This story was published by the Halifax Media Co-op and the NB Media Co-op in October 2015.
In the second instalment of this series, we continue to explore a trove of internal documents from the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These documents, related to whistle-blowing biologist Rod Cumberland and his assertion that glyphosate applications on softwood plantations are largely responsible for the province’s dwindling white-tail deer populations, show an interesting degree of ‘behind the scenes’ communications between key industrial players in the province – notably J.D. Irving – and the bureaucratic machine at the DNR.
As we left off the story in ‘Part One’, Cumberland had been trying, largely unsuccessfully, to establish some kind of meaningful contact between himself and a representative of the provincial government, towards having a dialogue on the risks of glyphosate applications in New Brunswick. Glyphosate was not only killing New Brunswick’s white-tail deer by destroying their food supply, it was also a serious potential health risk to animals and humans alike, noted Cumberland. With these real concerns in mind – and with the information to prove it – for over a year Cumberland sought an audience with the provincial government.
Instead, lines of communication had deteriorated between Cumberland and the DNR to the point that the department had simply stopped responding. Likely, as internal correspondences show, this was related to a lack of capability within DNR to address their former top white-tail deer biologist.
Industrial-leaning folks, like J.D. Irving’s in-house fish biologist, John Gilbert, took it upon themselves to slam Cumberland’s assertions in public forums, to which Cumberland responded in kind. After a DNR-led search for someone, anyone, with a science background who could publicly take on Cumberland and his claims, a February, 2014, ‘debate’ took place between Cumberland and biologist and executive director at the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, R.A Lautenschlager, on CBC Fredericton’s ‘Information Morning’.
In ‘Part One’ of this series, we explored more deeply the likelihood that these public attempts to discredit Cumberland were part of a joint effort between DNR and outside players with ‘skin in the game’, rather than the innocent divergences of scientific opinion on a complicated issue, as they were being presented.
In any case, the provincial message for public consumption had been crafted, all without DNR getting its hands noticeably dirty.
It went something like this: Science was not on Cumberland’s side. The Crown Lands Forest Management Plan, which called for the continued application of glyphosates, would proceed as planned. Alarmists, environmentalists and ill-informed ex-DNR employees with axes to grind would not upset the status quo.
And for a few months, that was that.
With the September, 2014, change in government, the DNR internal documents show a resurgence of activity from Cumberland. By January, 2015, he requested a meeting with the new, Liberal, Minister of Natural Resources, Denis Landry. Again, however, there is no response from DNR. At this point, it appears as though frustration begins to set in.
“I am writing because of the exorbitant amount of time it is taking to respond to my letter of January 15, 2015 to the Minister,” writes Cumberland to Landry and several DNR staffers on April 2, 2015. “As a professional biologist, former employee and taxpayer of NB, I expect my letter to be stuffed into a red file for response – not just sent around offices with an FYI on it. The letter contained significant information on the health hazards posed by the spraying of glyphosate. It is too important to simply ignore.”
As the DNR continues to ignore Cumberland, we see the biologist begin to shift tactics. By mid-April, 2015, perhaps having given up on a face to face meeting with Minister Landry, Cumberland begins to mass email all members of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
Attached to these mass emails are peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals; all of which highlight the health dangers of glyphosate applications. Even if government will not meet with him, Cumberland seems intent on educating the elected representatives of New Brunswick as to the dangers of their complicity in glyphosate applications.
“Most early testing of glyphosate that Health Canada relied on to approve the use of glyphosate was short-term, and tested glyphosate without the adjuvants and emulsifiers that make it “Roundup” or “Vision”…what is actually sprayed on our agricultural crops and forests,” writes Cumberland to the MLAs on April 16, 2015. “What did they find when glyphosate in formulation was evaluated for its impact on human reproductive cells?…TOTAL CELL DEATH within 24 hours [and] DNA fragmentation.
“Could this explain the high levels of cancer in New Brunswick? Could it explain the high levels of miscarriages? Has anyone ever studied this link? We just continued accepting that an industry concerned about the bottom line and governments relying on Health Canada’s acceptance of a chemical tested 20 years ago over tiny 30 day trials without the mixtures sprayed on the land today, and think all is well.”
To this email, Cumberland attaches the highly-cited 2008 study by Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Seralini.
“You will begin to see another trend in the research,” write Cumberland to the MLAs on April 21, 2015. “North American based research sponsored primarily by the industry are short-term studies and seldom test glyphosate in formulation. Research from other countries test it longer, under typical use formulation and find hugely divergent results from most in NA. As well, the obvious results are that glyphosate is banned for use in most non-NA countries, including the EU, while its use continues in Canada and the US for “economical” reasons.
“Is the health of your family and grandchildren worth the risk? Does making money really matter if what we’re using will kill us?”
To this email, Cumberland attaches the 2010 study by R Mesnage et al, which documents the case of a family suffering birth defects after glyphosate applications.
On April 27, 2015, Cumberland attaches three studies to his now-regular MLA emails. The first, undertaken in Argentina and published by ‘Ecotoxicology’, outlines how “Roundup” turned clear water turbid, caused effects on non-target organisms and modified the function and structure of freshwater ecosystems. The second study, published in the Journal of Applied Soil Ecology in 2013, found that glyphosate was extremely toxic to aquatic organisms. The third study, published in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health in 2014, summarizes three decades of research between herbicide and pesticides and lymphoma.
“Hopefully Mr. Landry can find a minute or two in his busy schedule to meet with me to discuss this and other elements of the forest strategy,” writes Cumberland.
On April 29, 2015, Cumberland attaches “Glysphosate: Destructor of Human Health and Biodiversity”, a compendium of research showing that “glyphosate interferes with metabolic processes in not only plants, but animals and humans.”
“PS…still waiting for a meeting date with Hon. Landry…” writes Cumberland.
DNR’s final email regarding Cumberland is circulated on September 1, 2015. The email, from one DNR staffer to another, reads:
“Cumberland just called looking for me to have a liver sample collected from a moose that died in Rosairville last week. He wants to have it tested for herbicides. We both know his angle.”
This story was first published by the Halifax Media Co-op and shared with the NB Media Co-op. Miles Howe is a reporter with the Halifax Media Co-op.