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The Hudson Ruling:

How has it Affected Ontario in 2002
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost

email: dan.clost@sympatico.ca

First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b


March 16, 2003

The response to the Hudson Ruling has been fascinating. This seminal case began in Hudson Quebec, a small town of 5,400 people just west of Montreal. By-Law 270 was enacted in 1991 and was intended to restrict the use of pesticides within the municipality's boundaries. Two companies (known at that time as Chem-Lawn and Spraytech) were charged for violating this by-law in 1992. They plead not guilty, essentially arguing that the by-law was not within the town's mandate to enact or enforce. Their request to have the by-laws declared inoperative was struck down by the Superior Court in August 1998 and the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the subsequent appeal on June 28, 2001.

I attended Landscape Ontario Congress in January 2002: an edited report has appeared on this Website. This column is a brief look at what has happened since then.

There are two strong groups that can be identified. The first is the manufacturers and professional trades- represented mainly by lawn care companies. The second is the environmentalists or activist groups (depending on your perspective) such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund with various organic associations as adherents but not strong participants. A third group is mostly composed of residential homeowners; either the do-it-yourselfers or the customers of the lawn care companies. Generally, they are ambivalent in regards to the laws that affect the trade.

In the Ontario political arena, the Private Member's Bill, Bill 208 Municipal Amendment Act (Prohibiting the use of Pesticides) is a direct response to the Hudson ruling. Now in committee after Second Reading, Bill 208 is enabling legislation giving authority to municipalities to prohibit pesticide use if the municipality is of the opinion that there is a threat to the health safety and well-being of its citizens.

It appears that almost every municipality has had this issue brought to chambers, although, at the time of writing, there are no cities in Ontario with a pesticide ban in effect. (To my knowledge.) Many are studying the issue, such as London, Toronto and Ottawa. Also first time defeats do not mean the issue is dropped. In Ottawa, for example, councillors continue to re-introduce the topic.

It is not an easy decision for elected officials to make, no matter the fervour of the petitioners. Councillors are inundated with scientific, pseudo-scientific and emotion based presentations that can be difficult to reconcile. It is not surprising that the process is long and drawn out.

As an illustration there are two pesticides representative of the dilemma. The first is the herbicide 2,4-D. This one product has been the subject of more than 40,000 studies. Perhaps the most telling is one done by Dupont on its own employees. Mortality rates and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma incidence over a thirty-year period match national statistics precisely. Yet 2,4-D is the chemical most often mentioned in emotion-based arguments.

On the other hand, the insecticide imidacloprid receives less attention. This product, under the name Meritâ is used to control grubs in lawns. Under other names it is licensed for use in sunflowers, canola and potatoes. In the areas where it is used, concern has been expressed about its effects on honeybees. Equally respected institutions have issued conflicting reports. In other words, the experts upon which political decisions makers base their rulings haven't reached a consensus.

The horticultural trades have formed the Environmental Coalition to represent its interests. The two main members, arguably, are Landscape Ontario and Crop Life Canada. They are active on several fronts. The first is opposition to these bans. They have three primary objections.

The first is that the industry is well served by the existing legislation and there is no need to introduce a third level of bureaucracy. The second is that these products are safe when responsibly used. A third, and probably the most disturbing, is that such a ban will only exacerbate the problem. By removing them from the licensed professional, they will now be used by the homeowner.

The second front is one of consumer education. By encouraging and showing homeowners how to grow healthy lawns and use integrated pest management systems, they are creating a consumer-based reduction in reliance on chemical pesticides.

A third front is within their own industry. Their goal is to register every lawn care company under an IPM programme (www.planthealthcare.com) with strict and verifiable requirements. Whatever the motivation, this is a real response to the concerns expressed by all parties in the debate.

Organisations connected with the environmentalist movement such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club are providing the impetus to initiate pesticide bans for cosmetic uses. In every city's Website where delegations were received on this issue, (that I found) Sierra Club was amongst the presenters. Many other groups including physicians and other members of the medical profession have joined them. It is this group that is providing the scientific credibility to this side of the debate. Their argument is basic: if it is a chemical used to kill then it is a poison and bad for people and the environment. It is a compelling argument. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring wake-up call is imbedded in the psyche of many of the participants.

There are several outcomes of this debate within Ontario that are sure to be reflected across Canada. Some are tangible and have taken place; others will occur several years or even decades in the future.

The first is that there will be a restriction on pesticides used for cosmetic purposes. The nature of that restriction is dependent upon Bill 208. If it passes then every municipality will develop its own set of guidelines. Each will be different and some may not be well thought out. If Bill 208 does not pass then the debate itself will be taken to the provincial level and, more than likely, legislation will be rewritten to reflect a cosmetic ban. In this scenario, there will be a consistency across the province.

The second is that there already is a reduction in pesticide use as a result of the efforts of both sides. The increased time spent in managing lawns through integrated pest management is partly responsible. Laval University suggests a 61% reduction is achievable.

The third is that this issue will spread beyond the urban environment into the agricultural sector.

There is no doubt that the use of pesticides is a global concern and must be addressed. The good brought about by their use is not in dispute. This debate, however, centres around the cosmetic use of pesticides and it is essential that it remain within that venue. A continued reliance on chemical interventions that encourages poor stewardship and bad management practices, however, needs to be stopped. Unfortunately, in a cultural environment where appearance is rated higher than substance, the changes may be slow in coming.

Note to reader: If you have any questions as to sources please contact me and I will be happy to share them with you.

PS Lawn care companies are not the bad guys; they are, however, the most easily recognisable group. They are following the rules providing a service that we, as consumers, have requested. If the rules change, so will they. Many offer organic services now.




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