Municipal pesticide bylaws aren’t based on safety of lawn and garden treatments, they’re based on whether ‘synthetic chemicals’ are used. (Black Press files)

B.C. VIEWS: Polluted logic plagues pesticide bylaws

Silent Spring-inspired prejudice against ‘synthetic chemicals’ still rules

Chances are your community has a bylaw that restricts the use of “chemical pesticides” on public and private lands, including your lawn and garden.

I’ll use the District of Saanich bylaw as an example of what B.C.’s environmentally conscious municipal governments impose on their citizens. Passed in 2010, this 10-page bylaw includes most of the modern notions about what is good and bad in managing plants and their pests. And much of it is politically correct rubbish.

The district’s web page lists a sprinkling of permitted pesticides, including vinegar, corn gluten meal, insecticidal or herbicidal soaps and mineral oils. It includes advice on making your lawn smaller because “no mowing means no lawnmowers.” In short, it is a hippie’s dream of a low-technology, natural world.

It gives a hit list of restricted pesticides, led of course by glyphosate (Roundup) and 2,4-D (Weed ’n’ Feed or Killex are common brands). The bylaw defines restricted pesticides in general as “traditional products containing synthetic chemicals.”

The text of the bylaw invokes the “precautionary principle,” which means actual evidence of harm isn’t necessary for restrictions to be imposed. It includes strict descriptions of signs to be posted for any allowable application, and fines up to $10,000 for violating the detailed terms.

The bylaw warns of the allegedly urgent need to reduce the “cumulative chemical load” in the natural environment. Setting aside the obvious point that all matter in the known universe is made of chemicals, one of the key features of products like Roundup is that they break down quickly.

This is why glyphosate was re-licensed in November for continued use in the European Union, where cultural battles over “chemicals” make B.C.’s precious protests seem calm and reasonable. This issue resonates with folks who buy homeopathic remedies containing zero active ingredient, or believe they need an occasional “cleanse” to aid their kidney and liver function.

The idea that “synthetic chemicals” are by definition the problem is one of the most damaging myths. Do you recall the most recent contaminated food scare? Romaine lettuce from California was pulled off store shelves after dozens of people became ill and two died after eating it in December.

The culprit in this case was e. coli, which Health Canada defines as bacteria that “live naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals.” Leafy greens can be contaminated by soil, inadequately composted manure, or improper handling and storing after harvest.

The last time I wrote on this topic, a reader demanded to know whether I have read Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s iconic anti-DDT book that is credited with sparking the modern environmental movement.

I’ll come clean. No, I haven’t read this 55-year-old book, which was quietly but thoroughly debunked after decades of uncritical public and media belief.

That religious faith changed with a 2012 critique by 11 scientific authors, called Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson. It destroys many of her key conclusions, particularly the title’s claim that DDT was behind a collapse of American bird populations.

“Far from being on the verge of collapse, American bird populations were, by and large, increasing at the time of Silent Spring’s publication,” the authors write. “Although Carson was active in the Audubon Society, she ignored Audubon’s annual bird count, which had long been the best single source on bird population.”

Carson also ignored the millions of human lives saved from malaria death by DDT, misrepresented rising cancer deaths that were mainly due to smoking and people living longer, and overstated the safety and effectiveness of “natural” pest control using predator insects.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Five upcoming open houses regarding interregional transit between Penticton and Kelowna

The meetings will be held in Summerland, Princeton, Penticton, Peachland and Osoyoos on Dec. 4 and 5

Third fatality in 24 hours on South Okanagan roads

A vehicle incident closed Highway 3 for five hours Monday night

CONTEST: New year, new you

KimXO has partnered with Black Press Media and Third Space for a brand new contest

‘Why didn’t we do that sooner?’: Share-a-Smile Telethon a resounding success

OSNS executive director Manisha Willms said it wouldn’t be possible without help from community

Update: Oliver man wielding an axe sentenced to almost 23 months in jail

Steve Joseph Godbout was convicted of several charges in Penticton provincial court

Police aim to prevent retaliation after Hells Angel found dead under B.C. bridge

IHIT confirms Chad Wilson, 43, was the victim of a ‘targeted’ homicide

Canucks’ 50/50 jackpot expected to surpass $1 million

The guaranteed prize for one lucky winner will be $500,000 minimum when Vancouver hosts LA Nov 27

The latest advent calendar trend: Holiday cannabis

A Canadian company is giving people from coast to coast a new way to celebrate the Christmas countdown.

B.C. woman allegedly threatens to rip out intestines of American man

A Kamloops-area woman is accused of harassing and threatening to disembowel an American man

Possible prison time for Kamloops woman who stole thousands from her company

Crown wants Maegan Viger to spend three months behind bars; defence asks for conditional discharge

B.C. model looks a lot like expanded taxi industry, ride-hailing group says

Ridesharing Now for BC says it had hoped the bill would be more customer-driven like in other cities

Otter makes a snack out of koi fish in Vancouver Chinese garden

Staff say the otter has eaten at least five fish

731,000 Canadians going into debt to buy prescription drugs: UBC

Millennials and those without private coverage were more likely to borrow money

The Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra returns with winter concert

The performance will include a tribute to Amanda Todd

Most Read