Pesticide ban a slippery slope for Ontario agriculture
Now may not be the time to be thinking about fields and crops, and lawns and gardens, however, Richard Blyleven, a farmer and chair of Guelph-based AGCare, believes it is the perfect time to discuss herbicide usage and its links to cancer rates.
February 2, 2009
From Richard Blyleven, chair of Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and the Environment (AGCare).
Certainly on the farm, winter is a slower time of year. But some things need to be thought about because they're important and because they have the potential to impact all of us.
The provincial government is finalizing legislation that will implement a ban on the cosmetic use of crop protection products in Ontario. Agriculture is one of the few groups with an exemption under the new regulations and probably rightly so.
There are few users of crop protection products more trained and educated on proper, responsible and judicious use than farmers. We have to be certified every five years in order to use crop protection products and to make sure we're up to date on the latest techniques, research, rules and methods.
As a result of this approach, Ontario farmers now voluntarily use more than 50 percent fewer crop protection products than they did 20 years ago.
We're so proud of this achievement that we encouraged the government to follow our example of training and certification for other users as well. Now that's good news for the environment.
What is not so good news is legislation -like the upcoming ban -that does not have a solid foundation in science.
Last October, I attended a conference hosted by the Canadian Cancer Society that looked at possible connections between cancer and crop protection methods. It brought together stakeholders from medicine, research, environment, government and agriculture to hear about the regulations currently in place, research underway and what's happening around the world.
At the conference, leading medical researchers admitted there is no direct connection between crop protection products and cancer rates.
Participants from outside of Canada acknowledged that our regulatory systems are among the best in the world and many left with a better understanding of what we do on our farms and how we use many different technologies -including global positioning systems and integrated pest management -to protect our crops.
But what was refreshing about this event was the attention given to the importance of sound science. Cancer is an emotional subject that has affected so many Canadians -rural and urban -in very personal ways.
It was encouraging that the Canadian Cancer Society was willing to take an objective look at the evidence that exists, and to involve all stakeholders in the discussion. That kind of approach sets the stage for an amicable working relationship on future initiatives.
This ban is a slippery slope for Ontario agriculture. First, it puts fields and crops at greater risk of weed infestations from urban areas where the proposed regulations would ban the use of products to control them.
Secondly, what kind of message is it sending to the public about our regulatory system when a provincial law has the power to ban products that are federally regulated and subjected to extensive scientific review?
Farmers are no strangers to cancer and not a single one of us wants to put our families, consumers or the environment at an increased risk. If there's science to prove that those products have a detrimental effect on our health or the health of the environment, then we want to see it.
Farming is a significant driver of Ontario's economic engine. In fact, we're second only to the automotive sector, proud to provide jobs for thousands of Ontarians across the province. We are also proud of our roles as responsible environmental stewards and as producers of food.
If we as farmers are to successfully meet the challenge of producing food for a growing world population, we will need every tool available to us.
This includes the safe and responsible use of crop protection products so that we can continue to feed not only ourselves but others around the world.