Manitoba pressured on 'cosmetic' pesticides

The Manitoba government is being pressured by big chemical and farming lobbies to prevent a lawn chemical ban in force in the East from spreading to the province.

Commercial interests hope to prevent ban seen in eastern provinces

The Manitoba government is being pressured by chemical and farming lobbies to prevent a lawn chemical ban in force in the East from spreading to the province.

Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward island have sided with medical authorities, including the Canadian Cancer Society, and banned cosmetic pesticides on lawns. 

Pesticides used to battle lawn weeds have been banned in several eastern provinces. Manitoba is considering how it will deal with the controversial issue.
Common chemical products used by homeowners to zap a yard's weeds, insects and fungus may also harm people, scientists say. Children and pregnant mothers are thought to be especially vulnerable to the toxins sprayed into the grass.

CropLife Canada represents big chemical companies, such as Monsanto, that make weed-control products. The association has been in contact with Manitoba politicians, a spokesman says.

"We have spoken to elected officials in Manitoba about urban pesticides and the reasons why bans are not only poor public policy, but also … why having pesticides available for use in urban settings is important," CropLife spokeswoman Nadine Sisk told CBC News in an email.

Manitoba's conservation minister says he can't recall being lobbied by the group.

"If the chemical industry has been lobbying people in the government, that's not something I'm aware of," Bill Blaikie said. "I may have got a letter some time ago from a company or two."

Ontario minister faced lobbying

Ontario Environment Minister John Wilkinson said he was lobbied by industry, but in the end sided with those demanding a ban.

"Well, we listened to moms, parents and doctors. They came to us and they said there really is no good reason for our kids to be unnecessarily exposed to chemicals," Wilkinson told CBC News, from Toronto.

Many of the chemicals used to control lawn weeds are also used routinely on farms. 

The chemicals used in products to kill weeds in lawns may also harm people, scientists say. (CBC)
That's why Keystone Agricultural Producers — Manitoba's largest general farm policy organization, according to its website  — says it met with Blaikie last year to voice their concern an urban pesticide ban might eventually spread to crop chemicals. 

The association says it doesn't want the province to proceed with a ban based on "bad science."

However, Winnipeg oncologist Dr.Matthew Seftel says the science is compelling. Though he admits no studies have proven pesticides cause cancer, he says there's enough evidence to suggest there's a risk, and he hopes Manitoba will adopt a ban as a precaution.

"And that's what the precautionary principle is," Seftel said. "To say, even though we don't have 100 per cent proof, the weight of the evidence is moving in that direction."

Blaikie's advisory council, the Manitoba Rountable on Sustainability, also recommended a ban for Manitoba.

Dizzying list of diseases

In its April report, Roundtable said Manitoba should prohibit "the non-essential cosmetic use of chemical insecticides, herbicides and fungicides for residential, institutional and recreational facilities near water and all urban and rural areas."

It also says medical studies, compiled by the Ontario College of Family Physicians in 2004, have linked pesticides with a dizzying list of diseases: breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung cancer, congenital malformations, childhood leukemia, kidney cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Health Canada disputes these findings, but says Canadians should minimize their pesticide exposure. The department tests all pesticide products for safety before they are sold by stores or lawn-care companies.

Blaikie said he will hold consultations on a possible ban shortly. Manitoba has not reviewed its pesticide regulation in more than 20 years.