Opposition to the NDP's plan to outlaw cosmetic lawn-care pesticides appears to be mounting, led by groups who claim the government has snubbed science in favour of a feel-good political hit.
They also say Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh's planned ban of the chemicals has caused needless confusion for lawn-care company customers and appears to be based more on pressure from activist groups than reason.
Mackintosh said Friday the province is simply following the lead of other provinces and that any ban -- details are to be announced this spring -- will be phased in over a one- to two-year period and will be accompanied by a public education campaign on what safer alternatives are available to treat lawn weeds.
"There is a blossoming market of what is called bio-pesticides," Mackintosh said. "Clearly, the market is changing very rapidly. It is no longer a choice between conventional pesticides and a dandelion."
Lobby groups such as the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers say they question how much public support there actually is for such action, spokesman Draper Houston said.
"We're encouraging everybody to think about it from a scientific perspective rather than an emotional response," Houston said. "The scientific evidence backing up the bans just isn't there.
"The pesticides that are in question go through rigorous testing from Health Canada and we want to make sure that that's part of the decision, which it doesn't seem to be right now."
The push-back against the province's ban came after a poll released last month said 71 per cent of Manitobans supported a law phasing out the use and sale of lawn and garden chemicals. It also said rural, urban and suburban residents agreed (at 86 per cent, 72 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively) that chemical weed killers should be barred from use and sale.
The poll was released by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Manitoba's Green Action Centre.
Dave Hinton of Weed Man said if the province was truly interested in protecting Manitobans from exposure to chemicals it would also address what people add to their hot tubs and swimming pools or use to preserve their wood decks.
"If these products are dangerous, why is the government allowing us to put them on our food?" Hinton said. "Why are they allowed on our golf courses?"
Hinton also said Health Canada reported in 2008 only 1.6 per cent of non-agriculture pesticides were used on turf grass. He said pesticides used in Canada for non-agriculture purposes are "for water treatment in swimming pools and in wood preservatives. That's where most of it's being used."
"They are pushing this through without any justification. They never specify which pesticides are bad. They just say all pesticides, but we hardly use any."
Mackintosh said health experts, such as the Canadian Cancer Society, say government should focus most on reducing exposure to pesticides where these products are needed least.
"That is where there's been a focus on the cosmetic use of pesticides," he said. "We know that there are alternatives."
Hinton added the province will be hard-pressed to administrate its ban without adding to its bureaucracy.
Nutri Lawn's Brent Kapusta said he's already been treating lawns with natural weed-control product Fiesta for almost three years. Fiesta is used in other provinces that have already restricted lawn care pesticides.
Letter to Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh from the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers
A large coalition of Manitoba citizens, organizations and businesses are deeply concerned with both your comments to the Winnipeg Free Press on Feb. 27, 2013, and your seeming determination to implement an Ontario-style pesticide ban across Manitoba. We believe that before you go down this road, you owe Manitobans much more open dialogue and information than you have provided to date.
We have three questions to which we believe Manitobans deserve answers:
1. On Feb. 27 you told the Winnipeg Free Press that, "Just in the last few months we're seeing red flags from the science community on the health impacts, in particularly affecting children." We are not aware of any new peer-reviewed science on this subject. Just what are the new studies to which you refer?
2. Canadians have the ability to request that Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency conduct a Special Review on any product currently approved for use in Canada if issues are identified. Have you provided the data referenced above to Health Canada and requested such a review on any pesticide? If so, what were the results? If not, why have you not done so, given your stated concerns?
3. On Feb. 27 you spoke with approval to the Winnipeg Free Press of a poll of fewer than 500 Manitobans, conducted by an environmental activist group, and inferred that this was justification for moving forward on a pesticide ban. Does your government regard polls of this nature as being appropriate proxies for developing safety policy for Manitobans, or should peer-reviewed science be the deciding factor?
We believe that these questions need to be answered before, not after, your government introduces legislation.
The preservation of green space in Manitoba on both public and private lands deserves at least that much consideration.
Don Pincock, interim president & CEO