Manitoba’s pesticide ban grounded in emotion: KAP

When the Manitoba government announced its cosmetic pesticide use ban late last month, the headline for the news release said the ban is about saving children.

Specifically, it said the ban would “protect children from the risks of chemical lawn pesticides,” while the news release said it would prevent “some of our most vulnerable populations, especially children, from getting sick.”

Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney said the emotional tone and content of the announcement were surprising and offensive to farmers who oppose the ban.

“The way they rolled this media conference out, with doctors and stuff, it seems if you’re against this (pesticide ban) it would be like saying you’re in favour of poisoning children.”

Manitoba plans to ban the use of pesticides on lawns, gardens, school grounds, playing fields, health-care centres and other public property. Golf courses and agricultural land are exempt.

The ban is expected to take effect December 2014.

KAP has campaigned against a provincial ban on pesticides since early last year, when the government first announced it was considering such a policy.

The farm lobby group and the Manitoba Canola Growers Association are concerned about weeds spreading onto agricultural land. They have also said public policy on pesticides should be based on scientific evidence. In other words, the province shouldn’t claim pesticides are a threat to human health if Health Canada has found that they are safe if used properly.


Chorney didn’t cite particular comments from the news conference, but the tone of the event could be conveyed by the words of Adrienne Percy, founder of the Concerned Mothers’ Coalition of Manitoba.

“As a mother, I want peace of mind that the simple act of playing outdoors won’t increase my children’s risk of cancer or respiratory problems. I want to live in a province that is progressive and brave enough to keep our children safe.”

Joe Schwarz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society, said it’s nearly impossible to defend chemicals against such emotional arguments.

“I wish I had the answer to that, but after nearly 40 years of experience in this business, I can tell you that emotion sways people more than science,” said Schwarz.

“It’s not that it isn’t a level playing field, we (defenders of science) aren’t even on the same playing field.”

Farrah Khan, spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said the justification for the Manitoba ban isn’t grounded in emotion. It’s about protecting children because the science shows that pesticides are a threat to kids.

“You might think of it as an emotional argument, but I don’t see it that way at all,” she said.


“The science points to children … because they are smaller, they are more vulnerable to getting affected by these chemical pesticides. They’re at a stage in their life where they are developing … and that’s why the science shows that kids are most at risk.”

Khan said risks associated with lawn and garden pesticides are simply too high.

“If the benefit is just to remove a few dandelions from your lawn, but you’re risking potentially giving your kid asthma or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or cancer in some cases, we don’t think the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Schwarz said he understands that many Canadians have no tolerance for risk when it comes to chemicals, but conspiracy theories involving the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which reviews the safety of herbicides and insecticides, are unfounded.

“The PMRA, contrary to what the activists promote, is not some sort of rogue organization that is in cahoots with medical associations and the government (to) undermine our health.”

Besides emotion and a general distrust of scientific institutions, Schwarz said messaging plays a significant role in public perceptions of pesticides.

“In the public eye, things become true by repetition,” he said.


“(If) you repeat the idea that pesticides are killing our children often enough, then people, of course, start to get anxious.”

  • Walter Clark

    Oh, Surely we know that anything that kills plants or bugs or birds must be good for tiny children or any other living thing for that matter don’t we? Just as was DDT that was put even in wall paper to keep our children save. Yep, we need to blindly trust.

  • That’s right Walter! These chemicals are designed to kill but we think, in our never ending arrogance, that we are exempt from the negative effects. Industry describing themselves as “defenders of science” is laughable. We all know what industry is really defending: profits.

  • Summer Hansell

    Trying to dismiss the concern of citizens, physicians, or even the general public by creating an imaginary “emotions vs. science” argument, and suggesting that anyone who thinks that poison could be bad for you is a conspiracy theorist shows just how desperate the chemical industry lobbyists are getting.

  • Farmers could save themselves a lot of money if they stopped spraying RoundUp on the wheat crops, just before harvesting it.
    More importantly,how healthy are all of these herbicide and pesticide residues left behind on the grains we ingest,especially for our children and pregnant women?
    You can bet the agro-chemical industry convinced the farmers that there were no known health issues from the use RoundUp,to desiccate the crop, and it makes harvesting so much easier.
    Monsanto et al. do limited testing to assure they get the results they want to see. The Serlini (sp?) study went a lot longer and added more parameters to their test groups which were conveniently omitted in the agro- biotech companies’ studies.
    The results were significant and alarming in the Serlini study.
    Independent research done by Michael Antoniou,Ph.D ,in genetic molecular biology, and Thierry Vrain,Ph.D, former biotechnologist at Agriculture Canada,
    speak out on the suppression of information and their findings from decades of research.
    It is important that we find out for ourselves because the door swings both ways between the regulators and agro- biotech industry, especially in the USA.
    I hope our government will do the right thing and protect us from these unscrupulous companies. But the best thing we can do, in the meantime, is protect ourselves and our families by being thoughtful consumers.

  • Spelling correction: Professor G.E.Seralini.

  • Cory

    Schwarz’s argument is a valid one. The majority of people who are polled on the subject have zero knowledge of pesticide use, regulation, toxicity studies, chemical makeup, percentage of active ingredients, proper storage and mixing, integrated pest management alternatives, or safe application procedures. I support keeping potentially dangerous chemicals out of the hands of the general public, and reserved for trained professionals who use them responsibly, productively and sparingly. These products cost money and typically aren’t used unless needed. An outright ban is folly, and has been shown to be disruptive and divisive.