Writing / Ken Storie:  Thoughts on Sustainability

Pesticide Bans – And the Same Old Refrain

A recent CBC report on a proposed ban on the cosmetic use of lawn pesticides provided a representative look at how business and vested interests routinely react to such proposals. The ban was passed but is being reviewed by a newly elected government. The battle is far from over.

The same old tired arguments were used to fight things like the restrictions that have been used to successfully reduce the effects of smoking on public health.
Take this CBC article subheading, “ People will still buy pesticides, says store owner”

First, what did they think the store owner would say? (Why should we even care what a store owner would say is a more thought provoking question. Journalists sometime have difficulty recognizing how a self-interested opinion is quite different from an objective opinion. Do we ask the heroin dealer about drug laws?

Every time a government takes a measure that will protect the health and safety of all citizens at the cost of restricting the consumption rights of some citizens we hear the same refrains:

…People won’t comply

According the CBC report, the owner of a business that sells pesticides, “warned that people will find a way to get around a pesticide ban.”

This is a popular reaction to any regulation one disagrees with. Time after time it is proven wrong but people always come back to it.  The truth is that most people comply – even with regulations that they hate.

That the CBC feels compelled to report on the view of a person who profits from the sale of the product in question as if such views are legitimate news, is as I said, a more complicated and troubling question.

The representative from the Home and Garden Centre then relates some unsubstantiated anecdotal reports about cross border shopping that have resulted from bans in other jurisdictions. Where have we heard this before? “Young people will still buy cigarettes. “ “We might as well sell soft drinks (chocolate bars, crack cocaine…) in schools, the kids are going to buy them elsewhere if we don’t.”

And then, as if in passing, we get the final shot; “The popularity of pesticides has already declined significantly over the last few years anyway.”

-    Pesticide use is down so why regulate?

This would be a good argument if it were true that public information, informed discussion, and general trends in society would eliminate harmful practices without the need for government intrusion into our commercial lives. The invisible hand of the marketplace has never been that good at protecting people from the effects of other’s bad habits.

The article goes on to point out that lawn care can be managed without pesticides and give the example of the Legislative Buildings – which have been maintained without pesticides for many years. These revelations bring about the expected rebuttals from Pesticide fans. The “ I don’t have time.” and the “It’s too expensive.” arguments. Since when has “I can’t be bothered.” been an excuse for behavior that harms others or even for behavior that annoys others? And why would we accept the argument that runs, “ I want something, but I can’t afford to do it safely, so, because I want it, let me do it anyway.”

The heart of the matter is that businesses that supply these products try to have us believe that, because a regulation impacts their business, it is therefore bad for the economy in general. We’ve heard this from everyone from oil companies to fast food suppliers. It is a false argument. Lawn care companies can and will begin offering pesticide-free solutions. Such solutions may well be a bit more labour intensive – since when has providing more jobs been a bad thing? If we have to pay a bit more for lawn care we could get off our butts and do some of the work ourselves. I managed my admittedly modest lawn for years without putting poison on it.

Ken Storie