When bans become banes

Manitoba considers cosmetic pesticide ban | Producers say legislation will have unintended effects

The president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers is almost always calm, composed and collected when he discusses agricultural issues facing his province.

But there was a hint of irritation in Doug Chorney’s voice last week when he answered questions about the Manitoba government’s plan to ban cosmetic pesticides in the province.

In short, Chorney said a ban is “nonsense” and the province is pursuing the policy only because politically connected environmentalists have pressured the government to take action on the file.

“I think there’s been some very successful lobbying done by activists who don’t really have any science to back up what they’re saying,” he said.

In early February, conservation minister Gord Mackintosh said the province will follow the lead of other Canadian jurisdictions that have banned the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides.

The government will initiate public consultations this spring and will likely pass legislation creating the ban in 2013.

“Manitoba is one of less than a handful (of provinces) that haven’t modernized their regulations around cosmetic, non-essential pesticides,” he said.

“We’re going to carefully look at (other provinces) in the consultation process … (to develop) Manitoba’s approach on this.”

Mackintosh said the decision to ban pesticides applied to lawns and gardens is grounded in sound science because evidence suggests these insecticides and herbicides are a threat to human health.

According to a note prepared by a government spokesperson, the province came to that conclusion after reviewing recommendations and studies by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the Canadian College of Family Physicians.

As well, the Manitoba Round Table for Sustainable Development, which provides policy advice to the provincial government, determined that lawn and garden pesticides raise the risk of cancer and increase the risk of ground water and surface water contamination.

Chorney said in a statement that the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency tests all pesticides to ensure they meet health and safety standards, which means the province is simply banning pesticides for “political reasons.”

He said a cosmetic ban doesn’t restrict use of pesticides on agricultural land but it will affect Manitoba farmers in two ways:

  • It may have unintended and negative consequences for producers who farm close to urban areas, said Chorney, who farms north of Winnipeg near East Selkirk, Man.

“Me, as an example, I’m growing pedigree timothy grass seed and I will probably have to do more dandelion control,” he said, because weeds could infest the property around his cropland. “So I’ll be spraying even more often than I would’ve otherwise.”

  • A ban presumes that applying pesticides to lawns is a threat to public health, which leads to the obvious question for consumers: if spraying chemicals on grass is dangerous, why are farmers spraying it on our food?

“That is the thin edge of the wedge,” Chorney said.

“When you have politicians listening to this kind of nonsense, is what I’d call it, it’s a dangerous line to walk down because it could have an impact on the (agricultural) industry as a whole.”

He said it’s fine for some consumers to choose to eat organic food, but many consumers don’t understand the economic significance of herbicides and insecticides when it comes to agricultural production.

“It’s fine to want these things, but the public has to realize there will be significant cost (to consumers), and (farming without pesticides) will really diminish the capacity of farmers to produce food.”

He said it could be a struggle to get the province to reverse its course on a ban, but KAP will advocate for a pesticide policy that’s based on science rather than alarmist rhetoric.

  • British Columbia: The government has held public consultations on a cosmetic pesticide ban, but has not passed legislation.
  • Alberta: Since January 2010, it has banned the use and sale of fertilizer-herbicide mixtures (weed and feed products) because those products often cause an over-application of 2,4-D.
  • Manitoba: Government will begin public consultations this spring for its ban.
  • Sask. and Nfld.: No ban on cosmetic pesticides.
  • Ontario: Since April 2009, it has prohibited use of 96 active ingredients in cosmetic pesticides and banned the sale of 172 products that contain the prohibited chemicals.
  • Quebec: In 2006 it became the first province to implement a ban. It has identified 20 ingredients as carcinogens and prohibits the sale and use of pesticides with those products.
  • Nova Scotia: Ban began April 2011. Its regulations mirror Ontario’s system.
  • New Brunswick and P.E.I.: In December 2009, New Brunswick banned the use and sale of pesticides containing 2,4-D. The ban also applies to pesticide-fertilizer mixtures. In April 2010 P.E.I. adopted the same regulations.

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  • Pragmatic in Manitoba

    While KAP position is surprising and disappointing, it is in line with other more powerful lobby groups representing the financial interests of the pesticide industry.

    No matter how thorough Health Canada is in regulating pesticides, they still recommend to minimize their use.

    Health Canada also says that effective pest management for lawn care doesn’t have to involve pesticide use. Furthermore, the regulator asks us to remember that pesticides give short-term control of lawn pests, but rarely long-lasting solutions (edited excerpt from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/part/protect-proteger/use-utiliser/_lawn-pelouse/index-eng.php).

    Personally, like the vast majority of Canadians, I do not use nor buy pesticides for cosmetic reasons. By following simple and well documented maintenance practices, I get a lawn that is green and healthy for kids and pets to play on.

    The essence of the new proposed regulation is to limit human –and most importantly children’s– exposure to these toxic chemicals.

    In Manitoba, a legislation to ban the use and sale of pesticides for cosmetic and non-essential reasons is not only a necessity, it is overdue.


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