Pesticide bans: the Ontario experience

‘Fight it like the dickens,’ advises Ontario farm official


Feb. 9th, 2012

A representative of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable industry says Manitoba farmers should launch a robust campaign to halt a cosmetic pesticide ban in their province.

Otherwise, there could be grave consequences for Manitoba’s agricultural industry.

“Fight it like the dickens,” said Craig Hunter, crop protection and research specialist with the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. 

“Go right to the wall on the basis of good science… (because) it’s a slippery slope.”

He said Ontario’s farmers have been waiting “for the second penny to fall” since the provincial government banned cosmetic pesticides in 2009 as a public health measure. 

If the government can ban lawn and garden pesticides based on flimsy scientific evidence, he said, it could easily restrict the use of herbicides and insecticides on agricultural land.

“If they can do it there, they can do it somewhere else,” said Hunter.

He said most Ontario farmers believe the science behind the ban, linking pesticides to increased cancer risk, is weak or fraudulent. 

“If political decisions can trump science and currently the consequence is to home­owners, then there’s nothing to stopping the same group of people pushing this argument into commercial agriculture.”

Hunter said the ban has heightened consumer concerns about pesticide residues on food, although many Ontario residents are also defying the ban by buying herbicides and insecticides from farmers or American retailers.

A survey that CropLife Canada conducted last year found public support for the ban has slipped, said Nadine Sisk, the association’s executive director.

CropLife, which represents the plant science industry, found that less than half of homeowners supported the ban last summer, a significant drop from 2008 when polls suggested 80 percent of Ontarians favoured a ban.

Even though it’s illegal to buy or apply cosmetic pesticides in Ontario, the survey indicated that 42 percent of homeowners continued to apply leftover products and 13 percent were buying pesticides from other jurisdictions.

CropLife opposes the Ontario ban but supports Alberta’s approach to pesticide regulation, which bans weed and feed products that combine fertilizer and pesticides.

“Alberta has been clear that the safety of these products (pesticides) is not in question, it is the method of application that they preferred to see changed,” Sisk said.

Hunter said the Ontario government should have regulated the companies that apply cosmetic pesticides if it really wanted to encourage responsible pesticide use, rather than ban the sale of the products.

“(That way) the lawn spray guy can’t hire kids off the street to spray lawns and do gods knows what on land they don’t own and don’t care about.”

CropLife Canada members are also concerned that cosmetic pesticide bans symbolize a public policy disconnect with science. 

“Why would anyone invest in expensive innovations in places that don’t respect science?” Sisk asked.