Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Provincial cosmetic use pesticide ban will be bad news for farmers

(Rural Voice column for March 2008 issue)
Premier Dalton McGuinty promised to institute a province wide ban on the use of cosmetic pesticides. The Law would limit the use of all lawn care products inside cities and towns. It is part of a wider program to reduce the exposure of the general public to environmental toxins. The theory is that there is no need to use chemicals just to have pristine green lawns. Who wouldn't be against mere cosmetic use? Just change your way of looking at Dandelions and Creeping Charlie and everyone will be healthier, Right?

Actually what happened in Hudson Quebec and Halifax, Nova Scotia is that pesticide sales went up not down after those town councils instituted a ban. People who want to have weed free lawns will find the chemicals either by buying them legally before the ban goes into effect or by going to a jurisdiction that doesn’t have a ban. Worse than this these bans also removed the trained professional Lawn care companies. So now instead of a few people who were trained to safely work with the products every day we have thousands of garages and garden sheds with opened partially used containers of lawn and garden chemicals.

Non scientific consumer paranoia whipped up by the environmental groups cannot be allowed to set public policy in this area. I have attended municipal meetings on the issue and can only describe a lot of what went on as bordering on mass hysteria. The Ontario College of Family Physicians did a pesticide literature review which they released in 2004 It is widely responsible for the call for the province wide ban on lawn herbicides because it was supposedly scientific proof that pesticides have harmed children. What has not been widely reported is the repudiation of that same report by British scientists. To quote from the British analysis by Dr. Michael Burr (
"The review seems to over-interpret the findings, given the limitations of the relevant studies; strong conclusions are drawn from evidence of rather weak quality."

Yet this same report is being used as hard new evidence which proves the need for the pesticide ban. The report doesn't take into account all the other areas of toxicological studies done in the pesticide registration process. The Crop protection companies have to prove the safety of any new pesticide before it can be used in Canada. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment review this data and can even ask for more studies before they allow pesticides to be used in Ontario.
In my own case I use a 3 way mix of herbicides on my postage stamp front lawn but rely on mowing to control the natural back lawn. I have found that raising the lawn mower so that it cuts at 3- 6 inches height not only allows the grass to choke out the weeds. The grass also stays greener through dry periods because taller grass also has a deeper more vigorous root system. One of my friends has hand weeded every single dandelion out of his lawn because he doesn’t want to use Chemicals. I totally support such individual choices on this issue. However I resent anyone forcing their philosophy on me and then wrapping it in the cloak of health and safety. Especially when it is bogus science and false health issues. The main lawn chemical 2,4-D has recently received a clean bill of health from the federal government’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency. If you follow Label directions you will not cause environmental or health problem. (,4-D-e.html)

The problem is that if this precedent is set it will not be long before a whole bunch of regulations will be foisted on us by a well meaning but scientifically and technologically illiterate public. The agricultural exemption just causes the largest group of knowledgeable trained users to remain silent. I don’t think farmers realize the huge public policy mistake this proposed legislation will cause.

Why not just force homeowners who want to apply pesticides to take the pesticide safety course that farmers have to take. This should also keep the lawn care businesses viable in the province. This profession is already doing a better job than homeowners in providing a high level of safe pesticide use not to mention the economic benefits of the hundreds of jobs they create are.
If you are going to pass this useless bill then the liberal government should be honest and say, "although there is no proven health risk or safety issue we are passing this bill for two reasons. First of all municipalities are not qualified to pass by laws in this area and consequently don't need to waste their time on this issue".

It appears Premier McGuinty would rather have his picture taken with children and pander to popular opinion than take real leadership on this issue. It would be easier, cheaper and more effective to change the classification of the lawn pesticides so that they can no longer be sold to unqualified homeowners. By agreeing to a pesticide ban the premier is inadvertently smearing the entire conventional agriculture industry as causing environmental and health problems.