Thursday, March 5, 2009

My View on Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticide Ban

My View on Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticide Ban

The Torstar environment reporter Moira Welsh-- called me Wednesday afternoon. I’m not sure if I gave her all the right answers, or all the politically correct answers. It may be that the way my remarks are presented will make me or the Lawn Care Operators, in general, look like the “Bad guys.” I was trying to be careful how I said things, but reporters can take things out of context or leave out a few words to give it the slant that they want. We shall see. So here are my viewpoints in context and with explanations.

The role of a newspaper reporter is to please his/her editor whose job it is to sell papers. Much like the role of a politician is not to do the will of the people or to serve their needs- it’s to get power- either to get elected or to get re-elected. This was brought home to me when Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said it was his job is to defeat the government. If he had said it was to help Canadians or to protect Canada, then one could believe some of the things he says.

I said I was most upset that the media was given advance notice of the announcement, not by the MOE (Minstry of the Environment) but by CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.) The Hamilton Spectator, a Torstar publication published an article on March 3, entitled “Ontario set to implement pesticide ban Rules for sale of restricted-use products to be phased in”

Do the Activists and the McGuinty Government have a secret agreement? (see CAPE Newsletter Summer 2008)[227]=i-227-1434c181dcca811bc71e7db77dde7b3a&cmd[252]=i-252-1434c181dcca811bc71e7db77dde7b3a

Why didn’t the MOE have the courtesy to tell the stakeholders of the date when the changes would be announced? I was at the Ontario Turfgrass Symposium at the University of Guelph on February 18th, this year, when an MOE spokeperson, Violet van Wassenaer made a presentation on the proposed ban. She stated that the government wanted to have everything "clear and transparent." Yet when repeatedly asked "When will the ban start?" would simply say "the spring of 2009."

I received that same week my operator's licence in the mail. I thought that if MOE wanted to let all the affected businesses know what was happening, they could have saved some postage. All Pesticide operators' licences expire on February 15th of each year. Why not let them know when the ban is to be implemented? Or even to tell us that we would find out on March 4th.

Never mind that the MOE wasn’t very forthright with information. Informing the industry of when to expect the changes would at least show some respect and courtesy. I feel betrayed by the Ministry that should be a partner with the industry in promoting change and in compliance.

If the MOE is seen as an enemy, it will be harder to get co-operation and more importantly- a willingness to co-operate. Lawn care operators follow the rules. Homeowners may keep illegal products in the garage and use them illegally after dark. Lawn care businesses apply their products in the daytime and are highly visible.

I explained how insects are different from weeds. With insects, we have been able to use organic products to stop insect damage. When the lawn has a brown spot, and we apply an organic product, we may only control half the insects. But if the lawn damage is stopped, even with only 50% of the bugs controlled, we are successful.

With weeds, it is a lot different. No matter which product is used, if 99% of the weeds are eradicated, but there are a couple of weeds next to the front door, people may say, “look at the weeds they missed.” People look at weeds and insects differently: insects -- they look at the results; weeds – you actually see the weed itself.

I explained that I believe that we have this new Cosmetic Pesticides Ban because politicians listen to polls. This is political science not true science. If the polls say 60% of the people want a pesticide ban, it’s mostly because they don’t understand the science and they are not sure what a pesticide is. Politicians, however, only see votes. It didn’t matter that Ontario already has a host of regulations to regulate pesticides and to regulate those that apply them. A politician did nothing unless he does something new. So let’s make a new law.

I said that the traditional (now banned) weed killer mixture applied to a lawn is 400 times less poisonous than coffee with caffeine. Now toxicity is not the only criteria, but the Health Canada’s PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) won’t ever say a product is safe. I may have said that the PMRA would never say a pesticide was safe. So if one took that out of context it could be used against me. Even with food additives, such as aluminum the PMRA uses the phrase “does not pose an unacceptable risk.”

She asked will the industry change. I said yes, people (customers) have been used to a certain expectation and that expectation will change. Weed control will be less effective. To have a completely weed free lawn will be more difficult and more expensive. Most people will probably not go for an extremely high price and no weeds. They will likely opt for a medium price with an acceptable amount of weeds. A healthy, green, thick lawn will resist weeds. A healthy, green thick lawn with a few weeds will still look good.

In order to achieve a lawn completely weed-free, will be difficult with the products currently available. Sarritor touted to be a good alternative, has some difficulties, and is not available until perhaps fall. Some hand weeding may be required. Will it increase employment? Perhaps, but it will be minimum wage, temporary student type labour, rather than better paying, trained technicians.

She wanted my photo – but only if I would pose with the products that were to be banned. I said no. Not sure that I want my photo to be associated with banned pesticides. Maybe, if you took a picture of me with a bag of Merit granular insecticide and put the caption I choose- “Granular Merit Grub Killer- less toxic than salt but BANNED.”

Again, I am not for the ban. We will continue to serve the needs of our many loyal customers. It’s just that we now have fewer tools available to do a good job. Programs, products, prices and expectations (what word starts with P- prospects?) will change. We will adapt, customers will adapt. Life will go on. The King of Green will continue to be The King of Green and will become the King of Green (the Green that is over used and often applied to things Environmentally Friendly, etc)

Our Lawn Care programs here at Turf King Hamilton will continue to be the best value for those who are looking for expertise, customer centred service and high quality products. And if anyone complains about their lawn- we can always blame McGuinty!