Science-based decisions at Health Canada

Every regulatory decision by Health Canada relies on the most up-to-date scientific information possible. Find out how we use science to support our regulatory decisions. Also learn about our risk assessment process and research.

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How science is used to support regulatory decisions

Health Canada uses the most up-to-date science to inform its regulatory decisions. Our scientists are essential in making all of these decisions. For example, they:

  • do risk assessments to identify health and safety issues that need to be addressed
  • give input on draft guidance documents, regulations and legislation
  • review evidence for many new products to determine benefits and risks, and decide if they should be allowed for sale
    • we review a broad range of products, such as:
      • vaccines
      • medications
      • novel foods, including genetically modified products
  • review research from around the world to understand new risks and how to protect Canadians
  • collaborate with peers around the world to develop and improve on scientific approaches
  • analyze adverse reaction (side effects) and incident reports related to product use to:
    • look for patterns
    • recommend actions to protect the public

The risk assessment process

Risk assessments are a main part of Health Canada’s decision-making process. Risk assessments are done to:

  • review the benefits and risks of products or substances
  • re-evaluate products based on new science or other information
  • understand the risks from exposure to substances in our environment
  • assess information we have collected from inspection or incident reports
  • consider information about consumer behaviour that might affect the benefits and risks of a product or substance

We use them to:

  • identify the health and environmental risks linked to substance exposure
  • estimate the level of risk
  • determine how to reduce or manage a risk, like:
    • setting limits
    • correcting a non-compliance with our regulations

In a risk assessment, we aim to answer questions about a substance or product, such as:

  • Are there benefits?
  • Can it be harmful?
  • How harmful is it?
  • What level of exposure causes harm (either from short- or long-term exposure)?
  • What levels of exposure are possible in the situation being assessed?
  • Are specific groups more sensitive (such as pregnant women and children)?

Our experts study all of the available science and make recommendations on the level of benefit or risk. This helps us decide what actions are needed.

For more information on Health Canada’s risk assessment process, see A Primer on Scientific Risk Assessment at Health Canada.

Here are some examples of how this process works in specific areas:

Health Canada’s research

Health Canada’s scientists:

  • conduct research as part of their work to:
    • help improve overall scientific knowledge
    • develop new scientific methods to benefit Canadians
    • better understand emerging health and safety issues
    • support Health Canada's contributions to standards and guidelines
  • help interpret the latest science to inform policy decisions
  • are actively involved in research across a wide range of fields
  • publish their research for the benefit of the broader scientific community in peer-reviewed journals

This research has led to many important discoveries. For example, our researchers:

  • were the first to discover how acrylamide, a possible cancer-causing substance, forms in fried foods
  • studied environmental chemicals to better understand possible effects of exposure during pregnancy on infant health
  • developed new methods to more quickly detect bacteria in food
    • these methods have now become the industry standard
  • measured and studied noise generated by wind turbines to better understand potential health impacts

More examples of Health Canada’s research can be found:

You can also access our data on Canada’s open government portal.

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