Physicians report. This report examined a small group of epidemiology studies, and reported potential associations between pesticides and certain cancers. The wider scientific community raised significant concerns with respect to how this literature study was conducted because it did not consider all of the relevant epidemiological evidence.
Epidemiology studies are typically designed to look for associations, rather than causes.
Epidemiological studies have value and are used by Health Canada in different evaluation scenarios where they are considered alongside toxicity studies which examine toxic effects over various dose levels.
Examining animal toxicity studies that analyze the absorption and break down of toxins, combined with exposure studies, is a preferred method for assessing risks to human health. Health Canada uses this approach, which is also supported by the international scientific community, in determining if a pesticide can be used safely.
Some groups indicate that there is a “growing body of evidence suggesting a connection between pesticides and cancer”. What is Health Canada doing about this?
Health Canada does not register pesticides that are known to cause cancer or other illnesses when used according to the label directions.
Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is responsible for administering the Pest Control Products Act on behalf of the Minister of Health. Before a pesticide is allowed to be used or sold in Canada, it must undergo a rigorous scientific assessment process which provides reasonable certainty that no harm, including chronic effects such as cancer, will occur when pesticides are used according to label directions.
Under this pre-market approval process, results from more than 200 types of scientific studies must be submitted to determine if the pesticide would cause any negative effects to people, animals, birds, insects, plants, as well as on the soil and in the water. This assessment takes into consideration sensitive sub-groups, such as pregnant and nursing women, infants, children and seniors.
Additionally, Health Canada scientists review the scientific literature for studies which refer to pesticides. Health Canada recognizes the value of epidemiology studies in risk assessment. The most useful and relevant epidemiological studies are those that properly characterize exposure in terms of how the product is used.
Are my pets safe if they walk on a lawn that has been treated with pesticides?
Potential exposure may occur if pets are allowed on the treated lawn before the pesticide residue has been allowed to dry. They may be exposed through contact with their paws, licking of their bodies, or through eating grass. In order to minimize exposure, after treating your lawn, it is important to follow the label instructions as well as the instructions given to you by your lawn care professional, and restrict pets from the treated lawn until it has dried. No harm is expected, but avoiding exposures whenever possible is recommended.
Is it safe to use the herbicide 2,4-D on my lawn?
Following extensive consultation and scientific review using the most current scientific methods, Health Canada has determined that 2,4-D meets Canada’s strict health and safety standards, and as such can be used safely when label directions are followed. Health Canada’s review concurs with the findings of regulators in other OECD countries, including the United States, European Union, New Zealand and the Word Health Organization.
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