Today I raised a question of privilege after Hon. Katrine Conroy (Minister of Forests) stated unequivocally that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic and non-toxic. The Minister gave the impression that the science regarding the safety of glyphosate has been settled when it has not.
The Minister stated in the same breath that glyphosate use is being phased out, suggesting that she is aware of the controversy surrounding the use of this chemical, despite her statements to the contrary.
Public representatives must use the best possible science to inform decision-making. The Minister’s comments show a disregard to this responsibility. We await her defense and the Speaker’s decision.
I rise to speak to a question of privilege that I raised last Thursday with respect to comments that were brought in this House in question period on glyphosate by the Minister of Forests.
On Thursday, March 31, I asked the Minister of Forests about glyphosate spraying in B.C. In response to my question, the minister said the following regarding glyphosate:
“I’ve done a lot of research on this, because we’ve also been…. There is questions about glyphosate use in forestry, and the effects of glyphosate on human health has been really extensively reviewed by international regulatory agencies, including Health Canada, with the conclusion being that exposure to glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic or general toxic risk to humans. It remains an important tool for establishing conifer or conifer-deciduous mixed stands and ensuring future timber supplies.”
I rose on this point of privilege immediately after question period.
I raise this question of privilege to highlight the Minister of Forests’s comments regarding the safety of glyphosate are misleading. The minister led the House to believe in her comments that the science on glyphosate is complete. However, had the minister done the review, she would know that significant concerns with the safety of glyphosate remain.
As the Minister of Forests opened her defence of the safety of glyphosate by saying: “I’ve done a lot of research on this….” It then follows that the intent of the comments made by the Minister of Forests was to intentionally mislead the House. Following a cursory review of various studies reviewing the safety of glyphosate, I would not feel comfortable in any way stating, as the Minister of Forests continued: “…with the conclusion being that…glyphosate does not pose a carcinogenic or…toxic risk to humans.”
Glyphosate is a herbicide used on many products, including agricultural crops such as wheat and soybeans and lumber crops. It has been and continues to be used on B.C. tree farms. The Minister of Forests justified the use of glyphosate, saying that it is “an important tool for establishing conifer or conifer deciduous-mixed stands and ensuring future timber supplies. But that said, the use of this herbicide in B.C.’s forest sector has declined significantly in recent years, as foresters use a variety of approaches to manage competing vegetation, including manual, mechanical, burning, biological and herbicides. The glyphosate use in forestry has to comply with B.C.’s Integrated Pest Management Act….” And steps have been taken “to minimize impacts on environment, including fish-bearing streams.”
Glyphosate is the key chemical compound in Roundup, and the terms are often used interchangeably, though Roundup is a brand name. The dangers of glyphosate on human health have been widely debated. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer found “strong evidence that glyphosate is likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined glyphosate to be nontoxic to humans; however, the EPA utilized non-peer-reviewed research commissioned by Monsanto. Nearly 100,000 plaintiffs in the United States have received settlements from Bayer, the owner of Monsanto, to the tune of $10 billion.
The minister stated that international regulatory agencies in Health Canada have ruled that glyphosate is not carcinogenic or toxic to humans. It is irrefutable that there is at least some danger associated with glyphosate. It is also irrefutable that powerful actors with a stake in continued glyphosate use have influenced the body of research on the chemical.
On February 7, 2022, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Health Canada didn’t follow its own rules for regulating pesticides and herbicides. There are concerns that evidence used to authorize the use of glyphosate was influenced by Monsanto, the makers of Roundup. Monsanto was bought by Germany’s Bayer AG. Bayer has faced multiple lawsuits in the United States from Americans claiming Roundup gave them cancer. Bayer is appealing one of these cases through the U.S. Supreme Court. Health Canada is reviewing the ruling.
In 2022, just this year, numerous countries have restricted or banned the use of glyphosate in response to health concerns, including cancer litigation that occurred in the U.S. or have implemented plans to transition away from glyphosate. Eight out of ten provinces in Canada “have some form of restriction on the use of nonessential cosmetic pesticides, including glyphosate.”
Glyphosate was authorized for use in the EU until December 2022 and is currently under review to re-evaluate its safety. Germany, the home country of Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, has decided to phase out glyphosate entirely. In 2019, the German cabinet approved legislation to ban glyphosate by 2024. Further determination will be made based on evidence submitted by the EFSA, that’s the European Food Safety Authority and the ECHA, which is the European Chemicals Agency.
Targeted consultation by the ECHA on potential hazards of glyphosate began on March 29 of this year and will conclude just in a few weeks on April 14, 2022.
In July 2020, Human Rights Watch discussed the lack of credibility of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of glyphosate. The EPA declared glyphosate to be noncarcinogenic and nontoxic to humans; however, the EPA relied on non-peer-reviewed research commissioned by Monsanto, which fundamentally differed from studies taken by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
I note that we’re wearing these pins because April is also Cancer Month. In 2020, of that year, despite continuing to assert that Roundup is safe, Bayer agreed to a $10 billion settlement for at least 95,000 claims against it. As of March 7 of this year, just last month, it is estimated that there are still 30,000 lawsuits against U.S. Bayer’s Monsanto that have not been settled.
There are further concerns around migrant farmworkers being left out of Roundup cancer compensation due to precarious citizenship status and fears of deportation, citing the likelihood of far more cancer-related cases against glyphosate.
In 2019, an article published in Environmental Sciences Europe assessed the discrepancy between the EPA finding that glyphosate is safe and the IARC finding that glyphosate is dangerous. The authors concluded that the organizations reached such different conclusions because the EPA relied on unpublished, commissioned studies while IARC relied on peer-reviewed studies.
A March 2017 discovery in a lawsuit against Monsanto releases evidence that Monsanto recruited scientists to co-author reports defending the safety of glyphosate. The evidence also demonstrates a friendship between Monsanto and a senior regulator in the American Environmental Protection Agency.
March 20, 2015. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the arm of the World Health Organization, finds strong evidence that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.
There are four criteria when raising a question of privilege. One, that it be raised at the earliest opportunity. I believe that I meet that criteria, as I stood immediately following question period to raise the question of privilege.
Two, it must be a matter directly concerning the privileges of the House, committee or member. It does, as it concerns misleading statements by a minister.
It must be raised to correct a grave and serious breach. The goal of this is to highlight that at the very least, the science on the use of glyphosate has not been settled. The science is not settled on it. There are many, many concerns raised around the world and even here in Canada.
And it must be raised in order to seek a genuine remedy that the House has the power to provide for which no other parliamentary process is reasonably available. I believe that we meet that criteria as well.
If an allegation of misleading the House must meet these three criteria — that the statement is, in fact, misleading; that the member must have known that the statement was inaccurate at the time the statement was made; and that the member must have intended to mislead the House…. I contend that the minister, in opening the comments, stated that she had done a lot of research on this issue. The member must have known the statement to be inaccurate.
If the member had, in fact, done a lot of research on the issue, then they would have found a litany of studies, just like we did, to at the very least demonstrate that the science on glyphosate is far less than complete or far less than settled. Therefore, point 3, the member must have intended to mislead the House. I contend that in making the statements that the evidence lands in favour of glyphosate, the minister was trying to defend the use of glyphosate by the forestry — indeed, her Ministry of Forests.