David Mitchell does not know if he will have it planted this year in the Margaree Valley.
The longtime dairy and fruit farmer spent the winter in Halifax to get closer to treating non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
But he believes he is ready to be the Canadian face of a class action lawsuit against two of the world’s largest agricultural and pharmaceutical companies.
“Oh yes, I have no problem with that,” said the 63-year-old.
Last July, Mitchell and amateur farmer Gretta Hutton launched a lawsuit against Bayer Inc., Monsanto Company, Monsanto Canada ULC and Monsanto Canada Inc.
Bayer bought Monsanto, maker of Roundup herbicide, in 2016 for $ 66 billion.
Mitchell, Hutton and Over 900 Signers of their Nova Scotia Supreme Court Class Action in Halifax Alleged Current and Former Producers of Roundup “Known or Should Have Known” that Exposure to Their Product Was Risky increased to develop cancer.
They are supported by a study titled Exposure to Glyphosate Herbicides and Risk of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence, published last February in the academic journal Mutation Research / reviews in Mutation Research by researchers from the University of Washington.
Its authors reviewed epidemiological studies on the link between glyphosate exposure and cancer published between 2001 and 2018. This study included a 2018 study of 54,000 licensed professional pesticide applicators in the United States.
She found that exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, increased the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by up to 41%.
“They refused to include a cancer warning or other adequate warning on the label or to instruct users to wear protective clothing or equipment when spraying Roundup, and they unduly influenced, undermined and discredited scientific research which concluded that their product was harmful to humans, “reads the statement of the prosecution.
“All this in order to save the enormous profits generated by one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, while neglecting the health and lives of Canadians.”
In 1994 Mitchell left his job at CN Rail, sold his hobby sheep farm near Lunenburg, and moved with his then wife and two young children to Scotsburn, Pictou County.
They started with a herd of 15 purebred jersey dairy cows.
Among the many tasks of managing a growing farm was to prevent these breed jerseys from escaping.
That meant walking on the pastures with a backpack sprayer, applying glyphosate to kill the grass that would grow out of the electric fence.
Mitchell would go around in the morning before the wind picked up, wearing coveralls and gloves.
“It was a very common practice, it still is,” said Mitchell.
“You should try to be careful because it was a chemical. But you would always end up having bloody stuff on you. It didn’t matter how careful you tried to be, you’d end up flipping a little, breathing a little. ”
In 2003 Mitchell was ready for a new adventure in farming.
He moved to New Zealand to work on a dairy farm.
There, his duties included spraying Roundup.
Glyphosate can be found almost anywhere where there is commercial farming.
Since Monsanto began marketing it under the name Roundup in 1974, around 9.4 million tonnes have been sprayed. According to US Right to Know, an American non-profit research group, this represents about half a ton of Roundup for every acre grown in the world.
In 2005, he returned to Nova Scotia to buy an orchard.
“You don’t have to milk them twice a day,” said Mitchell of what drew him to tree crops.
The 48-hectare farm in Somerset, near Aylesford, included 13 hectares of apple trees and six hectares of vines.
He sprayed Roundup every day in the spring when the grass arrived to compete with the trees for nutrients. Dressed in a sealed suit without a mask, he sprayed it from an arrow mounted on the front of a tractor and using a backpack sprayer.
“I liked it, but there wasn’t enough money back then,” said Mitchell to explain why they weren’t sticking to the orchard.
“I was not trying to get rich. Like most farms, you don’t get rich, just try to be comfortable and at least break even. ”
Next came a pass to a nearby cranberry bog, where he sometimes sprayed Roundup and then went to Alberta to work.
In 2013, he was preparing to return to New Zealand when a blood test revealed a very high number of white blood cells. He went anyway.
But after eight months, his health deteriorated and he returned to Montreal, where two of his sons lived.
After a few false starts, a correct diagnosis finally arrived: Waldenström macroglobulinemia.
It is a rare and difficult to pronounce form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Doctors gave him five years to live.
“So it changed the whole waxball,” said Mitchell.
Pursuing the makers of the world’s most popular herbicide has become an industry in itself.
Last May, a California jury awarded $ 2 billion to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a couple in their 60s who had sprayed the herbicide since it was first marketed in 1974 and who had both been diagnosed with lymphoma not Hodgkin’s. A judge then lowered the amount Monsanto should pay to $ 87 million.
This was the third consecutive loss to Monsanto and, in its wake, the number of lawsuits against the company has grown from 11,000 to 125,000 currently.
There are at least 12 class actions in Canada.
The Canadian Bar Association’s traditional protocol for multi-jurisdictional class actions means that they will likely be brought together in one trial for efficiency.
“So it’s really a competition to see who will represent the class,” said Raymond Wagner, the Halifax lawyer wearing the Nova Scotia costume.
Whichever trial is certified first, it is more likely to be the case in all other cases.
Monsanto and Bayer received a request last week to dismiss the Nova Scotia lawsuit for abuse of process, but it was rejected by Supreme Court Justice Denise Boudreau.
So Mitchell and Hutton’s suit, with a certification audience slated for next summer, is a top contender.
William Mcnamara, lawyer for Monsanto and Bayer, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mitchell doesn’t know how much time he has left.
He knows that spring is treacherous in the Margaree Valley.
Since moving a few years ago, he has kept a large vegetable patch.
“Ha,” he stifled a weak laugh when asked if the first full moon in June would be safe to plant there.
If his health permits, he will return there for the summer and plant it.
And he will sue two multi-billion dollar companies.