Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/6/2011 (3745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I grew up in Manitoba and many of my fondest memories are of time spent outdoors -- gardening and climbing trees in my backyard, playing with neighbourhood children on front lawns and boulevards and enjoying sunny days at Birds Hill Provincial Park and on the shores of Winnipeg Beach. Manitoba is a beautiful place to live and experience the outdoors.
Unfortunately, the pesticide industry has convinced us that we need its products to keep Manitoba lawns, gardens and public parks green and free of weeds. Many of these products are exposing Manitobans to serious health and environmental risks.
A 2007 report by the David Suzuki Foundation indicated more than 6,000 cases of acute pesticide poisoning happen each year in Canada, with most involving children less than six years old. A 2004 review of pesticide research by the Ontario College of Family Physicians showed links between exposure to pesticides and serious illnesses, including reproductive problems, Alzheimer's disease, several forms of cancer, Parkinson's disease and childhood leukemia.
If the alternative to a lawn free of weeds means fewer health risks to children, pets, pregnant mothers or the species in our rivers and lakes, maybe dandelions aren't so bad. It's time for Manitoba to put precaution before profit.
The Supreme Court of Canada did that in 2001 when it upheld the power of municipal governments to restrict the use of pesticides within their communities. The case involved a municipal bylaw passed in Hudson, Que., that was challenged by two companies that routinely applied pesticides. The companies argued that municipalities lacked the power to control local pesticide use. Ecojustice and other environmental groups successfully argued that municipalities have an important role to play in protecting the health of residents and the environment. Since then, cosmetic pesticide bans have spread to municipalities across the country.
Provinces soon followed, with Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island adopting cosmetic pesticide bans. British Columbia may be next, with Premier Christy Clark supporting legislation. "I don't want to see my son playing on a lawn with toxic pesticides," Clark said. "I don't want to see anyone's child playing on a lawn with toxic pesticides."
In April 2011, the Manitoba Round-table for Sustainable Development, a government advisory body that promotes sustainable resource management, urged the province to prohibit "the non-essential cosmetic use of chemical insecticides, herbicides and fungicides for residential, institutional and recreational facilities near water and all urban and rural areas." With Manitoba Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie indicating he's "open to it," the time is ripe for Manitobans to stand up and ask their government to put their health first.
Predictably, lawn-care companies and others with an interest in the pesticide industry in Manitoba have denounced a provincial ban. Dana Kapusta, co-owner of Nutri-Lawn, said in the Winnipeg Free Press that "a beautiful city will go to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly if the weeds aren't under control."
I now live in Toronto, where a city-wide pesticide ban has existed since 2004. Hell has yet to arrive here. Instead, homeowners and municipalities have embraced alternative products and organic gardening practices.
A cosmetic pesticide ban in Manitoba will contain exemptions and won't be the end of the world for the pesticide industry. In Ontario, agricultural practices and forestry are exempt from the provincial ban, and pesticides can still be used to control plants and insects that pose a risk to public health and safety. Golf courses receive a conditional exemption.
Despite these exemptions, cosmetic pesticide bans make a difference. One year after Quebec enacted a ban, the number of households that reported using chemical pesticides plummeted to four per cent. Meanwhile, Statistics Canada data showed that 43 per cent of Manitoba households reported using chemical pesticides that year.
Doomsday predictions of dandelions and other weeds colonizing Manitoba lawns and parks if the province bans the non-essential use of pesticides obscure the issue. If we can avoid just one illness or case of acute pesticide poisoning, it will be worth it, especially since those most at risk are children. In light of increasing scientific evidence of serious health and environmental risks associated with many pesticides, it's truly better to be safe than sorry.
Kaitlyn Mitchell is associated with the environmentalist organization Ecojustice.