Should city ban cosmetic pesticides?
NO: Health Canada tests ensure safety
Last month, the City of Regina's environmental advisory committee (EAC) recommended to the public works committee that they not be used for "cosmetic" purposes.
For clarity, the word "pesticide" is a master term that includes herbicides (for weed control), insecticides (for insect control) and fungicides (for disease control) – collectively they are called pestcontrol products.
Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are used in many products to protect against a variety of pests. They are used extensively in agriculture to ensure we have an abundant supply of fruits, vegetables and crops. We use the same products in the urban landscape.
I'm not sure what the EAC meant by the statement: that they not be used for "cosmetic" purposes. You will not find the words "for cosmetic use" on any pest-control product!
We use products like herbicides to control weeds, which if left unchecked will envelop a lawn, making it unsuitable for sports or our enjoyment. If that's "cosmetic", then property owners will have to decide how weedy their lawns become before taking action.
All pest-control products are thoroughly evaluated for safety by Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) using world-leading scientific protocols that take into consideration many risk factors, including children's exposure to treated lawns.
The PMRA employs over 300 scientists who assess all pest-control products for their impact on humans, animals and the environment before they are permitted for use by Canadians.
The PMRA, or any other worldwide regulatory agency for that matter, does not classify any pest control product used by Canadian gardeners as carcinogenic. So why do organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society feel the need to dis-miss Health Canada's scientists and proclaim that pest-control products have been "linked" to a shopping list of health issues, including cancer?
One can only surmise on their motive, but I believe it's based on ideology and opinion – it's certainly not based on science because the cancer society does not carry out propriety research to make that determination.
By using the term "linked" the cancer society is able to circumvent proving definitive causation for various health issues it says are caused by pesticides and this spreads uncertainty in the community. It's a well-known tactic for invoking the "precautionary principle," which sounds plausible in theory, but less so in practice.
Curiously, the cancer society has no problem with pest-control products being used by agriculture – just don't use them on our lawns or gardens, it says! One of its rationales is that homeowners don't follow label instructions. That's nonsense – let's give people a little more credit than that. Furthermore, the safety margins built into domestic-use pest-control products are extensive.
Some people will point to "alternative" products being available and say that we don't need to use synthetic pesticides. Unfortunately, that's a simplistic view because regardless of a product's chemistry (biological or synthetic), if it's used to control weeds or insects, it's still a pesticide!
Most so-called "alternative" products don't work that well and require repeated applications, which in the long run can prove to be costly as well as ineffective.
This matter will come before city council later in the year, long after our gardens are buried under snow. It would be wise to set aside the anti-pesticide fear-mongering that has permeated city hall this summer and listen to the accredited experts from Health Canada. After all, they have the legal responsibility under the Pest Control Products Act to protect our health and the environment.
Bowles is manager of the Saskatchewan Nursery Landscape Association.