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How are herbicides used safely?

Category: Herbicide Operations

Extensive science has gone into today's herbicide operations, allowing us to conduct applications with significant margins of safety for known sensitive organisms. Today’s applicators are trained, licenced professionals, using application equipment that includes GPS guidance and tracking for maximum precision and accountability.

Like most products that we use in daily life, safety is derived from the product itself, as well as how we use it. The use of forest herbicides is no different.

While some 5 different herbicide active ingredients are available for use in NB, managers rely almost solely on glyphosate-based products. The world has been safely using glyphosate for more than 40 years in agriculture and 30 years in forestry. It is the most widely studied herbicide in the world, registered on more than 100 food crops. The knowledgeable people that we entrust with product regulation in Canada and around the world have deemed glyphosate to be safe for humans and the environment, and not pose a cancer risk, when used as directed. So we can be reasonably sure that the product we use is safe.

Forest managers decide on the most appropriate vegetation management tool to use only after careful site-specific scrutiny of a number of factors that include 1) need, 2) the efficacy of available approaches, and 3) potential for unwanted consequences. No matter what vegetation management tool is chosen, measures are then taken to mitigate the latter. For example, if manual cutting is chosen, timing and weather conditions may be restricted to avoid potential for heat exhaustion and exhaust inhalation by workers. Likewise, if herbicide application is chosen, the means of application, rates, equipment and weather parameters, will be selected to confine the herbicide to the vegetation being targeted. In fact, the herbicide label is a legal document that specifies tolerances for these factors that must be adhered to by applicators. Provincial regulators may choose to restrict these tolerances even further. Today’s applicators are trained, licenced professionals, using application equipment that includes GPS guidance and tracking for maximum precision and accountability. All applications are delineated spatially, pre-approved, and include buffer zones designed to ensure that herbicide deposit does not occur where it is not intended (such as streams, sensitive non-target vegetation, etc.).

Extensive science has gone into the establishment of the tolerances used in today’s herbicide applications, allowing us to conduct applications with significant margins of safety for known sensitive organisms, mitigating the risk of unwanted consequences. So we can be reasonably sure that how we use the product is safe.