Science gets last word on pesticide bans
The Daily News
Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012
More than ever, policymakers need to be clear that banning this or that has to be based on sound scientific conclusion.
A blanket ban on cosmetic pesticides has to follow from strict scientific findings, but the problem is that scientific evidence for such a blanket ban is scarce. The B.C. NDP had a private member's bill in the legislature calling for just such a ban when the science is inconclusive on the harm from such products collectively.
It's too easy to take legitimate concerns about certain toxins that have been abused in the past and linked with health problems and then spin an issue into an emotional one that provokes the populace, removing it from the hands of those with the best knowledge in that area.
There are any number of areas where people are driven more by emotion than facts in calls for bans: smart meters, cellphone towers and Wi-Fi in schools qualify as just such issues that people are passionate about in the face of a lack of solid scientific conclusions. Even the use of cellphones is considered by some to be a risk to health.
Opposition to the seal hunt, a solid economic part of East Coast life for many years, is also similarly driven by sentiment when we know that seal populations are increasing.
And that's not to say that there are no real threats out there.
It's quite possible that among cosmetic pesticides there may be some that cause harm and should be taken off the shelves. What we can't do, and should not do, is to push our legislators into knee-jerk reactions on a "just in case" basis. Were that the case, the progress of technology would in the past decades have slowed to a trickle.
Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog is a perfect example of this kind of logic in supporting his party's position for the ban.
"Let's put it this way: You have scientists say it's not a big issue, then you have the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups saying something else," Krog said.
"Personally, I'll go with the Canadian Cancer Society. You're introducing a deleterious substance into the environment, and to what purpose? To make something look pretty."
Krog basically says that the guy who's using Roundup is giving his neighbour cancer. That's a pretty emotional argument and absent from Krog's reasoning is any data to back up such an assertion.
There is no doubt certain products are linked to cancer. And a lot of products are not. Cancer has been around for a very long time, even predating the industrial revolution, and we don't have to go very far to see how terrible this particular illness is and why groups like the Canadian Cancer Society are concerned about its spread.
But we have to ask if they are using a sledge hammer to crack a nut here. Advocating for such broad legislation may not be as effective as a tight focus on those products that contain known carcinogens and specific bans on such individual products as proved by solid scientific data.
The claim that such toxins build up in the environment even from small applications is not to be dismissed, but even there evidence remains unclear as to what extent environmental toxins are linked to current cancer rates.
That theory claims there is no such thing as responsible use.
We beg to differ. These products have guidelines that need to be followed and we all need to be careful using them.
Krog may object to using such products to have a pretty yard, but what's so wrong with that?
When science confirms that pretty is dangerous it's time to act.
We want to hear from you. Send comments on this editorial to email@example.com.