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.

municipal politics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Rick Hansen Secondary School student died in hospital after suffering a medical incident in class on Monday. (File photo)
Abbotsford student dies after medical incident in class

Rick Hansen Secondary School offering additional counselling for students who require it

Stock photo
$93,000 in COVID-19 emergency support available to Abbotsford charities

Applications now open for grants through community foundation

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

The Rotary Club of Chilliwack Book Sale is moves from the Chilliwack Mall to allow for physical distancing. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress file)
Rotary Book Sale moves from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park

The hugely-popular book sale is going ahead Oct. 25-31 with pandemic protocols in place

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT, VPD response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read