I will admit that I would like to see a phasing out of pesticide use for agricultural practices. The organics industry is the fastest growing segment of the food industry, and I would like to see support for Manitoba farmers to go after this burgeoning consumer demand.
But I think it will be important to stay on point. The issue at hand is a ban not on the agricultural use of pesticides, but on the aesthetic use of pesticides for non-essential purposes.
Robert Arnason's February 16, 2012 article “Pesticide ban position questioned ” in the Western Producer provides an example of the misdirected, misleading and misguided arguments that are going to be put forward by industry hacks – veiled or otherwise.
Below is a much a lengthened version of a 400 word letter I sent to the Arnason and the Western Producer news room, and copied to the Minister of Conservation and Canadian Cancer Society.
Dear Robert Arnason and Editorial Staff at the Western Producer:
It is the Manitoba Government, not the Canadian Cancer Society, which has chosen to move forward with a ban on the aesthetic use of pesticides. Your February 16, 2011 article would have been much more informative had it not misdirected its focus.
Yes, people should investigate the expenditures, activities, and registration status of any charity before giving; this applies as much to the Canadian Cancer Society as it does to Charity Intelligence, itself is a registered charity. The misdirected and veiled attack on the Canadian Cancer Society was disgusting and defamatory (although yes the defamatory statement is likely shield by a legal defense – that doesn't make it any less despicable).
Yes, civil society organizations (charities, trade associations, non-governmental organizations, lobby groups, etc.) play an important role is pushing for new policies, and it is fair to consider these influences. The focus, however was entirely one-sided.
Crop-Life Canada – a non-profit agro-industry trade association funded and directed by large agricultural corporations like Dow AgroScience, Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Du Pont and others – has for years vociferously lobbied against a ban on the aesthetic use of pesticides.
If the Canadian Cancer Society is lobbying for a ban on the aesthetic use pesticides to raise revenues, then is it not equally obvious that Crop-Life Canada is lobbying against such a ban to protect the profits of the industry it represents?
It is also misleading to focus on: is there “a conclusive link between pesticides and human cancer?” Without also posing the reverse: “is it conclusive that there is absolutely no link between pesticides and human cancer?” Neither question can be answered with scientific certainty, but there is a growing body of epidemiological evidence finding an association between pesticide use and certain diseases, including cancer.
To provide a snippet from an excellent Paths Less Travelled (February 12, 2012) blog post:
“..."GM Soy. Sustainable? Responsible?" ... documented the findings of a commission conducted by the central Argentinian State of Chaco in 2010. ... childhood cancer rates tripled in the town of La Leonesa and birth defects increased almost fourfold over the entire state. Those results corresponded with greatly increased spraying of glyphosate and other agrochemicals in the region during that period.
Scientific studies referred to in the paper, cite an association between glyphosate and at least two kinds of cancer, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, (NHL), a cancer of the blood. An increased rate of NHL had been repeatedly observed among farmers for years, suggesting an association between use of pesticides, including glyphosate and the risk of the disease.
...a graduate student at the University of Manitoba, Jennifer Magoon, found statistically significant links between the use of crop sprays and serious health problems with infants born in farming areas of the province where such sprays were commonly used.
Those problems included low birth weights, spina biffida, respiratory distress, jaundice, Down syndrome, cleft palate, retinal degeneration and cataracts. Her findings do not mention Roundup. But she singled out herbicides as the class of crop chemical she was most concerned with.”
This epidemiological evidence does not conclusively prove pesticides cause cancer, other factors could be at play, but it does raise enough alarm, as the end note in the article acknowledges, for the Canadian Medical Association to suggest “pesticide use be minimized.”
It was misguided to confound the issue by suggesting that a ban on the non-essential use of pesticides was intended to apply to the agricultural use pesticides. The issue at hand is a ban not on the agricultural use of pesticides, but on the aesthetic use of pesticides.
Eliminating the non-essential use of pesticides would seem to be a logical starting point to minimize the use of pesticides.
Once again I want to reiterate, I envision a world where organic, better yet bio-dynamic agriculture, once again replaces agriculture dependent on synthetic chemical inputs. An agricultural system that respects the people and the planet, while still being profitable for farmers.
For those that read this blog regularly you will know I am as critical of this NDP Government, as any. I want more than just a limited ban on pesticide use, but sometimes it is important to support the Government on a good initiative. This allows the best leverage to push for the strongest provisions possible. We cannot allow this to be the weakest legislation of its kind in the country – we should strive for the most stringent pesticides regulations among our provincial counterparts. To achieve this it is best if we are unified in our call.
We have seen that opponents are going to try to confuse the issue. This is why I think we must stay focused on the specific proposal at hand: a ban on the non-essential use of pesticides (i.e. Non-agricultural use). We must remain unified and avoid sidetracking ourselves - our opposition is only to happy to do it for us.