Alligator Eats A Crow

Commentary, Environment, Rolf Penner

Pesticides are designed to kill life

Rolf Penner -This is true, very specific kinds of plant life, insects, funguses, etc. Is there something missing from this list? Oh yes, human beings.

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

By Glenda Whiteman (RP-Who is not a dandelion, a bee, or a lab rat, and is still alive and kicking in a toxic world, go figure.)

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.

RP- And how exactly do we know that and why does it matter? Oh yes we don’t, and it doesn’t.

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.

RP- No the few that have done so, have done so contrary to the findings of health Canada and all of the scientific literature. Somehow it seems that it’s political and not scientific pressure that seems to sway certain politicians.

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.

RP- What a delightful little straw dog argument, I think we can also all agree that jumping out of airplanes without a parachute can cause problems in the livability of people, but neither has absolutely anything to do with pesticides.

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.

RP- Really, wow, I didn’t know I was actually making my lawn ‘happier’, in the Cheech-and-Chong sense, by feeding it fertilizer (a.k.a. -plant food) and getting rid of the weeds that get in its way. Do they get the munchies too?

For workshops and tips on organic lawn care to replace the need for chemical herbicides, check out the Manitoba Eco-Network ( and to replace chemical fertilizer learn how to make and use compost with the Compost Action Project of Resource Conservation Manitoba (

RP- But don’t be surprised when you find out that it’s more work, your lawn won’t look quite as nice and that you may even wind up with more weeds than when you started thanks to the seeds in the compost.

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.

RP- Wow! Talk about a complete misunderstanding of what is and isn’t proof. Of course we can prove cause and effect; we do that with the animal studies at low, medium and high doses over various lengths of time and even multiple generations. That’s how we came up with the above mentioned list in the first place. You just don’t ‘prove it’ with statistics and surveys.

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…”

RP- Yup, it’s so unethical we do it all the time, people voluntarily and with full knowledge of what they are doing sign themselves up for these tests. I forgot to mention that there are all sorts of these studies available, like the ones done by the University of Guelph on lawn chemicals. Others have even been done where they spray half-naked joggers with malathion to see what happens. They probably got paid for their cooperation though, so that must have somehow compromised their exposure levels.

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.

RP- All of the potential effects are listed in multiple places, doctors are fully aware of what they might be, and actually do report incidents of poisoning on the rare occasions when it does occur. And guess what? It always happens because of exposure to ‘high’ doses.

It’s too bad that epidemiological evidence is not considered in registration decisions about pesticides and other chemicals.

RP-Wrong again, it is considered when they are up for re-registration, if there is something suspicious further testing, which can prove cause and effect, is done. It’s pretty hard to do them the first time around because golly gee they have to be used before you can possibly find any evidence of their use.

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.

RP- Really, you would rather they were diluted with other substances? In that kind of a ‘real world’ scenario you wouldn’t be able to show that anything is dangerous. Whose side are you on again?

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.

RP- Actually they have been absolutely known to include extra exposure limit safety margins anywhere from 100-1000 times below the point of the first observable effect in the most sensitive animal they can find, just in case a person may be more sensitive.

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.

RP- The true answer is that no one in the general public is at risk. And how many fetuses do you know that spray their lawns on the weekend?

So who stands to benefit? Perhaps Rolf Penner and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and anybody else who profits financially from pesticide use.

RP- The greatest benefit/profit goes to those who use these products, be they elderly people who are not physically able to weed their lawns anymore, parents who would rather spend their time playing with their kids, and lets not forget the consumers who enjoy an unprecedented abundance of fruits and vegetables year round at affordable prices, the list goes on and on, but it can be summarized into one word, humanity.

Because clearly, like smoking, we now know there is no other way to profit. Pesticides are unnecessary, harmful, and avoidable.

RP-It would be nice if there were some actual evidence of this. Oh that’s right there is and it’s to the contrary

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.

RP- Please do and you will see in exactly what kind of circumstances you should be concerned. You’ll find that it is very few.

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.

RP- Careful Glenda, you’re giving away one of the secrets of why we don’t have to worry and how our bodies have handled toxins since the beginning of time.

Tears are healing. Even for alligators like Rolf Penner.

RP- If you must compare me to a reptile can I be a crocodile? They’re bigger and meaner.

Glenda Whiteman is executive director of Concerned Residents of Winnipeg