Scientist: Pesticides don’t cause cancer

Top Canadian scientist in field of toxicology says research shows farmers not more likely to get cancer, despite claims by U.S. report.

Professor Len Ritter from the University of Guelph speaking during the I.E.P.M.A concerning the toxicity of pesticides and the link to cancers.

Professor Len Ritter from the University of Guelph speaking during the I.E.P.M.A concerning the toxicity of pesticides and the link to cancers.

Just because there’s been a 30 per cent increase in deaths from cancer in Canada doesn’t mean there’s any need for concern.

The reason for that increase is due to an aging population and an increasing population. When you allow for that, there’s no increase at all, says Len Ritter, professor emeritus at the University of Guelph, who has 35 years experience in the field of toxicology and pesticide safety.

He was speaking at the annual meeting of the Integrated Environmental Plant Management Association in Kelowna Thursday on some of the latest research relating to the exposure of humans to pesticides.

He cautioned against putting any stock in the 2009 U.S. President’s Panel on Cancer, which was released in 2010. It cautioned people to choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and to stop or reduce use of pesticides and fertilizers on landscaping.

It advised that “pesticides approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.”

However, he noted that tobacco smoke contains 4,000 chemical compounds, including 70 known human carcinogens.

It stated that pesticides and agricultural fertilizers also are major contributors to water pollution; and that farmers and their families are at highest risk from agricultural exposures.

In fact, he detailed 30 years of research which refuted the “panel’s” claims, and noted that the panel was actually only made up of two people.

Even the highly-respected New England Journal of Medicine said the report, “Paints an unbalanced picture…with no supporting data.”

Ritter said, in fact, 30 to 40 per cent of all cancers are due to the use of tobacco and chronic disease is the cause of 50 per cent . Obesity, sunlight and tobacco smoke are far more serious concerns than the use of pesticides.

However, he didn’t see any issues with Kelowna’s ban on the backyard use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes by un-trained homeowners.

Permitting trained professionals to apply pesticides is a different matter from backyard use, he said.

It’s sensible to eliminate those without the training to use pesticides, he said, but he also defended Canada’s system of approving pesticides for the market, by noting that the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency is a good system that’s very thorough before it approves any pesticides for use in this country.

Everyone, though, should look for options to reduce their use and exposure to pesticides, he advised.

As far as buying only organic produce is concerned, he said there is no evidence that organic produce is necessarily safer than conventionally-grown produce.

Actually, he noted, organic producers have shifted their message from safety to focus on the importance of lifestyle and sustainable agriculture.

“There are lots of unqualified people out there trying to undermine the efforts of the PMRA,” he commented.


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