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‘Troubling allegations’ prompt Health Canada review of studies used to approve popular weed-killer

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Health Canada says in light of « troubling allegations, » its scientists are reviewing hundreds of studies used during the approval process for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Canada’s most popular herbicide, Roundup.

The decision comes after a coalition of environmental groups claimed Health Canada relied on studies that were secretly influenced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, when it re-approved use of glyphosate in 2015 and confirmed that decision in 2017.

The coalition, which includes Equiterre, Ecojustice, Canadian Physicians for the Environment and others, says academic papers looking at whether the herbicide causes cancer were presented to Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency as independent, when in fact Monsanto had a hand in writing them.

At the time, Health Canada decided the risks of glyphosate to human health were acceptable, if used as directed in updated product labels. Now it’s taking another look.

« Health Canada scientists are currently reviewing hundreds of studies to assess whether the information justifies a change to the original decision, or the use of a panel of experts not affiliated with Health Canada, » the health agency told CBC-Radio Canada in an email response to the coalition’s claims.

But Sidney Ribaux, the head of Equiterre, isn’t satisfied.

He says Health Canada should launch an independent review immediately and suspend use of the herbicide, which is commonly applied to corn, soy, wheat and oats, as well as chickpeas and other pulses.

« This does not in any way meet our demands. Health Canada approved a dangerous product based … on these studies. »

Monsanto Papers

The coalition’s contention that Monsanto had an uncredited role in producing some of the studies comes from court documents made public in the case of Dewayne « Lee » Johnson.

In August, a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay Johnson $289 million US in damages after the former groundskeeper alleged Roundup gave him non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

He was diagnosed in 2014 at age 42.

A judge upheld the verdict last month, although Johnson’s payout was slashed to $78 million US.

The documents filed in the case, including emails between Monsanto and scientific experts, have become known as the Monsanto Papers. The revelations they contain have received worldwide attention.

Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson, seen here during his trial on July 9, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at age 42. A former pest control manager at a San Francisco-area school district, he blames exposure to glyphosate for his illness. (Josh Edelson/Reuters)

The coalition of Canadian groups says those documents prove that important scientific studies were either co-written or reviewed and edited by Monsanto without properly disclosing the company’s role.

« Monsanto has been playing around with scientific studies, » said Equiterre’s Ribaux. « [It’s] making these studies look like they are independent, when in fact they were written or heavily influenced by Monsanto.

« What we found is that some of these studies were key in the Government of Canada’s decision to give a permit to Monsanto to continue selling glyphosate in Canada.

« Obviously this is very problematic. »

In a statement to CBC, Monsanto says it has an « unwavering commitment to sound science transparency » and did not try to influence scientific outcomes in any way.

The company says in each case where it sponsored a scientific article, that information was disclosed.

U.S. plaintiff calls for more testing

Lee Johnson, the plaintiff in the landmark American case, wants to see glyphosate research re-evaluated and expanded.

« Hopefully the conversation is big enough to where they have to do more testing, more research, » Johnson told CBC-Radio-Canada in an exclusive interview during a recent visit to Toronto.

Johnson said he was thrilled to win his suit, but he knows his fight is far from over. He expects years of appeals.

 I’m not scared to die. You know, but if I have to die, at least I’ll die for something.– Dewayne « Lee » Johnson

Monsanto, now owned by German-based Bayer AG, has already announced its intention to appeal the ruling. Bayer now faces more than 8,000 lawsuits in the U.S. over its glyphosate-based products.

In a post on its website last month, Monsanto said it continues « to believe that the liability verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial or the law. »

The company told CBC-Radio Canada « its product is safe and has been used successfully for more than 40 years. »

It also says there is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 studies required by regulators in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere, that confirms these products are safe when used as directed.

Many government regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, have determined there is no conclusive link between glyphosate and cancer.

But the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in 2015 that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

Johnson, who sprayed Roundup and a similar Monsanto product, Ranger Pro, as part of his job as a groundskeeper at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, says he has found a certain consolation in his struggle against Monsanto.

« I was there to defend the truth, » he said. « I’m not scared to die. You know, but if I have to die, at least I’ll die for something. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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