Trust Health Canada on pesticide issue, meeting hears

Stratford hosts municipal leaders from across P.E.I. to hear industry heavyweights

Nigel Armstrong
Published on May 7, 2015

David Thompson, president and owner of Weed Man speaks to a workshop on pesticides hosted by Stratford Town Council. Thompson and the company are based in Halifax with branches in all Maritime provinces.

©THE GUARDIAN/Nigel Armstrong

A title match was held on P.E.I. last week as pesticide heavyweights squared off in Stratford.

A workshop was hosted by Stratford Town Council for the benefit of all Island municipalities considering a pesticide ban. By invitation, mayors and councillors attended from Charlottetown, Cornwall, Summerside and Montague, as well as host Stratford and the Federation of Municipalities.

The national regulator of pesticides was on hand from Ottawa, as was an industry group called CropLife Canada; along with Peter Gordon, a voracious opponent of pesticides, the Canadian Cancer Society and the lawn spray company Weed Man.

The take-away seemed to be that if using a reasonableness principle, there isn’t a drop of science worthy of local pesticide bans, leaving such bans as a strictly political issue.

Cementing that interpretation with a lead-off presentationwas Lindsay Hanson, down from Ottawa with the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada.

He outlined how 300 scientists within the agency sift staggering amounts of data to find safe exposure levels to individual chemicals, then set limits even lower than that to be super sure. Pregnant women and children who might play right on a treated area are part of the calculations and deliberations, said Hanson.

Most chemicals have some risk but low doses make them safe.

“People ask, what is acceptable risk,” said Hanson.

Turns out to be “reasonable certainty of no harm to health, future generations and the environment for user exposure when used according to label conditions.”

Studies used by Health Canada are paid for by the chemical company, but have to be done according to processes demanded by Health Canada by independent laboratories following international standards.

So who are you going to trust, asks Pierre Petelle of Ottawa, vice president of Crop Life Canada, which represents chemical manufactures.

The chemical companies want to protect their brand and don’t want to jeopardize the science of Health Canada’s assessment system, he said.

He said getting approval takes about 10 years and $250 million.

Roger Gordon, of Pesticide Free P.E.I., said he has success with salt, vinegar and soap in getting rid of dandelions and eating them when they are young. He highlighted studies, and studies of studies, to say that pesticides increase risk of cancer.

So again, who do you believe, asked David Thompson, president of Week Man in the Maritimes

“Well I have a pretty simple answer to that,” he said “It’s Health Canada. That’s what Health Canada does. It analyzes all the available data.

“Why are we second guessing their judgment when they do their job and they do it so thoroughly,” said Thompson.

Bill Whelan, chair of the board of the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Cancer Society, said that acceptable risk is not acceptable at all.

“The Canadian Cancer Society asks, you, our community leaders, to but the health of your constituents ahead of the health of a green lawn. We implore you to do that,” said Whelan.