Environmental Commissioner of Ontario — 2008/09 Annual Report – Building Resilience — Pesticide Ban — NO RISK FOR NO BENEFIT

The 2009/2010 ECO REPORT REFERENCES THE 2008/2009 REPORT regarding Pesticides.

The cosmetic pesticides ban has been criticized in some quarters for not being “based on science” (see
box). Indeed, the legislation appears to be more cautious than responsive to specific scientific information.
However, such an approach is legitimate; it is an acceptable policy choice to decide, as MOE did here, that
any risk presented by the use of pesticides – even one deemed “acceptable” by federal regulators – should
be avoided, particularly in cases where that risk is unnecessary. However, MOE should have been more
transparent about the basis for its decision.

Making Risk-Based Environmental Decisions
The decision of the government to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides has been controversial, partly due to
confusion about the risk-based decision mechanism used as a rationale. Stakeholders on both sides of the
issue have pointed to the MOE’s Statement of Environmental Values (SEV) to support their argument.
Many opponents of the legislation charge that the ministry is committed in its SEV to making decisions that
are “science-based” and they did not do so in this case. They argue that it is inappropriate to ban at least
some of these pesticides because Health Canada and the World Health Organization have assessed them
using a broadly-accepted scientific approach and deemed them to pose acceptably low ecological and
health risks. Low is not zero, but from a scientific point of view there are always uncertainties and
unknowns associated with any conclusion. It satisfies science to be confident that the uncertainty is within
accepted limits.
Some supporters of the legislation cite the requirement in the SEV that the ministry take a “precautionary
approach” to decision-making as justification for the ban. The precautionary approach requires that where
there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used to
postpone cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. There is significant dispute about
the seriousness of the risk presented by cosmetic pesticide use, and the degree of scientific certainty
about that risk. This dispute is irresolvable; if the science is certain, the magnitude of the risk is known, and
vice versa. In any event, the ministry did not declare the precautionary principle to be the basis of this
policy decision.
In this case, it appears that the policy-makers accepted that the risks associated with such pesticide use
were low by scientific standards, but then questioned if even very low risks are justified when the benefits
to the practice are “cosmetic” (where that term has the connotation of being superficial, inconsequential or
even trivial). They ask why society would accept any risk for no benefit and conclude that we should not.
Thus, a new decision-making tool has been added to the environmental policy tool kit; perhaps it could be
labelled the “No Risk for No Benefit” approach.

While the ECO would like to see efforts at pesticide reduction in all contexts, the exemptions to the ban are
generally reasonable. The ECO hopes that MOE will be judicious, however, about prescribing any further
exemptions. The ECO urges MOE to consider a schedule for the eventual phase-out of pesticides for
exempted uses, as green alternatives and approaches to pest management become more mainstream.
The cosmetic pesticides ban represents a shift in philosophy for the province. MOE should have considered
the economic impact of this shift on pesticide applicators, and how this specialized group could be
supported in the short-term. Historically the province has assisted with the transitioning of industries
whose viability is substantially undermined by regulatory changes.

Implications of the Decision
The Ontario government’s decision to prohibit the non-essential use of pesticides will undoubtedly reduce
the use and release of pesticides. Prohibiting sales will help to ensure that certain pesticides are kept out of
use. However, the numerous exceptions mean that banned pesticides will continue to be used – and
deposited in the environment – in many situations.
Over time, reducing pesticide use should increase ecosystem resilience, promote the resurgence of natural
controls on pests, and result in a landscape with greater biodiversity, creating habitat and food sources for
many species.
The corollary is that the pesticide ban will likely result, at least at first, in more weeds and pests in lawns
and gardens on both private and public property. However, an increase in the availability and use of greener
alternatives should, with time, help mitigate the situation. Indeed, the Ontario government hopes that the
cosmetic pesticide ban “is going to drive new green products in the economy,” and will invest $480,000 to
“encourage the development of lower-risk pesticides and other green alternatives.” In the short-term,
however, the ban may have significant effects on the economic health or continued viability of many lawn
care businesses, effectively sunsetting components of an industry.

4.6 The Pesticide Ban
Ministry of the Environment:
MOE acknowledges the ECO’s positive recognition of the ministry’s consultation efforts. Through our use of the
Environmental Registry, the ministry received a very high number of comments from the public and stakeholders on this
The ECO noted that MOE should have used the Registry to allow the public to comment on some of the associated
documents, including the Pesticide Classification Guideline. The guideline was developed and posted with the decision notice
as part of the final regulation. The classification process and criteria were consulted on as part of the draft regulation which
was posted to the EBR in Fall 2008. Moving the process and criteria to the guideline, referenced in the regulation, represents
a significant improvement directly resulting from public comments received on the draft regulation.
With respect to the consideration of the economic impact of this shift on pesticide applicators, the government did consider
the potential impacts on industry and whether a transition period for the requirements would be warranted. The government
made its decision with respect to the timing of the implementation after receiving an overwhelming response from the public
and stakeholders that supported a rapid implementation of the ban in order to better protect the health of the province’s
children as quickly as possible. The government’s decision was also influenced by the fact that nearly half the province’s
population was already subject to a municipal pesticides ban, and consumers are increasingly demanding alternatives to
conventional pesticides.