The Science of Pest Management in Canada

September 15, 2023


Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is responsible for pesticide regulation in Canada. The PMRA is working to help all Canadians understand the risks associated with pesticides, and what the government does to protect your health and the environment.

What is a pesticide?

A pesticide – also known as a pest control product – is any product with an active ingredient to prevent and control damage from pests. Pesticides help farmers grow food by protecting crops from insects, diseases, and weeds.

There are also common everyday products that are classified as pesticides. Have you ever used a bug spray to keep those annoying mosquitoes away? Have you added a chlorine to your pool or hot tub to keep bacteria and algae away? Applied corn gluten meal to organically control weeds on your lawn? Those are all items that are classified as pesticides and are regulated by the PMRA.

But pesticides do present very real risks if they are not controlled properly. Irresponsible pesticide use can harm humans, wildlife, and the environment. Since its creation in 1995, the PMRA has used science-based evidence to develop strict regulations to minimize the harm from pesticides and promote sustainable pest management in Canada.

Evaluating pesticides

If an individual or group, like a pesticide company, wants to register a pesticide in Canada, they start by developing a comprehensive package with all the information about the pesticide. Think of this as a pesticide’s resume.

This package dives into the details about a pesticide. It has data and studies about the chemistry of the pesticide; how well it works; and how it could affect people’s health and the environment.

This is where PMRA’s scientists come in! They not only review the package, but they also review extra information from other sources to inform their decision. This can include peer-reviewed articles from academic journals, data and reports from organizations in Canada and around the world, as well as health and environmental monitoring data. Our scientists look at all sides to see the full picture.

“We have nearly 400 scientists from diverse educational backgrounds working in the PMRA,” explains Haris Gisavi, Senior Scientific Evaluator at PMRA. “There are chemists, toxicologists, exposure scientists, epidemiologists, microbiologists, environmental scientists, and all the specialties in between. We all work together to review data according to international guidelines, which then leads to decisions and regulations on pesticides.”

The PMRA team is looking for the answer to a crucial question: Is this pesticide safe and effective for use in Canada?

The scientists ask questions about the expected use of a pesticide, how people and the environment could be exposed to it, and if it causes negative effects. How does a pesticide move through soil, water, and air in the environment? How could it affect the food we eat? Can it still manage a pest if we reduce how much is applied?

The team looks at all this information to decide if a pesticide can effectively manage pests, at the same time, keeping people and the environment safe.

Next time you spot a pesticide on the store shelf, remember the process it went through to get there! It is a process marked by scientific investigation and a commitment to keeping people and the environment safe.

As the PMRA continues to promote scientific literacy and help people in Canada understand the complicated aspects of pesticide science, they would also like to hear from you! What else you would like to learn from the scientists that work on pest management? You can reach them at:

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