WHO defends pesticide use in today's society? Are there still people defending smoking? Probably not, but we know that the last to do so were making money from it.
On the advice of medical practitioners from around the country and organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, across Canada today municipalities are overwhelmingly choosing to restrict cosmetic (meaning unnecessary or esthetic) pesticide use. They are doing so for the same reasons that they chose to restrict the use and sale of cigarettes not so long ago. Cigarette smoking is bad. It's bad for our health, individually and collectively. Even when we choose not to use it ourselves, we are still being harmed by other peoples' choice to use it; it's called second-hand smoke. We all agree now that it's harmful. Even those who profit from it's use, like the government and the manufacturers, can no longer deny that it's harmful.
Yet people continue to smoke, even though they know it's bad for themselves and their families, because they are addicted to that behaviour and to the chemical substances (which, by the way, include pesticides) in the cigarette smoke they inhale.
Lawns become addicted to their chemical fix, too. Just like humans, if they are healthy and balanced, they don't need chemicals to get a temporary high. For workshops and tips on organic lawn care to replace the need for chemical herbicides, check out the Manitoba Eco-Network (http://www.mbeconetwork.org/projects_lawncare.asp) and to replace chemical fertilizer learn how to make and use compost with the Compost Action Project of Resource Conservation Manitoba (http://www.resourceconservation.mb.ca/cap/workshops_basic.html).
Using pesticides is like breathing second-hand smoke on your family, pets and neighbours. Yes, Rolf Penner from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy was right in the opinion piece Alligator Tears printed in the Winnipeg Free Press (June 11, 2006) that it is difficult to prove conclusive cause-effect relationships. We are dependent upon epidemiological evidence to study the links between pesticide use and ailments such as cancer (particularly non-hodgkins lymphoma and childhood leukemia), asthma, allergies and other lung problems, auto-immune dysfunctions, emotional disorders including suicide, birth defects and sexual abnormalities (yes, even smaller penis size), multiple chemical sensitivities, and pet cancers, to name a few. One reason for the difficulty is that it is unethical to deliberately expose an experimental group to substances known to be toxic. As the Canadian Cancer Society says in the brochure Pesticides and Your Health, "Pesticides are poisons." They go on to explain, "Pesticides are designed to destroy living organisms, so by their very nature they can also be harmful to humans. Young children are especially at risk…"
It would be a lot easier to study those links if Canada had an adverse pesticide effects registry or even if we required doctors to screen for and report potential pesticide exposure incidents. It's too bad that epidemiological evidence is not considered in registration decisions about pesticides and other chemicals. It's especially too bad that pesticides are only registered one "active" ingredient at a time, not in combination with other "formulants" or petrochemical "carriers" or the way which we're exposed in the real world, in other words, as just one more ingredient in the toxic soup that we are daily forced to inhale, ingest, and absorb.
So, if they're not based on human health effects how are registration decisions made? The government depends on mostly animal studies and information provided by the industry or the "registrants," which often include what are called risk/benefit analyses. However, these analyses have been known to exclude certain segments of the population, such as the chemically sensitive, because that might skew results.
Who really is most at risk? The federal government's Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development tells us that the following groups of people are most vulnerable to pesticides: fetuses, children, seniors, women, Aboriginal people, persons suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity or in poor health, and professional users of pesticides.
So who stands to benefit? Perhaps Rolf Penner and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and anybody else who profits financially from pesticide use. Because clearly, like smoking, we now know there is no other way to profit. Pesticides are unnecessary, harmful, and avoidable. And by the way, in case you're still in doubt about whether or not pesticides are toxic, just read the label and you'll see. You might also see that our eyes are particularly vulnerable; for example, Health Canada warns us to protect our eyes from exposure to malathion. But if you are exposed, let yourself cry; it's one of the body's ways of detoxifying. Tears are healing. Even for alligators like Rolf Penner.
Glenda Whiteman is executive director of Concerned Residents of Winnipeg www.CROWinc.org