Why pes­ti­cides need to be banned

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH -

Across Canada, al­most 70 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion sup­ports pes­ti­cide bans. That’s ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple sur­veys in sev­eral prov­inces. For once, I’m in the ma­jor­ity! I’ll ad­mit it. I’m in­cred­i­bly bi­ased on this topic.

Putting aside any con­cerns about pes­ti­cide use, health and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, the fact is I just don’t “get” grass.

Grass — at least on lawns — is pretty much a use­less waste of soil. On sweep­ing plains, yes, grass is great at pre­vent­ing soil ero­sion. And yes, an­i­mals graze on grass. But un­less you’ve got a cou­ple of goats in your yard — which is ac­tu­ally a dream of mine — you don’t need grass.

Given the fact that New­found­land has ap­prox­i­mately a three day sup­ply of food should our sup­ply lines be cut off — due to zom­bie in­va­sion or nat­u­ral disas­ter — I think dan­de­lions are much more valu­able. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “ What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been dis­cov­ered.”

What are dan­de­lion’s virtues? Hu­mans can eat dan­de­lions. We can­not eat grass. In terms of sur­vival, grass is worth­less while many of the plants we con­sider lawn in­vaders are not.

But I know that ar­gu­ment won’t sway any­one. And the fact is peo­ple use pes­ti­cides on veg­eta­bles, herbs and flower beds as well. But they re­ally aren’t nec­es­sary for do­mes­tic homeowner’s use.

As Tom Ste­wart, a fa­ther of three in Cor­ner Brook, re­minds us, there are many nat­u­ral ways to com­bat pests in the gar­den. He rec­om­mends con­trol­ling in­sects with a sim­ple soap spray or us­ing pyrethrum spray — made from chrysan­the­mum flower heads — as an ef­fec­tive counter-mea­sure. And he also rec­om­mends that we “ vary the plant types in a gar­den. Some­times one plant does away with pests to oth­ers. Slugs and ear­wigs can be con­trolled with baited traps.”

And let’s ad­mit it: the ol’ slug con­trol trap of a bowl of beer in the gar­den is only up­set­ting be­cause of the wasted beer — not the pos­si­ble pol­lu­tants you’re adding to your en­vi­ron­ment. As for soap sprays — if you want to keep it even more nat­u­ral you can use a saponin to make your spray — plants such as soap­wort or soap­nuts are an eco­nom­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly al­ter­na­tive.

Some peo­ple pre­fer to at­tack weeds the old-fash­ioned way. Emma, a mother of two in Mary­land, de­clares pes­ti­cide us­age “ bar­baric.” She con­tin­ues by say­ing, “ I spend most of my life on my knees weed­ing and ru­in­ing my nails.”

And Stephen, a fa­ther of two in the UK, agrees “there’s noth­ing I can’t do with a trowel.” Ev­ery kid in our neigh­bour­hood is fas­ci­nated with our weed pluck­ing claw. It’s like Tom Sawyer and the white­washed fence — they think it’s fun to weed!

But there are those, like Sher­iLee, a mom of one in St. John’s, who swear by oc­ca­sional pes­ti­cide use. “I spent a lot of money on my yard,” she writes, “and I don’t want other peo­ple’s ne­glect to ruin mine.” She goes on to ques­tion whether the noted health risks associated with pes­ti­cides are re­ally that bad, es­pe­cially when com­pared with all the other car­cino­gens we con­sume.

For me, it’s a no-brainer. The three largest iden­ti­fied risks from pes­ti­cides are their car­cino­genic na­ture, their hor­mone dis­rup­tion po­ten­tial, and the neuro-tox­i­c­ity. See­ing as our son has Neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis and faces risks in all those ar­eas al­ready, we will not in­crease his risk load. Frankly, I have a hard time not tak­ing it per­son­ally when neigh­bours use pes­ti­cides.

Some — usu­ally those associated with the in­dus­tries that pro­duce these pes­ti­cides — ar­gue that the risks are not proven nor well known enough to sup­port a do­mes­tic, cos­metic ban.

Mean­while, what they won’t tell you is that the safety is not proven or well doc­u­mented ei­ther. Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Cathy Vakil, who co-authored a sci­en­tific re­view of 265 pub­lished re­ports look­ing at hu­man health ef­fects of pes­ti­cides, “if these chem­i­cals are harm­ful, they should be banned; if they are safe they can be used widely and freely with­out re­stric­tion. How­ever, de­ter­min­ing whether a chem­i­cal is harm­ful or not is not al­ways easy or straight­for­ward.”

In her ar­ti­cle, “Pes­ti­cides and your health — a fam­ily physi­cian’s per­spec­tive,” Dr. Vakil ac­knowl­edges that it’s dif­fi­cult to draw un­equiv­o­cal con­clu­sions from many of the pop­u­la­tion-based stud­ies done on pes­ti­cide use. How­ever, she goes on to iden­tify sev­eral key ar­eas where in­creased risks from pes­ti­cide ex­po­sure are sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.

She con­cludes by say­ing, “As a doc­tor, it’s my role as health ad­vo­cate to ad­vise my pa­tients to re­duce ex­po­sure to all pes­ti­cides when­ever pos­si­ble, and to pro­mote the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion ban­ning non-es­sen­tial pes­ti­cide use and sale. This would pro­tect es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions such as women and men con­sid­er­ing preg­nancy, preg­nant women, in­fants and chil­dren.”

It’s true that our con­sumer-driven so­ci­ety is sat­u­rated with any num­ber of po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals. How­ever, some are eas­ier to rid our­selves of than oth­ers. Sev­eral prov­inces in Canada have al­ready in­sti­tuted pes­ti­cide bans and even in­dus­try-in­sid­ers ad­mit that the eco­nomic fall­out to the pro­duc­ers is not very sig­nif­i­cant as they deal mostly with large-scale agri­cul­tural con­sumers.

The ques­tion, then, that we need to ask our­selves is what’s more im­por­tant: a per­fectly grassy lawn, or your neigh­bour’s un­born child? I’ve never heard of dan­de­lions giv­ing any­one cancer, birth de­fects, or even asthma at­tacks.

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