Ontario will become the latest Canadian province to stop amateur gardeners using pesticides, when a new law comes into force in spring 2009

Ontario will become the latest Canadian province to stop amateur gardeners using pesticides, when a new law comes into force in spring 2009. 

The ban targets what campaigners have termed the ’cosmetic’ use of pesticides (including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides) on domestic gardens and lawns. Agricultural and other commercial uses, such as golf courses, will be exempt. 

Although Quebec already has similar legislation in place, the Ontario ban is being billed as the toughest in North America, since it prohibits not only the specific use but also the sale of pesticides. 

But opponents say that the decision has been led by politics rather than sound science, and that it undermines stringent federal chemicals regulations which have themselves recently been tightened.  

Precautionary pressure 

Over the past few years, various groups have successfully campaigned for individual municipalities to institute their own local pesticide bans. According to one of the principal lobby groups, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (Cela), these bylaws now cover 
42 per cent of Canada’s population, including major cities such as Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver.  

’This is a precautionary measure, to eliminate these aesthetic uses of pesticides, because they are completely unnecessary,’ says Cela’s Kathleen Cooper. ’We’re not going to wait for the body count before we act.’ 

But Judy Shaw, government affairs director for Syngenta Crop Protection Canada, says that no proper scientific review has been carried out prior to the bans. ’Some of these products are still widely used in agriculture,’ she says. ’They have all undergone the full range of environmental and toxicology studies before they were approved - these products are necessary to keep our green spaces healthy.’ 

’Many people don’t know the regulatory process that all of these chemicals have to undergo,’ adds Peter MacLeod, executive director of crop protection chemistry at CropLife Canada, the trade association representing manufacturers of pest control products. 

Widespread support 

Indeed, the Canadian public appear to be firmly behind the legislation. A 2007 Oracle poll found that 71 per cent of Ontario citizens supported province-wide restrictions on pesticides.  

’Doctors, nurses, hospitals, and the Canadian Cancer Society have all supported the provincial pesticide ban,’ says Gideon Foreman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, which took a leading role in campaigning for the Ontario ban. ’When you have on-side major health organisations with impeccable reputations, it’s hard for legislators to say no.’ Similar sentiments lay behind Health Canada’s recent labelling of bisphenol A as ’toxic’ (see p16 and Chemistry World,  May 2008, p9). 

Connie Moase, director of the health evaluation division of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), which is responsible for pesticide regulation in Canada, admits that ’these domestic bans were not necessarily based on science’, but adds, ’it’s always a good idea to reduce your exposure to any chemicals’. 

Although the domestic market represents a tiny fraction of Canada’s agrochemicals business, the ban highlights deeper problems for the industry. 

’People no longer trust industry - so regulators try to gain public trust by being tough on industry themselves,’ says Ragnar Lofstedt, professor of risk management at Kings College London, UK. ’It’s a very concerning trend - regulation should be carried out by the regulators, not the campaigners, and it should always be based on the best available scientific evidence.’ 

Victoria Gill