Montreal

Montreal wants to ban use of herbicide glyphosate, calling it a public health issue

Montreal plans to ban glyphosate — a commonly used herbicide marketed primarily under the trade name Roundup — by the end of the year.

'Failing to act would be irresponsible,' says Coun. Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde

Under Quebec law, municipalities can ban the use of chemicals, but not their sale. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

Montreal plans to ban the use of glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide marketed primarily under the trade name Roundup, by the end of the year.

In 2015, the World Health Organization determined that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde, a Projet Montréal councillor and the executive committee member in charge of urban agriculture, said that classification means there is no longer "any reason not to protect the health of Montrealers and farmers who use this product."

"Failing to act would be irresponsible," she said.

She said Mayor Valérie Plante's administration hopes the gesture will inspire other Quebec municipalities to follow suit. 

The City of Montreal banned neonicotinoid pesticides in 2015 an effort to protect bees. That bylaw will be amended, extending the ban to glyphosate.

Lavigne-Lalonde told CBC News that the product is already restricted and requires a permit to use.

"Now we want to ban it for everybody," she said.

Executive committee member Laurence Lavigne Lalonde (right) says Mayor Valérie Plante (left) and her administration will ban glyphosate by the end of 2019. (CBC)

Plante's administration is concerned about the quality of soil and the levels glyphosate found in food and waterways. 

Montreal is following Austria and Vietnam, the countries banned glyphosate earlier this year. Germany announced Wednesday it will do the same at the end of 2023.

The effort to ban the substance in France by 2021 has stalled but, regardless, Lavigne-Lalonde said Montreal is part of a movement.

"We think we need to push people to think about this issue and take concrete action," she said.

Health Canada approves glyphosate

Health Canada reapproved the continued use of glyphosate in 2017.

That decision sparked plenty of backlash, as opponents said lobbyists for the company Bayer are influencing decision-makers.

Glyphosate, one of the most common herbicides used in the world, is in more than 130 products sold in Canada and has widespread use by farmers to keep weeds out of their crops.

Under Quebec law, municipalities can ban the use of chemicals, but not their sale.

Quebec should ban it, groups say

Banning glyphosate use in the province's largest city is a step in the right direction, says Thibault Rehn, co-ordinator of Villigance OGM, a group aimed at raising awareness about pesticide use.

Rehn said he hopes the province will take action against glyphosate by either banning it entirely or, at the very least, restricting its use to protect citizens.

"We would like that all the cities in Quebec do the same [as Montreal]," he said. "We want the government of Quebec to ban this product."

The herbicide is already restricted by a municipal bylaw that requires people to have a permit before using it. (Radio-Canada)

Nadine Bachand, a project manager with the environmental  group Équiterre, wants the ban to extend across the province. Équiterre has already asked Quebec to enact a provincial ban, she said.

"We think it's a strong message that Montreal is sending to its citizens," she said.

In a press conference on Thursday, Premier François Legault said he was "concerned" by the potentially harmful effects of glyphosate but said that more investigation was needed before his government would take any action.

"We're not there yet," he said of a proposed ban on the chemical. "But we won't rule it out."

Legault suggested that banning the product might have an adverse effect on Quebec farmers and said he would wait on the findings of a parliamentary commission on the use of pesticides scheduled at the end of this month.

Method of last resort

Anne Charpentier, director of Montreal's Botanical Gardens told CBC News that the operation sometimes uses glyphosate as a last resort in an effort to subdue an invasive plant called Dog Strangling Vine.

She said the gardens have been trying other ways to deal with the problem for 25 years.

Charpentier said it's important to protect the plants inside the gardens from aggressive species that could threaten their growth.

Anne Charpentier, director of Montreal's Botanical Gardens, said that it's important to protect the plants on display from invasive species. (CBC)

Bayer defends glyphosate

The use of glyphosate has led to several lawsuits against Bayer, which now owns agricultural giant Monsanto, as cancer patients seek compensation in both Canada and the United States. A Quebec woman is among those suing for compensation.

Monsanto and Bayer face over 13,400 lawsuits in the U.S. alone.

Bayer claims the product is not carcinogenic and is safe for humans. The company defends its use extensively on its website.

"Glyphosate is one of the most studied herbicides in the world — and, like all crop protection products, it is subject to rigorous testing and oversight by regulatory authorities," the company states.

That "rigorous testing" by various government bodies has proven that glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are safe when used as directed, the site says.

With files from Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet, La Presse Canadienne and CBC's Sean Henry

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