Health report on glyphosate sought by environmental group

More than six months after the firing of the province’s chief medical officer of health, environmental activists are demanding to see the herbicide report she was working on when she was let go.

Council of Canadians wants to see report Dr. Eilish Cleary was working on when put on leave in 2015

Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell took over the report on glyphosate Dr. Eilish Cleary was working on when she was placed on leave in 2015. (CBC)

More than six months after the firing of the province's chief medical officer of health, environmental activists are demanding to see the herbicide report she was working on when she was let go.

The Kent County branch of the Council of Canadians is asking Dr. Eilish Cleary's replacement, Dr. Jennifer Russell, to release the report on glyphosate now that spraying season is underway.

"We need to see that report now," Ann Pohl, the chair of the chapter, wrote in a letter to Russell. "It is not clear to us if your report has been scrapped, suppressed, or something else has happened."

Cleary told Pohl in a letter last August that her office would develop a plan for reporting "in the coming year."

Dr. Eilish Cleary said in a letter in August 2015 that her office would develop a plan for reporting the results of a glyphosate study "in the coming year."
Glyphosate is a herbicide commonly used in household garden weed killers but is also used by farmers and industry to control undergrowth.

CBC News reported in December that Cleary was working on the study when she was placed on leave, prompting environmental activists to speculate she was being silenced.

After Cleary was fired in December, the deputy minister of health, Tom Maston, released a statement that the decision was not "about the medical and scientific work being undertaken by the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health."

In January, as part of a legal settlement, Cleary and Maston released a joint statement that said the government would "continue to support the ongoing work being done by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, as well as the independence of the office."

'Nearing completion'

Pohl's letter assumes the report is finished but a spokesperson for the Health Department said in a brief emailed statement that "[the] report is nearing completion." She didn't give a timeline for when it will be finished or released.

The work had never stopped.- Victor Boudreau, health minister

Health Minister Victor Boudreau said last week there was no interruption in the study despite Cleary's firing and Russell taking over. "The work had never stopped," he said.

Pohl couldn't be reached for an interview Monday. She said in her letter she was worried about the study because the previous PC government tried to "bury" Cleary's report on shale gas. In 2012, the PCs sent mixed messages about whether they'd allow it to be released publicly.

Cleary was eventually allowed to release it publicly.

'Probably carcinogenic'

Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

But in May, a joint meeting of the WHO and the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization released a report saying long-term exposure to glyphosate is "unlikely to present a public health concern."

"Short-term dietary exposure to glyphosate residues is unlikely to present a risk to consumers," the report said.

David Miller, a New Brunswick-born biologist at Carleton University who sits on WHO panels, says "the overwhelming majority" of studies have found glyphosate has no genetic effects on mammals.

The FAO-WHO report reviewed existing studies, including of tumours in mice and rats. It said glyphosate was not carcinogenic in rats but would not rule out it being carcinogenic in mice "at very high doses."

But those amounts were "many of millions of times lower exposure" than anything humans would consume, Miller says.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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