Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

An agrochemical lobbyist will lead the Order of Agronomists

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar25,2024

An agrochemical lobbyist will lead the Order of Agronomists

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The board of directors approved Thursday the appointment of Benoît Pharand to the position of general director.

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A promoter of the agrochemical industry (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) will take over the leadership of the Order of Agronomists of Quebec. The arrival of Benoît Pharand comes at a crucial moment since the government is slow to modernize the 50-year-old Agronomists Act, particularly on issues of independence of professionals in relation to industrialists.

The board of directors approved on Thursday the appointment of Benoît Pharand to the position of general manager.

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Benoît Pharand.

Benoît Pharand was until Thursday CEO of the Réseau végétal Québec, an association of around fifty companies, including Bayer, Corteva, Singenta and Sollio, major manufacturers and sellers of pesticides in Quebec. He resigned the evening of his appointment when his team had just learned the news through a call from Radio-Canada.

Réseau végétal Québec is a partner of CropLife Canada, the lobby of the agrochemical industry in the country. These two organizations entered into a memorandum of understanding in 2020 to help the Réseau végétal become an important voice in Quebec regarding pesticides in terms of raising awareness among both the media and the government. , we can read in CropLife's 2020-2021 annual report.

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Réseau végétal has around fifty member companies including Bayer, Corteva, Singenta and Sollio, major manufacturers and sellers of pesticides in Quebec.

On the social network LinkedIn, Benoît Pharand shared several CropLife publications in recent weeks, including one which denounced the confusion and [the] misinformation about pesticide residues on food, an issue which caused a lot of noise on the federal scene.

It read: Pesticides are essential tools that farmers use to protect their crops from insects, weeds and diseases and to help make crops more resilient to severe weather to get the most out of every plant.

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Radio-Canada has published several investigations into the influence of CropLife on the Canadian government's policies regarding pesticides. Last year, a scientist appointed by the federal government to advise it on its decisions relating to pesticides resigned, criticizing in particular the influence of lobbies.

Benoît Pharand, who will take up his position on April 15, also has a lobbyist mandate registered until November 2024 with Lobbyisme Québec with the aim of influencing the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture. Office of Professions on the subject of the revision of the Law on agronomists to guarantee “the competitiveness of the agricultural sector”.

Among the questions at the heart of the project of the Legault government's law, there is the supervision of the independence of agronomists. In Quebec, the majority of agronomists who advise farmers on their use of pesticides are employees of companies that market pesticides.

Record quantities of pesticides have been sold in the province for several years and again recently (New window). Some agronomists even received illegal financial incentives to sell more of these products.

About ten years ago, scientific research which demonstrated that certain pesticides were used without necessity was the subject of attempts to cover up. This is what whistleblower Louis Robert, a former civil servant at the Ministry of Agriculture, denounced.

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Louis Robert is retired from the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. (Archive photo)

In June 2022, the Minister of Agriculture, André Lamontagne, tabled Bill 41 to reform the Agronomists Act. In particular, he proposed prohibiting an agronomist from selling pesticides and providing advisory services to farmers.

However, this bill died on the order paper, as it was tabled a few days before the end of the parliamentary session. It has not been reposted since.

The day after this filing, the Plant Network was among industry representatives who criticized the text. According to them, the bill would have ignored the skills of hundreds of professionals from agronomy, who work daily for the benefit of producers and Quebec agriculture.

Despite our requests to speak to Benoît Pharand last week, directly with him, the Réseau végétal Québec and the Ordre des agronomes, he was not available to respond to our questions.

An industry lobbyist as CEO of an order whose mission is to protect the public, that makes no sense, it should be a disqualifying criterion, reacted a source member of the x27;Order of agronomists who asked to conceal her identity, because she will be working with Mr. Pharand.

If we must avoid [not only] the conflict of interest but also the appearance of a conflict of interest, a lobbyist general manager, that does not hold water if we are logical.

A quote from A source from the Order of Agronomists

For his part, agronomist Louis Robert is not surprised by this appointment. He had already denounced, in his book, the weight of private agronomists within the Order. It is the decision of a board of directors undermined by conflicts of interest. No surprise there, but I would have thought that they would be more discreet, that they would be careful.

The x27;Order of agronomists is preparing to make a complete change of guard since the president and vice-president recently announced their departure and will soon be replaced.

The president of the board of directors agreed to grant us an interview in place of Benoît Pharand. She claims that Mr. Pharand withdrew from the lobbyist register on Thursday even though his registration was still visible at the time of publishing this text.

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Martine Giguère represents 3,300 members of the Order of Agronomists of Quebec. (File photo)

Martine Giguère explains that the role of the general manager is above all one of human resources and operations management. The general director is not there to guide the position of the Order. The position of the Order comes from the board of directors, as provided for in the Professional Code.

A general director who goes against the orientations of the board of directors, he could not stay in office for very long.

A quote from Martine Giguère, president of the ;Québec Order of Agronomists

The former director general had still played a key role alongside the president in the project to reform the code of ethics of agronomists.

He will work in line with the mission and values ​​of the Order. I have no concerns about that.

A quote from Martine Giguère, president of the Ordre des agronomes du Québec

In the press release issued Thursday evening by the Order, we can read this quote from Mr. Pharand: I am happy to use my expertise to develop the profession. […] I am proud to take part in an organization that reflects my deep values ​​and whose mission is to promote the excellence of the profession as well as the protection of the public.

The office of the Minister of Agriculture is not able to say when the bill will be resubmitted. In fact, he is also unable to say that it will be redeposited.

We are in the process to analyze the modifications to the code of ethics that the Order is proposing to the ministry, explains the minister's press secretary, Sophie Barma.

I'm not telling you what will happen next: will there still be a bill? We're not there. […] I am not excluding a bill being introduced, but for the moment, we are analyzing that before any action.

A quote from Sophie Barma, press secretary to the Minister of x27;Agriculture du Québec

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André Lamontagne, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (Archive photo)

For her part, the president of the Order explains that the project presented to the ministry consists of modifying and adding provisions to better regulate the appearance of conflicts of interest and the conflict of interest.

Martine Giguère hopes that a bill will be tabled again, because the old law from 1973 no longer reflects today's agronomic practice.

The Order also recommended that the government put an end to the free sale of pesticides in Quebec, otherwise the protection of the public and the environment remains a real problem.

On the other hand, the president is not in favor of the idea of ​​prohibiting an agronomist from selling pesticides at the same time as providing consulting services. This section of the bill annoyed us. She believes that a professional is needed who has all the scientific knowledge required in agronomy to support the agricultural producer in the purchase and, therefore, in the sale and monitoring after the use of these pesticides.

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A tractor spreads pesticides in a soy field.

Martine Giguère tells us that the Ministry of Agriculture has mandated the Bureau de normalization du Quebec to develop a standard for companies that offer consulting services at the same time as sales to better supervise and mark out these two activities.

According to agronomist Louis Robert, the current code of ethics is fine as it is, it is just not applied. For example, article 28 indicates that the agronomist must avoid any situation where he would be in a conflict of interest and article 29 requires him to inform his client if there appears to be a conflict of interest .

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Last year, the Public Protector also agreed with whistleblower Louis Robert and concluded that the former president of the Grain Research Center (CÉROM), Christian Overbeek, an agronomist active until 2020, “recurringly placed himself in a situation of conflict of interest” “by discrediting CÉROM’s research”. The Order of Agronomists has never launched an investigation on this subject.

Friday, five years after his dismissal, then his reinstatement, with an apology from Prime Minister François Legault, Louis Robert received a standing ovation after speaking at a forum on the occasion of National Day whistleblowers, organized by the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit, the Municipal Commission, the Public Procurement Authority, the Public Protector, the Office of the Inspector General of the City of Montreal , Élections Québec, the Ethics Commissioner and Lobbyisme Québec.

Louis Robert recounted his painful but necessary experience, who contributed to changing practices, even if he considers these changes insufficient.

Since 2021, agronomists employed by the pesticide industry must declare their interest to the Order and their clients. They also have the obligation to reveal their method of remuneration.

In addition, the board of directors of the Order has a code of ethics and professional conduct, has established compulsory continuing training for agronomists and has reviewed its electoral process. In 2019, Louis Robert narrowly failed to be elected president of the Order. He lost with 49.6% of the vote.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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