New Brunswick

Glyphosate spray meeting leaves crowd agitated and annoyed

A public meeting addressing the controversial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate may have been the victim of its own success.

Despite frustration, raucous moments, JDI pleased with Petitcodiac open house

More than 150 people came out to meeting in Petitcodiac on Wednesday about the spraying of glyphosate to kill hardwood growth in Crown forests and along power lines. (CBC)

A public meeting in Petitcodiac to address the controversial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate may have been the victim of its own success.

Scientists, regulators and J.D. Irving personnel were on hand to answer questions on the forestry practice of using glyphosate, deemed a "probable carcinogenic" by the World Health Organization, to regulate forest growth. 

But the meeting, organized by JDI, became deafening and difficult to navigate when 150 people were in the room, seeking information in an open-house format. 

Dozens of people complained that in their quest for answers to particular questions, they were directed elsewhere in the room, only to have their questions redirected once again. 

Caroline Lubbe-D'arcy, an organizer of the group Stop Spraying New Brunswick, called the challenging format of the meeting a 'divide and conquer tactic.' (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"It is a bit of a divide and conquer method," said Caroline Lubbe-D'arcy, an organizer of the protest group Stop Spraying New Brunswick. 

"I think it's been pretty much shown that this is not really the way to have an information session. It really should be a sit-down Q&A, where people can hear everybody's question and hear everybody's answer." 

Petitcodiac Mayor Jerry Gogan told CBC News even he was having trouble getting answers. About an hour into the session, he apologized to the crowd for the noise.

"Nobody seems to be getting their answers," Gogan said, suggesting a full question and answer session would be better. 

Scientists resist Q&A

Members of the crowd shouted out requests to have the format changed mid-meeting, but the idea was shot down.

"We've discussed it with some of the people here, and those who brought people here to answer some of your questions," he said. 

"Some of them aren't comfortable with presenting in a question-answer session because they are prepared for this type of format. They are not prepared for a question and answer format." 

That response elicited boos and jeers from the crowd, which included people whose minds were made up about forest spraying. 

Jason Killam, chief forester with J.D. Irving Ltd. defended the format and said the public and the experts the company invited to answer questions had good conversations. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

At one point during the open house, a woman helped herself to an unattended microphone and said to the crowed: "I have not run into anybody for a couple of years in this province that is for spraying New Brunswick, and I just wonder how many people it is going to take for this province to stop doing what we the people do not want on our land." 

Her comments were met with raucous applause while organizers looked on. 

Despite the spray opponents at the meeting, JDI and government officials said they were making progress at the meeting. 

"There are good conversations, there is good dialogue, people are getting the information they need," said Jason Killam, chief forester with JDI.

JDI pleased with exchanges

"The format is an open discussion. People can come around and talk to the scientists and ask the questions that they have to ask. We've allowed lots of time." 

The three-hour open-house format had flaws, but it allowed for the most specific questions for the experts, Killam said as he pointed to a human toxicologist, an aquatic toxicologist and forest managers. 

"We've heard from a lot of people that wouldn't necessarily speak up if it was a group format," said Killam.

"They have specific concerns about areas, and specific questions that they told us they wouldn't be comfortable in the other format, so it's hard to reach a format that pleases everybody." 

Many of the people seeking answers about glyphosate spraying complained of being directed to different booths time and again. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

But Killam said that if another meeting were held, in a different format, JDI would be open to participating. 

"We're constantly dialoguing with our neighbours, stakeholders and with our communities — all through and leading up to our operations," he said. "And we'll continue to, through the fall, through the winter. It's a continuous process." 

Those opposed to glyphosate spraying by JDI and NB Power point to a series of recent bans and classifications on the material. 

In addition to the "probable carcinogenic" classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the WHO, the state of California recently placed glyphosate on its list of caner-causing chemicals

Doug Pitt, a retired research scientist, voiced his support for glyphosate, saying its use in New Brunswick was based on scientific evidence and the bans against it elsewhere were politically motivated. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Several countries, including Colombia, France and the Netherlands, have banned the use and sale of glyphosate-based products.

Manitoba banned several glyphosate pesticides three years ago.  Quebec banned herbicide use on Crown land in 2001 and the Nova Scotia government has halted publicly funded herbicide use. 

"But there's not really any scientific basis for those bans," said Doug Pitt, a retired research scientist who worked with the Canadian Forest Service.

"Take Quebec, for example. They've chosen not to use herbicides on their public lands and that's a political decision and there's no science supporting that decision. 

"And our regulators look at risk, the real-life use of a product and look at risk. And glyphosate is used in more than 160 different countries on over a hundred different food crops."


Shane Fowler


Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.