Concerned citizens trying to stop the indiscriminate spraying of glyphosate herbicides across New Brunswick are finding that public health and safety is taking a back seat to corporate interests. The chemical, identified as a likely source of cancer by the World Health Organization (WHO), is manufactured by the American multinational Monsanto and used extensively in forestry, agricultural and urban applications.
Glyphosate spraying has always been controversial in New Brunswick. In March, a report, by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), stated that glyphosate damages human DNA and chromosomes, and probably causes cancer.
That report, by internationally-respected scientists, confirmed what critics of glyphosate here have been saying for some time, and is now adding new urgency to efforts aimed at curtailing its use.
A “March Against Monsanto” in Moncton May 23, organized by the Council of Canadians, saw forestry and other workers, farmers, and people who want safe food to eat joining forces to stop the use of glyphosates. As well, the Moncton protest also heard about the devastation of forests and wildlife in areas of New Brunswick where the herbicide is commonly used.
Pamela Ross chairs the Moncton Chapter of the Council of Canadians. Speaking at the Moncton demonstration, Ross said that, as well as being sprayed on thousands of acres of forest every year, glyphosates are also used extensively with genetically modified or “GMO’d” seeds, and the food crops grown from GMO’d seed.
She says the health hazards posed by GMO’d seeds, many of which are treated with glyphosate, and plants grown from these seeds, have so far resulted in “62 countries around the world requiring GMO (genetically modified organism) food labeling, or banning GMO’d food outright.” Yet, both the U.S. and Canada continue to turn a deaf ear to demands for the labeling of GMO’d food in North America.
In effect, many food consumers in North America are unwitting human guinea pigs eating GMO’d food with unknown long term health effects. Consumers can protect themselves from GMO’d food – sometimes called ‘Franken-foods,’ – by eating organic foods, only planting seeds purchased from companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, and by seeking out local food producers like La Récolte de Chez-nous, which only spray as a last resort.
Moncton resident Kevin King attended the “March Against Monsanto.” He says “Monsanto is into chemicals, food and politics.”
“Our land, air and water are threatened by chemicals like glyphosate,” King says, “and the safety of the food we eat is now threatened due to GMO’d foods.” Like many people, King is angry that food companies are not required to label GMO’d foods.
King says the rush to market GMO’d foods simply reflects corporate greed. Without labels that say food has been ‘GMO’d,’ people are eating food that many scientists consider unsafe.
While awareness of the threat to people’s health from glyphosate, and from GMO’d food they eat, is growing steadily, wildlife biologist Rod Cumberland says the destruction of wildlife caused by spraying the herbicide on New Brunswick forests is already well-documented. He notes that 15,000 hectares of Crown land are sprayed with glyphosate every year.
Spraying is done primarily in central and southern regions of the province where deer, moose and fish populations have all declined sharply. In the northwestern parts of the province where spraying has been stopped or curtailed, those wildlife populations are thriving.
“The deer and moose populations in northwest New Brunswick, where the winter was more severe than in the south, still did much better than deer and moose populations in central and southern regions,” Cumberland said. “Most spraying is done on Crown land, rather than privately-held land, and deer populations on Crown land have declined sharply.”
The wildlife population declines that Cumberland cites are documented in the annual counts of deer and moose by New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources. A major reason for the decline of animals like deer and moose in sprayed areas of the forest is that spraying destroys their habitat.
Spraying is used to kill hardwood trees, so that only the softwoods that can be easily converted into pulpwood are left. The result is that huge tracts of natural forest are replaced with the softwood tree plantations that forestry corporations can easily harvest for a fast buck today, but that cannot support deer and moose populations.
Cumberland also points out that the data on deer breeding shows a serious decline in the percentages of deer populations that are able to reproduce. “In the late 1980s, 90% or more of adult deer were able to breed successfully,” he says, “but that percentage has been greatly reduced.”
Cumberland would like to see research into why deer reproduction rates are declining, and the effect glyphosates may be having on their reproductive systems.
“When you look at the fish populations, it’s the same story,” Cumberland says. “In the Northwest where spraying has been stopped, the fish are also doing much better.”
Spraying stopped in the northwest of the province after a helicopter that had been contracted for herbicide spraying on Crown land was burned in Menneval in August 2010. At the time, police determined the burning of the spray helicopter while it was on the ground and unoccupied was caused by arson.
Despite the data pouring in every year, the Province of New Brunswick continues to insist spraying glyphosates is harmless. Cumberland disagrees, and he thinks there is also a link between high cancer rates in New Brunswick and the widespread spraying of glyphosate, which the World Health Organization says damages DNA and chromosomes, and also likely causes cancer.
In a bitter irony, the same week that the Council of Canadians staged its protest in Moncton against glyphosates, New Brunswick Power announced its program of clearing brush under power lines by spraying glyphosate from the air.
Dallas McQuarrie is a Kent County-based news writer for the NB Media Co-op and a former journalist with CBC.