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NAFTA Deal Confirms Canada’s Right to Ban Lawn Pesticide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, June 1, 2011) Municipalities in Canada can continue to restrict cosmetic uses of pesticides on their lawns in spite of the settlement of a closely watched trade case, according to Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast. The province of Quebec and Dow AgroSciences settled a $2-million (U.S.) lawsuit stemming from Quebec’s 2006 ban of the pesticide 2,4-D. Environmentalists say the settlement reinforces the right of municipalities and provinces to ban pesticides.

Quebec began banning pesticides in 2003 and prohibits the use and sale of 20 ingredients in lawn pesticides that had been used in the province. It also restricts pesticide use outside daycares and schools. Environmentalists suspect Dow brought the suit to dissuade other provinces from following Quebec’s lead and banning the cosmetic use of pesticides like 2,4-D. Dow dropped the claim without compensation or changes to Quebec’s ban in the settlement which was reached May 25, 2011. The company had been seeking $2 million. Federal International Trade Minister Ed Fast said the agreement “confirms the right of governments to regulate the use of pesticides. This right will not be compromised by Canada’s participation in North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or any other trade agreement.”

Dow based its claim in part on a Health Canada ruling in 2008 that 2,4-D can be used safely when label directions are followed. It said the Quebec ban violated Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement and launched a challenge against the federal government. Section 11 allows investors of one NAFTA country to sue the government of another NAFTA country for actions they think are hurting them or their investments. For its part, Quebec agreed to a statement that “products containing 2,4-D do not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment, provided that the instructions on their label are followed.”

According to Didier Bicchi, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment’s director of agriculture and pesticides, 2,4-D will continue to be prohibited in Quebec because the government has found the product to be “non-essential” as a weed killer in the province. “The Pesticide Management Code remains as is. The ingredient 2,4-D continues to be prohibited in the province. The situation for the company’s product hasn’t changed. The only difference is that it will no longer be labelled as a dangerous product,” Mr. Bicchi said in an interview.

There is a large body of scientific literature that outlines numerous risks of 2,4-D. It has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, kidney and liver damage, is neurotoxic and toxic to beneficial insects (such as bees), earthworms, birds, and fish. Scientific studies have confirmed significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for farmers who use 2,4-D than those who don’t; dogs whose owners use 2,4-D on their lawns are more likely to develop canine malignant lymphoma than those whose owners do not. Despite the known health and environmental effects of 2,4-D, it is the top selling herbicide for non-agricultural use, such as lawns, in the United States. It is also the fifth most commonly used herbicide in the agricultural sector and total annual usage in the U.S. tops 40 million pounds.

During the past decade, over 150 municipalities and several Canadian provinces —Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick— have banned the use of “cosmetic” lawn care pesticides because of health and environmental concerns. The bans have had the support of the Canadian medical community, including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Ontario College of Family Physicians. Similar legislation banning lawn pesticides is being considered in British Columbia and Manitoba.

The adoption of pesticide-free and pesticide reduction policies have been gaining momentum across the U.S. Examples include: New York State Parks; Chicago City Parks; 29 communities and townships in New Jersey; at least 17 cities in the Northwest, covering more than 50 parks; and, numerous communities throughout Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as new policies and programs are continually being implemented by local and state government entities as well as schools and homeowner associations.

Eliminating toxic pesticides is important in lawn and landscape management, considering that of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides: 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, and 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants.

Under the May 2011 NAFTA agreement, the Government of Quebec had to acknowledge that Health Canada’s conclusion that products containing 2,4-D do not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or to the environment, provided that the instructions on the label are followed. While Dow claimed this was vindication for the toxic herbicide, Canadian environmentalists and public health advocates believe that Dow settled its lawsuit without compensation because it feared it would ultimately lose the case.


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