Why pesticides need to be banned
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.