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B.C. VIEWS: Polluted logic plagues pesticide bylaws


TOM FLETCHERJan. 28, 2018 10:00 a.m.

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

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

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

The district’s web page lists a sprinkling of permittedpesticides, including vinegar, corn gluten meal, insecticidal or herbicidalsoaps 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 alow-technology, natural world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last time I wrote on this topic, a reader demanded toknow whether I have read Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s iconic anti-DDT bookthat 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 publicand media belief.

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

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

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

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist forBlack Press. Email:

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