May 22, 2007

Changing the Lawns of the Land

Communities try to change the lawns of the land
Municipalities in N.B. can't legally ban pesticides, even if communities demand it.

By Chris Arsenault
Published Thursday May 17th, 2007
Appeared on page A3

Landscaping companies and golf course owners are getting nervous across the province.

Spring is here and annual battles between the Johnsons and the Jones over who has the nicest, greenest, most weed free lawn are heating up. Naturally, landscaping firms want to turn a profit on these vain neighbourly competitions by selling pesticides, herbicides and other products to image conscious sods.

But this year, the rumourmill has it that Health Minister Mike Murphy is planning on introducing a bill enabling municipalities to ban pesticide and herbicide use.

Currently, municipalities in New Brunswick don't have legal authority to pass by-laws banning the use of pesticides, herbicides or other sprays.

The pesticide bill represents, "a crisis for the industry," according to Jack Wetmore, spokesman for the Landscape New Brunswick Horticultural Trades Association.

Landscape lobbyists point to the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) accreditation program, an industry-driven policy currently in place at the provincial level, as the best way for reducing pesticide use. The landscape industry is a major player in New Brunswick, taking in around $100,000,000 in revenue each year.

"We have a proven track record in reduction to date," wrote Kevin Nauss, president of Landscape New Brunswick Horticultural Trades Association, in an open letter to provincial MLAs. "As of May 7, 2007 the cities of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John all have endorsed IPM accreditation as the way to reduce pesticide usage." While larger cities want the province to stick with the status quo, St. Andrew's, Sackville and Shediac have already enacted municipal by-laws banning pesticide use. According to Wetmore, the municipalities "don't have the legal authority to do this under provincial legislation." But the municipalities have gone ahead anyway and banned the chemicals, citing health concerns, especially for children, from cosmetic pesticide spraying.

According to Lynn Ann Duffley communications director for the Canadian Cancer Society "Shediac has had a pesticide-free by-law, By-Law No. 02-17, since 2002, and has had great success.

"We are very concerned about the use of potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances for the purpose of enhancing the appearance of, for example, private gardens and lawns as well as parks, recreational facilities and golf courses (ornamental use)," wrote Duffley in a 2006 letter to mayors and city councillors across New Brunswick.

Dr. Kelly Martin, an emergency room doctor at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal notes that, "We have five or six good studies that show if you use lawn pesticides on your lawn or garden one to four times a year your child has a five to six times increase of developing leukemia."

Jack Wetmore and other landscape lobbyists say they're in favour of reducing pesticide use. They cite figures from the New Brunswick Department of Environment, showing that herbicide usage has dropped by 50 per cent, insecticide use by 20 per cent at industry level since 2000 because of the Integrated Pest Management program.

New Brunswick has the second best track record of any Canadian province for reducing pesticide use and the industry should receive some credit for this.

However, top honours for pesticide reduction go to Quebec, a province that has totally banned the chemicals. "Fifteen per cent of households in Quebec are still using pesticides, even with the ban in place," says Wetmore. Law breakers in Quebec obtain the sprays in other provinces. Still, even though the Quebec example isn't perfect and has required government to expend resources on the pesticide problem, the province has the best results in the country.

Quebec banned pesticides because citizens spoke out. What's more important, your lawn or your life? Landscape lobbyists are worried that the proposed provincial legislation in New Brunswick will inspire, 'not in my backyard' political campaigns against pesticides in municipalities across the province.

"It's far easier for activists to achieve success at the municipal level than at the provincial level," said Wetmore in explaining why industry is fighting so hard against the proposed legislation.

Imagine, uppity environmentalists and rural residents demanding changes from local governments that might moderately hurt pesticide peddling business interests in the short-term, it would almost be - gasp - democracy.

The maxim 'think global, act local' is true as ever and if communities decide that banning pesticides is the most effective way to keep their children safe by reducing toxins in their own backyard - more power to them.

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