Every day, with virtually everything we do, we are exposed to risk.
Crossing the street, brushing our teeth, and drinking coffee, all come with varying degrees of hazard. This is why we wait for cars, spit out our toothpaste, and limit our caffeine intake. In fact, managing our exposure to activities and substances that are potentially harmful, is simply part of life.
And yet, virtually all substances have the potential to cause harm. Even water, in certain amounts, is lethal. The dose dictates the poison!
So, when a system classifies substances based exclusively on their hazard or risk, that system ignores the most important factor – the degree to which we are exposed. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cancer classification, for example, virtually disregards exposure amounts or limits, when labeling carcinogenic substances or activities.
On the other hand, the Canadian Government regulates medications and pesticides with the understanding that everything comes with associated risk. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), an entity within Health Canada, determines whether a pesticide product can be used safely, based on the amount that is necessary to control the pests. They then establish limitations on how the product should be used, so that both humans and the environment are thoroughly protected.
I came to Canada in 2010 to study plant biology at the University of Alberta. Today, as a PhD scientist, my role is to understand ‘the science behind the agricultural practices’. So, joining the regulatory team at Corteva Agriscience in 2014 was a great fit for me.
Of course, as a scientist, I was also very curious how a big corporation operates. Is their science reliable? Who works there? Do farmers have a choice, or are they being forced to use their technologies?
The good news is that scientists like me at Corteva are held to the same ethical standards as the scientists I worked with at the university-research level. Remember, to earn a PhD, it takes at least 11 years of university studies.
There is nothing more valuable to scientific advancement than a scientist’s integrity, which can only be achieved by conducting studies in the most ethical and transparent manner.
The public wants to know more about the food they eat. Where does it come from? Who’s growing it? How is it being grown? And they are exposed to multiple sources of information that are driving their eating habits. This is an incredible opportunity for farmers who want to help the public understand what they do, how they do it and why. To help inform the public, you must understand how PMRA assesses the safety of pesticides.
It takes approximately 10 years to come up with a new pesticide that’s unique, beneficial to farmers, safe to humans, and safe to the environment. This is not an easy task. Especially when you consider that our chemistry and biology scientists begin the process choosing from more than 100,000 possible chemicals to end up with one or two that meet or surpass the criteria.
Once the thoroughly-researched chemical candidates are chosen to become products, further studies are conducted to determine the pest it controls. Tests are also conducted to assess the optimal application rates, and its safety to humans and the environment, based on the proposed application patterns and volumes.
Overall, it takes nearly 150 separate studies to assess the safety and efficacy of a chemical product. This is a huge investment for innovator companies.
PMRA, as other agencies around the world, evaluates the safety and integrity of a chemical pesticide product by several types of studies in the scientific areas of:
Pesticides are one of the most regulated chemicals on the planet. Many studies from several different scientific areas are reviewed by regulatory agencies before a pesticide is considered for registration. We can be confident that registered pesticides can be used safely, while bringing tremendous benefits to the environment, producing more on less land. Pesticides also make good economic sense, keeping food prices low, and ensure that farmers have the right tools to grow their crops.