New Brunswick

Glyphosate takes centre stage as pesticide hearings get underway in New Brunswick

Sixteen presenters will speak out for and against the controversial herbicide's use during four days of committee hearings.

Four days of hearings begin, with 16 presenters speaking out for and against controversial herbicide's use

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, addresses the glyphosate hearings Tuesday, the first of four days of hearings before the standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship. Also shown is the council's communications director, Jon MacNeill. (Government of New Brunswick)

The controversial herbicide glyphosate took centre stage during the first of four days of hearings in Fredericton on Tuesday.

The hearings, held by the standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship, are intended to review pesticide and herbicide use in New Brunswick. 

But on opening day, the presentations focused almost exclusively on the pros and cons of glyphosate.

Glyphosate, used mainly by the province's forestry and agriculture sectors to control weeds and other vegetation, has been the subject of several lawsuits that allege it is a health risk

Health Canada has stood by the scientific evidence it used to approve the continued use of glyphosate in weed killers, and says it has been found unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans. 

On Tuesday, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick was first up on a four-day agenda of more than a dozen presenters.

New chief forester role proposed

Lois Corbett, the council's executive director, highlighted new studies around the herbicide and set out a number of recommendations, including a ban on herbicides, a dramatic reduction in clearcutting of forests, and the appointment of a chief forester.

It's a role that has already been created in provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec.

"That is to hold someone to account in the legislature on how are these big plans working?" Corbett said.

"How are you meeting the expectations of citizens' involvement, First Nations involvement? And how are you dealing with this whole raft of new science, new science, new science?"

People in New Brunswick care about their forests, and you've got to trust them.- Lois Corbett, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

Corbett also cited several new findings, including some she considers "alarming."

She said she has seen new peer-reviewed studies that found the pesticide has been "showing up where we have been told for the last 30 years it wouldn't show up," including berries and prickly rose shrubs.

Although glyphosate is also used by some industries and in the agriculture sector, Corbett advised the committee to focus on the herbicide's largest user: the forest industry.

Asked by Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland to clarify the concentration levels found in areas she described to the committee, Corbett cautioned against "getting distracted" when discussing glyphosate use in forests as opposed to in agriculture.

"We're not growing food, we're growing paper, tissue paper," she said. "And farmers don't spray from helicopters." 

Green Party Leader David Coon said the repetitive cycle of complaints about approved chemicals eventually leading to restrictions on their use feels 'like that movie Groundhog Day.' (Logan Perley/CBC file)

'It's like Groundhog Day': Coon

Corbett also urged the committee to listen to the general public, noting that more than 35,000 New Brunswickers have signed petitions asking the government to phase out glyphosate use. 

"People in New Brunswick care about their forests, and you've got to trust them," she said.

Green Party Leader David Coon expressed concern about the new findings Corbett presented, including the "ever-growing body of evidence" around the risks of glyphosate use.

He was equally troubled by what he said is an often-repeated pattern when it comes to pesticide studies.

"It's kind of like that movie Groundhog Day," he said, a reference to a movie in which a weatherman finds himself inexplicably living the same day over and over again. 

"The evidence starts to mount that there are problems with it ... and then the body of evidence finally reaches the point where government, the regulator, takes action and registers them or bans them," he said.

"We've seen that over and over and over with different pesticide products." 

Lane Stewart, right, of Blueberries New Brunswick told the standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship the province's farmers are "under attack" because of "fearmongering" and "misinformation" about glyphosate. Also shown is Blueberries New Brunswick chair Rene Chiasson. (government of new brunswick)

Farmers 'under attack' 

Also addressing the committee Tuesday were representatives from Blueberries New Brunswick, which manages 35,000 hectares of blueberry farms in the province, as well as the Canadian Forest Service's Atlantic Forestry Centre and the environmental organization Group Ecovie, which has called for an end to glyphosate use in New Brunswick.

Blueberries New Brunswick board member Lane Stewart told the committee he worries that farmers are "under attack" due to misinformation, fearmongers and "false news." 

"New Brunswick's economy needs agriculture," Stewart said, noting "farms are declining in this province."

"Farmers are selling or abandoning their farms because the younger generation has no desire to take over. They are taught in schools that farmers are polluters," he said.

Stewart defended the responsible use of herbicides and said glyphosate has been "proven safe when properly used."

He explained that blueberry farmers are extremely conscientious about when the herbicide is applied – when starting a new farm, and not when there are blueberries on the bushes – and are mindful of the importance of bees and other wildlife whose health is vital to their crop.

"If [glyphosate] is banned, what will happen to the blueberry?" Stewart asked. "We must follow the guidelines of Health Canada ... not impressionable science promoted on social media to scare the public."

The hearings, which are being live-streamed, continue Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with presentations from the National Farmers Union in N.B., Forest NB, Rod Cumberland, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency and others.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie Sutherland is a web writer with CBC News based in Saint John. You can reach her at marie.sutherland@cbc.ca.

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