by John Nuttall, October 10, 2021
One of the most important industries in the Province of New Brunswick is forestry. The importance is both economic and political. Within this vital industry, many practices are taken to maximize profitability. One of those practices is glyphosate spraying. Glyphosate and the Irving family, which control the province’s practice, need to have their control and practices challenged both for economic and environmental sustainability. The Irvings tend to push back on these claims, saying that their practices and management are environmentally stable and economically beneficial for the province. The evidence presented will suggest otherwise.
Who are the Irvings?
To keep things concise, the Irvings are a family in New Brunswick with an excessive amount of economic and, by extension, political control (Livesey 2016). As such, they are economically significant in the province, with as many as 1 in 12 jobs in the province being an Irving company job (Ibid.). There are three major conglomerations of companies that are all privately owned by the family. First is J.D. Irving Ltd. (locally known as J.D.I.) run by ninety-three-year-old Jim Irving. J.D.I. runs the forestry sector and also owns Brunswick News Ltd., which controls all of the major newspapers in New Brunswick. Second is Ocean Capital, the conglomeration of companies under the control of Jack Irving’s surviving family, which includes Acadian Broadcasting Ltd., which controls a large portion of the radio stations in the province. Last is Irving Oil, the largest of the three, run by Art Irving. The company of interest for today is J.D.I. and their forestry business.
Given their economic control, how does this play out in the political sphere? Beyond the influence of having so many people’s livelihoods dependent on the companies, the top politician in the province, Premier Blain Higgs, is a former executive of Irving Oil Ltd. Higgs held the position of Director of Logistics and Distribution and Business Development (Poitras 2020). Like many situations that illustrate the revolving door of business and politics, Higgs is a company man. He is fighting hard in government for Irving profits, as evidenced by the scandal with the province’s energy board in July 2021. In brief, Higgs used the Minister of Natural Resources, Mike Holland, as a proxy to push Irving demands to increase the cost of natural-gas used for heating homes (Jones, 2021.). In the case of J.D.I and forestry, Higgs refuses to increase royalty rates on crown land lumber, despite record profits and New Brunswick having the lowest rates in the country, missing out on an estimated 100 million in government revenue (Jones 2021).
The NB Economy and Forestry
The lumber industry in New Brunswick accounts for as many as 4800 jobs (Bedford). If we look at the amount in each province, New Brunswick is on par with Alberta, but with a significantly smaller population (Jeudy et al., 2020). Moreover, forestry accounts, in 2012, accounted for over $300 million of the NB GDP (Bedford, 2020). Conjointly, reporting by Robert Jones showed, “In the 13 months between July 2020 and July 2021, New Brunswick sawmills and wood preservation operations recorded sales of $1.8 billion…” J.D.I. has the most control over the forestry sector in the province and their harvesting management practices are problematic (Moir 2014).
What is Glyphosate?
One of the ways J.D.I practice forestry management is monoculture. Monoculture is the practice of only having one type of crop on the same land. In our case, it is planting back primarily softwood lumber. Glyphosate is a herbicide used to kill off unwanted growth (Cumberland 2014). Under current World Health Organisation (2019) standards, it’s a schedule III chemical, which makes it acceptable under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the international regulatory organization that establishes the standards for sustainable forestry regulation, for usage in the sector. This is something that J.D.I. insists makes the chemical safe to use. The issue is that recent studies into glyphosate show that it is not a safe chemical and the WHO standard used by the SFI is out of date with the science.
What Does the Science Say?
A recent book, “Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate Is Destroying Our Health and the Environment”, was published on July 1, 2021, by MIT professorStephanie Seneff. This decade long project by Dr. Seneff showed that glyphosate is “the most dangerous environmental chemical we face today due to its unique mechanism of toxicity, careless application, and pervasive presence”. Further, she was able to find that glyphosate affects: the liver, reproduction, early childhood development, the brain, and the autoimmune system.
Of course, glyphosate doesn’t just harm the body of humans but animals and plant life as well. Dr Seneff wrote, “[glyphosate]…is a major factor in biodiversity loss, including the dramatic collapse of monarch butterflies and honeybees, and declining overall health in plants, animals, other living organisms, and entire ecosystems.” Conjointly a meta-study on forestry conducted in 2017 showed, “Globally, a 10% loss of tree species richness corresponded on average to a 6–7% decline in productivity, and the rate of this decline increased significantly with a further reduction of biodiversity.”
In NB itself, two studies have been published. One by retired biologist Rob Cumberland from the Department of Natural Resources found that the amount of herbicide used results in the loss of enough food for “nearly 40,000 deer every single year on crown land.” (2014) Another study published in 2014 showed that the herbicide was affecting local moss growth.
Work and controversy around the issues have most recently resulted in David Coon, Green Party Leader, and Jim Irving butting heads in the Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship (SCCCES) on the issue (Glynn 2021).
What do the Irvings have to say?
First, they claim that the chemical is harmless and meets the international standards set by the WHO and their SFI certification. Of course, we now know that those international standards are not, in fact, up to date with the science and that the chemical’s current usage, though still within SFI standards, is not suitable for people or the larger ecosystem.
Moreover, in a recent back and forth between himself and NB Green Party leader David Coon in the SCCCES, Jim Irving stated that “It would be disastrous. Short term, it would be not easy. It would impact our business dramatically if we couldn’t use the herbicide. Very carefully, but we have to use it, at present, anyway.” (Poitras 2021, Jim Irving says glyphosate ban would be ‘disastrous’)
Further, he said: “We can’t make public policy, and we can’t make public investments on something Karen from Facebook said or something we read on Google”.
On both these points, it should be noted that J.D.I. itself claims that they only spray herbicides on 0.5 per cent of the forest in any given year (Ibid.). This means this shallow usage of the herbicide is exceptionally damaging to the ecosystem, especially because it stays there for a long time.
Economist Rob Moir found in his study Forestry Jobs and Forestry Management in the Maritimes and Northeastern USA that the control the Irvings have in the forestry sector is detrimental to job growth (Moir, 2014). So the claim that the company would do less well because of a reduction in the usage of a harmful herbicide is nonsense. This would actually benefit the province in job growth and public health, as well as environmentally. Further, the Irving family is worth billions of dollars and, as previously noted, has seen record profits with no increase to royalty rates on forestry this year, and in 2020. They should be able to take a finical hit in the market.
Allowing the Irvings to have outsized control over the sector and continue to use the practice of monoculture is not in the best interest of the province economically nor environmentally. Tackling monoculture and J.D.I. is possible in the province with the correct amount of political pressure, but it is a difficult task to undertake by any political group. One has to deal with the current pro-Irving government and the family’s economic capture of the province. It is no easy task, but the long-term sustainability of the vital forestry sector and the biodiversity of the forest necessitates it.
About the Author:
John Nuttall is a third-year Political Science Honours student studying at the University of Waterloo. John holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics from Mount Alison University. John has participated in several political organisations in his home province of New Brunswick, most recently as the leadership race campaign manager for the current leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party.