New Brunswick hearings on glyphosate spraying begin

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WATCH: Fifteen months after they were initially scheduled, hearings into the controversial practice of glyphosate spraying began in the committee room of the New Brunswick Legislature. Tuesday set the stage for what figures to be a contentious four days, with some of the viewpoints that will be repeated throughout the week being introduced. Silas Brown reports. – Jun 22, 2021

Fifteen months after they were initially scheduled, public hearings on the use of glyphosate began in the committee room of the New Brunswick legislature.

The hearings, where organizations and members of the public are invited to appear before the standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship, were originally slated for March 24-27, 2020 and were bumped by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday’s session set the course for many of the arguments that will be heard on the controversial herbicide over the coming days.

“You’ve got to make a recommendation to the legislature that you stop using tax payer money to pay for this,” said Lois Corbett, the executive director of the New Brunswick Conservation Council.

“It will help industry adjust when you stop cutting cheques for poison in the crown forests.”

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Read more: N.B. committee examining glyphosate spraying

Environmental groups and other activists have long opposed the use of the herbicide which is used for thinning on clear cut blocks and NB Power transmission lines, as well as in agricultural contexts.

In her presentation to legislators, Corbett pointed out that the World Health Organization has classified the herbicide as a probable carcinogen since 2015 and that both France and Germany have committed to phasing out its use.

But Corbett says she doesn’t think the practice should be banned right away, but rather it should first be phased out in the forestry context, before looking at banning it for agricultural use. She says the process should be part of a broader rethinking of how the forestry industry operates in the province.

“Herbicides are kind of a symptom of a problem, like a crutch when you have a sprained ankle or a broken leg. It’s a symptom of a broader problem which is large-scale clear-cutting,” Corbett said.

“If you can bring down the size of clear cutting in Crown forests … then you can dramatically reduce herbicide use in the Crown forests.”

Read more: N.B. Liberals promise to suspend use of industrial herbicide on Crown land

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Glyphosate is often applied through aerial spraying, which kills the fast-growing woody vegetation on a cut block, reducing the competition for smaller coniferous trees increasing their growth.

According to Chris Edge, a research scientist with the Atlantic wing of the Canadian Forest Service, about 30 per cent of clear cuts are sprayed with glyphosate and just a third of those require additional spraying.

In his presentation, Edge pointed to a Health Canada review of glyphosate in 2017 that deemed the risk of its use to be minimal.

“When used according to revised label instructions glyphosate products are not expected to pose risk of concern to the environment,” he said.

Edge claims that the concentration amounts used in New Brunswick do not reach the threshold to pose a toxicity risk to most species. But he says there is a bigger conversation to be had over its use in forestry in the context of climate change and sustainability.

“The question that we need to ask is in the context of climate change and sustainable forest management, when we’re including biodiversity, species at risk, a whole suite of different animals in this case, does that change meet our forestry needs,” he said.

Read more: Environmental group putting pressure on New Brunswick to ban herbicide spraying

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Representatives from Bluets NB Blueberries also presented to the committee, arguing that without glyphosate another herbicide would be needed in its place.

They said that fields are only sprayed when being prepped for use. After that it’s only used with sponges, to “swipe” weeds in the first year of growth, before plants begin to fruit.

The final group to present on Tuesday was EcoVie, a group that has vehemently opposed glyphosate spraying.

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