COLUMN: Cosmetic pesticide ruling troubling

NANAIMO – The evidence to support a provincewide ban on the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes is apparently lacking.

The evidence to support a provincewide ban on the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes is apparently lacking.

After Premier Christy Clark announced her support for such a ban, a Special Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides was struck last year “to examine, inquire into and make recommendations with respect to the elimination of the unnecessary use of pesticides in B.C. and to conduct consultations on this issue with the public and key stakeholders.”

There are various restrictions on the cosmetic use of pesticides in seven provinces and municipal bylaws on the issue in 40 B.C. municipalities (including Nanaimo) – bylaws that apply to roughly 60 per cent of British Columbians.

The committee received briefings on existing regulatory framework, heard presentations from 21 invited stakeholders and hosted a two-month-long e-consultation.

Of the 7,300 e-questionnaires submitted, almost 5,000 supported a ban and many expressed concerns about the health and environmental impacts of pesticide use.

Contrary to the will of the e-questionnaire respondents, the majority of the all-party committee favours further restrictions and educating people on how to use pesticides better rather than an outright ban on those pesticides used on residential lawns and gardens.

“From our perspective, the scientific evidence does not, at this time, warrant preventing British Columbians from buying and using approved domestic-class pesticides for lawn and garden care,” reads the report.

I do a bit of organic vegetable gardening in my backyard and my (very un-scientific) impression was that introducing chemicals into a natural environment is bad for said environment and people, so the committee’s conclusion was a surprising turn.

I find spraying chemicals just to maintain the appearance of residential lawns and gardens is unnecessary, but the committee found that it is not that simple.

I don’t know much about the chemicals in synthetic pesticides, but the report did talk about the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s process of testing and registering pesticides for sale in Canada.

The pesticide registration process appears to be extensive, although the report mentions concern about the effectiveness of the federal regulatory system as one of the themes of submissions. Reading a description of the process included in the report is a bit overwhelming, but it does include studies and tests before a product is approved and then a re-evaluation of products every 15 years.

The agency’s approval of a product is also based on the assumption that label instructions are not followed all the time and that overuse may occur.

The B.C. Agriculture Council informed the committee that a weed or pest problem that spreads from a residential property could have serious economic consequences – the committee heard that farmers near residential areas in Quebec are reporting more problems with certain pests and city bylaws are hindering the ability to manage invasive plants.

Regardless of the committee’s findings, the fewer chemicals we pump into ourselves and our environment, the better, and pulling weeds out by hand is not egregious for the average homeowner. So far, I’ve found natural methods of insect and pest control to be quite effective for my gardens.

But for those who continue to use pesticides, the recommendations will hopefully result in less pesticide use – after all, the committee wording was that the scientific evidence wasn’t there “at this time”.

The strengthened regulations on pesticide sales, monitoring and education recommended by the committee are a good step toward ensuring the public is better informed about this issue, although if people are looking for an easy and cheap solution, they could still potentially overuse pesticides.

reporter@nanaimobulletin.com