Skip to content

Even more glyphosate spraying in the Central Interior?

Peter Ewart
Peter Ewart

BY PETER EWART

Special to the News

Canfor Corporation is applying to extend its spraying of glyphosate-based herbicide in the Central Interior forests of British Columbia for another five years, despite growing opposition to its use in the U.S., Canada and around the world.  Those opposed argue that glyphosate is toxic to wildlife, including insects, amphibians, birds and mammals, and may cause cancer and other ailments in humans.  In addition, as James Steidle of Stop the Spray BC notes, widespread use of the weed killer results in a decrease in plant food for animal species like moose and, by killing broad-leaf trees, make the coniferous forests more susceptible to forest fires (1). 

Glyphosate (marketed as Roundup) is a chemical manufactured by the Bayer – Monsanto multinational and is utilized by Canfor and other forestry companies to kill broadleaf species of trees like aspen, birch, cottonwood and willow, all of which is authorized by the provincial government.  The reason for using the herbicide is to promote the growth of “money trees” like spruce and pine.  In British Columbia, much of this massive spraying is carried out every year by helicopters and usually covers an area between 10,000 and 20,000 hectares mostly in the Central Interior.  Since 1980, over 1.3 million hectares in B.C. have either been sprayed with glyphosate or manually brushed.

The Canfor spraying plan is going ahead despite widespread opposition.  For example, in Canada, Quebec has banned using glyphosate on Crown lands and recently the Liberal Party and Green Party in Nova Scotia are calling for the same in that province.  The chemical has been or soon will be banned completely in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam and 10 other countries, with another 15 countries restricting its use.  Some cities and districts have either banned or severely restricted the weed killer, and certain stores have pulled it from their shelves (2).

In British Columbia, Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris has spoken out against Canfor’s glyphosate spraying plan and has said that “he hopes to introduce a private members bill against the practice during the next sitting of the legislature, pending support from the rest of B.C. Liberal caucus” (3).

According to research conducted by UNBC professor Lisa Wood, glyphosate can be stored in root structures of perennial plants and “move up to shoot and fruit portions” in following years (4).  This, of course, has implications for the edible and medicinal plants in northern forests and for the people who consume them, especially Indigenous peoples.

At this time, there are literally tens of thousands of lawsuits being launched in the U.S. and Canada against Bayer-Monsanto by people who argue they have contracted cancer and other ailments from glyphosate exposure.  In 2018, Dewayne Lee Johnson, a California school groundskeeper who used Roundup extensively in his duties, was awarded $289 million in damages by a jury after he contracted a terminal case of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  In 2019, another couple in California who also used the herbicide extensively were awarded $2 billion after both developed cancer (5).  Many other court cases and legal challenges are pending across North America and the world.

After a series of legal defeats, Bayer-Monsanto has agreed to pay $10.9 billion into a fund to settle tens of thousands of court cases.  However, despite agreeing to this costly arrangement, the corporation still refuses to admit that the chemical causes cancer.  Why the corporation would hand out such an enormous amount of money – if it truly believes the herbicide is safe – remains a mystery.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization – classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’” (6).  However, in contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. claims that glyphosate is “unlikely to cause cancer” (7).  And, for its part, Health Canada has declared that “no pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed” (8).

Critics reply that these government regulators are basing their conclusions on deeply flawed research “provided by Monsanto.”  For example, in recent court cases against the company, it has come to light that, behind the scenes, Monsanto commissioned a Canadian company to “recruit scientists to publish studies that ultimately defended glyphosate – some of which were secretly reviewed by Monsanto prior to publication.” Monsanto went so far as to ghost write and ghost edit some of the academic studies indicating that glyphosate was safe (9).  It later came out that “twelve of the 15 authors had been consultants for Monsanto in the past, and two have now admitted that they were paid directly by the company” (10).

Despite these revelations, neither the EPA or Health Canada have changed their designation of glyphosate as a “safe” chemical, even though both government agencies used these “ghostwritten” or “ghost edited” papers in the studies leading up to their decisions.

According to Judge Chhabria of the U.S. District Court of San Francisco, who reviewed one of the legal settlements, “Monsanto didn’t seem concerned at all about getting at the truth of whether glyphosate caused cancer” (11).

Given the facts, it is hard to see how there can be any kind of compelling case for more glyphosate spraying in the forests of British Columbia, especially when other methods of silviculture can be easily adopted such as manual brushing and cutting. 

Peter Ewart is a writer and community activist based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

  1. Ewart, Peter. “Death from the sky in Northern BC.” PG Daily News. March 31, 2018
  2. Schulte, Cara. “United States should ban use of glyphosate on food crops.”  Human Rights Watch.
  3. Nielsen, Mark. “MLA against Canfor plan to extend use of glyphosate for five years.” PG Citizen. October 29, 2020
  4. Wood, Lisa. “The presence of glyphosate in forest plants with different life strategies one-year after application.” Canadian Journal of Forest Research. January 8, 2019.
  5. Gatehouse, Jonathon Gatehouse. “A roundhouse against Roundup.” National Today. May 19, 2019.
  6. Andromidas, Georgia, et al. “Farmers say they need alternatives if herbicide glyphosate is weeded out.”  Capital Current.  November 2, 2020.
  7. Schulte, Cara. “United States should ban use of glyphosate on food crops.”  Human Rights Watch.
  8. Andromidas, Georgia, et al. “Farmers say they need alternatives if herbicide glyphosate is weeded out.”  Capital Current.  November 2, 2020.
  9. Arsenault, Chris. “A U.S. court blamed Roundup for causing cancer. Then Canada defended the herbicide, emails show.” CBC News. February 5, 2020.
  10. Schochat, Gil & Sylvie Fournier. “Court documents reveal Monsanto’s efforts to fight glyphosate’s ‘severe stigma’. CBC News. March 12, 2019.
  11. Cohen, Patricia. “Roundup maker to pay $12 billion to settle cancer suits.” New York Times. June 24, 2020.

What do you think about this story?