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Why Maritimers are rallying against chemical forest sprays

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The chemical, glyphosate, is controversial for its propensity to cause cancer

Protests erupted across Nova Scotia this fall when forestry company Northern Pulp was approved for its latest round of aerial herbicide sprays. The controversial chemical, glyphosate, is banned in parts of Europe and for forestry in Quebec due to questions around its propensity to cause cancer.

In the Maritimes, glyphosate’s recent history is troubling. Rod Cumberland, the former chief deer biologist for the Natural Resources department in New Brunswick, found that glyphosates are a major contributor to the province’s deer population collapse. It wasn’t until after he retired in 2012 that he made his research public. Company J.D. Irving, responsible for spraying most of New Brunswick’s glyphosates, subsequently attacked his research. Last year, former N.B. chief medical officer Dr. Eilish Cleary was working on a study of glyphosates when she was placed on leave and then fired. Meanwhile, former provincial premier, Dr. John Hamm, chairs Northern Pulp’s mill board.

“You need governments that are going to be strong enough to stand up to these industries,” says Lenore Zann, the Truro, N.S.-area MLA who’s rallying against the spraying. But in a region under economic pressure, reigning in such industries is often easier said than done. “[Northern Pulp] has threatened to leave a number of times,” adds Zann. “Anytime anybody tries to get serious about pushing them on their environmental footprint.”

Glyphosate is Health Canada approved, and is registered in more than 130 countries. It’s commonly used in forestry, agriculture, and along rail and power lines. It was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s, and accounted for just under a third of Monsanto’s earnings last year.

While the human health impacts of glyphosate remain up for debate, its effects on forest health are more straightforward. Cumberland’s research showed that New Brunswick’s deer population collapsed because glyphosates kill a main food source: hardwoods. Forestry companies such as Northern Pulp spray to encourage conifer growth, which they harvest, by killing off competing species. The result is a less resilient forest.

“If a bug comes in, like the spruce bud worm for instance, it’s going to wipe everything out,” says Zann, noting that the spraying is a symptom of an outdated approach to forest management that places fibre output above forest health. “You’re basically turning everything into a monoculture,” Zann continues. “If they say there’s no other way, I say bullshit—you just have to want to find them.”

First published in Nov/Dec 2016 issue of This magazine

https://this.org/2016/12/06/why-maritimers-are-rallying-against-chemical-forest-sprays/

Percy Schmeiser went up against Monsanto

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Percy Schmeiser at TRU Jan. 25. Photo by Larkin Schmiedl

Percy Schmeiser is a well-known Saskatchewan canola breeder and organic farmer who came into contact with Monsanto when he found unwanted genetically-modified (GM) canola plants growing in his field.  His struggles, lawsuits and victories are well documented in the press, and I had the chance to see him speak live here in Kamloops on Jan. 25 at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).  He is in his eighties now, and sometimes goes on speaking tours to educate people about what he sees as the dangers of GM foods.  He spoke to around 175 people in the Clocktower auditorium.

Monsanto is now the largest seed company in the world.

I took some audio and pictures of his talk, and here is part of what he had to say:

Schmeiser says these are the fundamental issues that were on the line when he took Monsanto to the Supreme Court of Canada: Video

Schmeiser says Monsanto threatened him in various ways: Video

He said that farmers fall under Monsanto’s contracts even if they haven’t signed.  They are bound by virtue of what is in their fields–so if Monsanto’s GE plants pollinate with your plants and begin to grow on your property, even if you don’t want them there, you can be held responsible.  He read out the contract, and it was, frankly, shocking.  Here is some more information about the contracts Monsanto produces.

Monsanto has its own investigation and police force, and puts out ads encouraging people to let them know if they see ‘Monsanto’s’ plants growing in their neighbour’s fields.  The company offers gifts to anyone who provides information.

For more information on Schmeiser, his history with Monsanto, and his views, search his name in Google and you will have plenty of information on your hands.

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Here are some more bits of information about GM foods for folks who are not familiar:

GM crops were first introduced to the world in 1996.

Genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s) are not labelled in our food in North America, despite all the unknowns.  In Europe, GM food is banned.  (As one consequence of this, North America cannot export GM crops, or crops contaminated with GM genes, to Europe.  Canola is one of these crops, since it can no longer be guaranteed GM-free even if it’s organically grown, due to cross-contamination where the GM plants breed with the plants in the organic field.)  Percy Schmeiser took Canada to court at the U.N. in Geneva over lack of GMO labelling.

The science to date about GM foods is not conclusive.  The largest factor concerning GM is that its effects are unknown.

The social and political effects of GM, and the workings of Monsanto, are however much better known.

The Institute for Responsible Technology publishes the “Non-GMO Shopping Guide.”  One useful piece of knowledge I found when scanning through it is that, “If a non-organic product made in North America lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets.”

Here are some links to further reading about Monsanto and some of the controversies the company is involved in (and this is just the tip of the iceberg).

Monsanto, World’s Largest Genetically Modified Food Producer, To Be Charged With Biopiracy In India, HuffPost Canada, Oct. 2011

Monsanto Accused In Suit Tied To Agent Orange, NPR, Feb. 1, 2012

Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds, The WIP, May 2011

Occupy Wall Street Stands with Farmers, Says Enough! to Monsanto, CommonDreams, Jan. 31

This WordPress blog has many articles relating to both Monsanto and food issues generally: Food Freedom

A couple of Monsanto’s technologies:

Round-Up

Terminator Seeds

There is so much to learn about GM, and it’s an ongoing discussion in the larger community as well as the scientific community, with new discoveries being made all the time as we deepen our understanding of this extremely powerful and potentially very dangerous technology.

It’s important to separate the social structure and corporate structure of GM foods from the science of it so that we can understand each piece of the puzzle as we consider the problem.  And it’s equally important to be able to unite these factors and see it as a whole, for that is how it is presently operating in our world.  A big part of that whole is determined by what Monsanto is up to.

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