Thank you very much.
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Louise Vandelac and I am the Director of the Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives. This collective brings together about 20 researchers from all walks of life working on issues related to agriculture, food, health, the environment, public policy, research ethics and the review of public evaluation mechanisms. Our large team includes biologists, toxicologists, ecotoxicologists, doctors, agronomists and sociologists, among others. I am also a full professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Environmental Sciences at UQAM.
I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for inviting me to discuss the perception of and the public trust in the agricultural sector, particularly in order to examine the challenges and opportunities in the agricultural sector, to open dialogue among farmers and to discuss another issue that is clearly at the heart of the debate—the measures taken and to be taken by industry and government to improve public trust.
As the saying goes, “if it ain't broken, don't fix it”. In other words, what is no longer working and needs fixing? Is this the result of the perception that there is a great deal of public unease about agriculture and that public trust is being undermined or even eroded?
I will speak very quickly, in a few [Technical difficulty—Editor], about which a French report has been submitted to the Prime Minister of France. The report is entitled “the impact of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada on the environment, climate and health”. The report points out that environmental protection is not yet at the heart of Canadian agricultural policy and that our environmental requirements remain far less stringent than those in force in the European Union. In terms of pesticides, in particular, Canada still allows 46 active substances that have been banned for a long time in other countries.
I will focus on the issue of glyphosate-based herbicides. It is the most widely used pesticide in the world, with applications of more than 800,000 tonnes per year. It accounts for 56% of all agricultural pesticides in Canada and 46% in Quebec. It is important to remember that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer calls glyphosate a probable human carcinogen. Glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors and chelators that affect soil and health. They are also patented as antibiotics, but they have suspected effects on the microbiota, and their co-formulants are up to 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. This toxicity results from the presence not only of polyethoxylated tallow amines (POEA), a surfactant banned in Europe since 2016 but authorized in Canada in concentrations of a maximum of 20% of the overall weight, but also of certain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead or cobalt.
The number of glyphosate applications worldwide is 300 times higher than in 1974, particularly in North America where they have increased significantly since genetically modified organisms were introduced in 1996. GMOs have been designed in particular to be able to absorb glyphosate-based herbicides without dying from them. These herbicides are therefore used at all stages of cultivation and in almost all media, so that they are now omnipresent in water, soil, air and rain. In addition, 30% of foods contain glyphosate residues. Remember that a farmer never uses glyphosate alone, but in commercial formulations made up of about 40% of this herbicide. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the actual overall impact of glyphosate-based herbicides is significantly underestimated.
In the United States today, more than 11,200 people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma attributed to Roundup, the most infamous glyphosate-based herbicide, have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer Monsanto-Bayer. In the Dewayne Johnson case, before the California courts, the 46-year-old municipal employee and father of three children, who had been responsible for years for applying Roundup in parks and schoolyards and whose body was ravaged by terminal cancer, saw a jury unanimously sentence Monsanto-Bayer to pay him $289 million, which was reduced to $78 million on appeal. Bayer, which was worth 136 billion euros in 2015 and bought Monsanto in the summer of 2018 for 63 billion euros, had the value of its shares plummet to only 52 billion euros, according to an article in Le Monde.
In a second trial that just ended in the U.S. Federal Court last week, the jury unanimously sentenced Monsanto-Bayer to pay $80 million to 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman, who had used Roundup in his own garden.
In fact, not only is the product a hazard for professional and domestic use, but the use of truncated, misleading and manipulated information, as well as the undue influence of firms in connection with the research [Technical difficulty—Editor] is also a problem. The thousands of Monsanto internal documents declassified as part of these trials are available on the U.S. Right to Know website.
These issues are very important because they have to do with the manipulation of scientific data. Let me quote a very short excerpt—