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Par for the Course: As Bees Die, Governments Sit Idly By

THE INACTION MEANS WE NEED TO ACT TOGETHER

I have to say I’m not one to inherently, blindly grant government too much power, but I do have to love the way the French are dealing with yet another study that says pesticides are killing bees. Within days of a scientific report that linked a synthetic nicotine known as Thiamethoxam to colony collapse disorder, the government announced it planned to ban the product.

Get this: The French government is giving the manufacturer Syngenta all of two weeks to prove that Thiamethoxam is, in fact, safe for bees. Otherwise it’s off the shelves. In two weeks.

Conversely the United States government has had all sorts of evidence — from its own scientists — that bees are being negatively impacted by this class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. They’ve been sitting on these facts for years, yet the governments in the U.S., and I might as well toss in Canada, do nothing. Beehives have been dying off at the rate of about 33 percent each year since 2006 and every bit of real evidence has pointed to these pesticides as the root cause, yet our political machines ignore the truth.

Or maybe they just conveniently decide whose truth to believe.

“All Syngenta’s crop protection products are thoroughly tested to ensure that there are no unwanted effects on beneficial insects such as bees or excessive residues in food or risks to human health,” the company says on its website.

It’s on Syngenta’s web site, so it must be true, right?

THE WHEELS GO ROUND AND ROUND

The question of whom to trust in these matters, admittedly, is not always an easy one to answer. That’s because money is always the roadblock in both directions. Virtually all the science concerning pesticide “safety” comes from the manufacturers of the products who have the money to hire lab technicians to run tests and then have PhDs sign off on the results. Scarcely any independent science concerning these products comes forth, simply because it’s expensive to produce and few agencies can afford it. That certainly includes the EPA in the U.S. and Health Canada in Canada, the two financially beleaguered organizations entrusted with the approval process of tens of thousands of insect and weed killers and fungicides among other pesticides.

So products like these synthetic nicotines with names like “Merit” get released into the marketplace and only after folks like beekeepers start complaining — loudly — will the government begin to step in, typically tepidly, and say, “Maybe we should look at this.”

The very act of talking about examining a pesticide’s safety will send the lobbyists for the chemical industry into an absolute frenzy. Phones will ring off the hook at the politicians’ offices and the stonewalling will begin.

When an independent scientific report does surface that questions a product’s safety, you can count the seconds on one hand before a politician will state, “The science is inconclusive. More studies are needed.”

But who pays for those?

Instead of taking the French tact of forcing the companies to prove the product is safe, our governments in North America sit around a wait for independent science to prove — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that the product is dangerous. Those two approaches are profoundly, maniacally, different.

WHO IS ULTIMATELY IN CHARGE?

Years ago, when the province of Ontario in Canada was considering a ban on pesticides used for “cosmetic” appearances on public and private property, it first turned to the Ontario College of Family Physicians to analyze all existing peer-reviewed science on the matter. The conclusion was direct and startling, with what the doctors termed “consistent links” between lawn pesticide use and cancer, neurological impairment and birth problems.

To the opponents of the pesticide ban, the Ontario medical conclusion was based on “junk science.”

Ever since then a Conservative politician named Ted Chudleigh has been among many in Canada to build an entire platform of disdain upon which careers are based. He argues the classic line that pesticides are “safe when used as directed.” Never mind that 85 percent of folks never read the directions.

“It is frustrating that good science has been conquered” — (here comes that term again) — “by junk science,” said Chudleigh, who recently proposed a revised law that would have allowed professionals to apply pesticides to kill the weeds that he says are taking over his constituents’ properties. “The physicians … I don’t think their area of expertise extends to the use of pesticides. I’d like a doctor to look after me in his office, not on my lawn.”

In other words, he wants his doctor to give him a pill to make him better, rather than to probe for the cause of what made him sick in the first place.

Out west, in British Columbia, the rhetoric has become high theater, almost comical if it weren’t so sad. The quick story concerns a campaign promise of Premier Christy Clark, who said she would lead her province to join the majority of the rest of Canada by banning pesticides used for solely cosmetic purposes. Polls showed that more than 75 percent of the voters in BC supported such a law that would ban weed ‘n feed and Roundup among many other products.

“To put families first, we must ensure that our families are raised in safe environments,” said Clark. “That is why I want to see a ban on cosmetic pesticides on lawns, parks and playgrounds. These dangerous pesticides are proven to increase the likelihood of childhood cancer and other illnesses, and have no place near our homes. I don’t want to see my son playing on a lawn with toxic pesticides. I don’t want to see anyone’s child playing on a lawn with toxic pesticides.”

Prior to acting on what seemed to be a firm position, however, Clark handed the issue off to a committee put together to “study” the issue. Led by another leader in what the Canadians call the Liberal Conservative party, Bill Bennett, the committee voted along political lines and recommended — by a single vote — that a ban wasn’t necessary. Bennett, you can probably guess, invoked the “junk science” term again, while salting the conversation further by calling proponents of pesticide bans: “politically motivated left wing conspiracy theorists.”

That, you can imagine, brought the gloves off in a battle that has festered in Canada ever since Dr. June Irwin suggested to the town council ought to ban pesticides in Hudson, Quebec, in 1985 (it did, in 1991).

“Clearly it’s enormous disrespect for the Canadian Cancer Society and all the other groups who participated strongly and believed in (banning pesticides) for years,” said Adrian Dix, the BC leader of the New Democratic Party. “I think the Liberals have a problem there. They treat people who disagree with them with total disrespect.”

Clark, predictably, has fallen back on another classic line while trying to remain above the fray, stating the issue “needs more study.”

Meanwhile, there’s no money for more environmental and health studies, but seemingly plenty of cash for political campaigns.

THE FINAL VOTE & THE GLENSTONE EXAMPLE

A simple solution exists to solve this entire discussion. We The People retain the ability to effect change in pesticide regulation simply by taking money out of someone else’s equation and voting with our own wallets. In other words, if we stop buying the toxic synthetic chemical products — the ones upon which Health Canada and the EPA register and require the “Caution,” “Warning” and “Danger” labels — we take back the power. Companies will begin to spend more money to develop the safer, natural products that we will purchase. No longer will we have to wait for impotent government agencies to evaluate more studies that someone will declare “inconclusive.”

This entire notion of questioning product safety and big business is, of course, seen as heretical. At SafeLawns, we’re accused of trying to put people out of business, as if that is anywhere in our mission statement. Recently a supporting sponsor wrote to us at SafeLawns, essentially firing us because its Board of Directors thought the company might lose business due to its association with us.

Just this morning I heard from the owner of another company whose heart is in the right place, even if his conviction is lacking. He wishes the world would be all-organic in its lawn and landscape approaches — but he makes a lot of money selling products to companies that still take the synthetic chemical approach. He likes SafeLawns’ mission, he said, but doesn’t want to come anywhere near us publicly for now, at least until the overall market inevitably, but slowly, moves toward our way of thinking.

An absolute truth is that we’re excited to help GROW lawn and landscape businesses who put health and the environment first in real, substantive ways and not just with rhetoric. Another absolute truth is that you can achieve a beautiful landscape, affordably, without using a single toxic product. Just look at what we’re helping to achieve at Glenstone, which celebrates its two-year anniversary of being pesticide-free this month.

It would be nice to play God like the French government and tell companies they can’t sell products until they prove the products are safe.

Since that’s not likely to happen in North America anytime soon, we’ll continue to try to lead from the bow of the boat until we’re pointing in the right direction. We hope you’ll join us for the ride.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Terri Hamilton

    AAIGH! I guess we need to register bees to vote.

  • Tom Theobold

    Paul,
        Just read Par for the Course. Excellent. What I wanted to say is that upon review of the thiamethoxam issue in France, the USEPA has found that there is insufficient evidence to determine that France is a country. More study needed.
    Tom Theobald

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