New Brunswick's largest forestry company and its wealthy owners have urged members of the provincial legislature to not give in to what they call "misinformation" about the herbicide glyphosate.
J.D. Irving Ltd. co-CEO Jim Irving told a committee of MLAs on Tuesday morning that a ban on the product would curtail the company's ability to maximize the output of its logging leases on Crown land.
"We shouldn't throw away the tools without knowing where we're going to land," Irving said.
"It would be disastrous. Short term, it would be difficult. It would impact our business dramatically if we can't use herbicide. Very carefully, but we have to use it, at the present time, anyway."
Company officials told the MLAs that only 0.5 per cent of the forest sees tree planting and the spraying of herbicides in a given year.
That makes those areas four times as productive for logging, which in turns makes it easier to set aside conservation areas that have expanded from five to 30 per cent of Crown land in the last four decades.
Irving's director of research and development Andrew Willett said "scary information" about glyphosate is easy to find online, but it's misleading.
"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," he said.
He pointed out that Health Canada has declared glyphosate safe and pointed out the federal agency has been trusted by a large majority of Canadians on COVID-19 vaccinations.
"We just can't say 'Well, we believe Health Canada on vaccines but not on other products,'" Willett said. "We have to put our trust in Health Canada."
But Irving faced tough questions from some members of the standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship, which has been studying the use of glyphosate since earlier this year.
Green Leader David Coon tried to probe Irving on his claim that a glyphosate ban would be "disastrous" by asking him to identify the shareholders of the privately-held family company.
He also tried to find out the company's annual revenue from its forest products, a figure Jim Irving refused to disclose.
"We know you'd like to perhaps chase us on a number of things, but we're a New Brunswick company," Irving told Coon.
"We've been here a long time, we have thousands of great employees on lots of communities and they're doing great work."
Coon pointed to Forbes Magazine's estimate that Irving's father, J.K. Irving, is worth $4.1 billion dollars US, or about $5.3 billion Canadian.
"You've done very well in New Brunswick," Coon said, suggesting that a wealthy company could afford the highest cost of growing and harvesting wood without herbicides.
"When you say suspending the use of glyphosate would be catastrophic for the company … it doesn't quite stand up for me, given how well you've done," Coon said.
He also raised the company's extensive use of lobbyists to meet with elected officials and regulators.
Irving chief forester Jason Killam called that use part of a "healthy dialogue" with governments.
Jim Irving brushed off Coon's questions with reporters after the meeting, saying the long-time environmental activist "doesn't understand the business."
"He's never been a big supporter of the industry, and that's his political base, to try to be anti-business as far as I'm concerned," Irving said. "So that's fine. That's Mr. Coon."
Progressive Conservative Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland also questioned the Irving officials about their estimate that an acre of forest land is worth $500 to industry.
He asked if the company had also calculated the dollar value of lost wildlife habitat and biodiversity as a result of logging.
Irving told him that "it's very hard to put a dollar on that. Commercial land trades at a commercial price."