Chem trails

Today, the West Coast Environmental Law Society released government documents that suggest a high-level of public support for a cosmetic pesticide ban. But, according to internal records exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, the trade association representing companies that develop, manufacture and distribute pesticides has been working behind the scenes in British Columbia against such a ban. And, as part of that effort, CropLife Canada has bent the ear of Agriculture and Lands Minister Steve Thomson, who told us any restrictions on those chemicals must recognize their use in controlling the spread of pests from the urban environment to farms.

But before the association lobbied Minister Thomson, it lobbied his predecessor Ron Cantelon. On April 13, 2009 - just nine days before a prohibition on cosmetic pesticides took affect in Ontario - the CropLife Canada president Lorne Hepworth sent a message to Mr. Cantelon expressing concern "about the amount of misinformation that is circulating about pesticides."

Mr. Hepworth went on to discuss how the country's existing system for regulating pesticides is "second to none" and that "today's synthetic pesticides are much more targeted, break down much faster, and are generally applied at much lower rates thanks to ongoing research and innovation."

Moreover, the CropLife Canada president stated natural alternatives are also assessed by Health Canada and may be no more safer than synthetic pesticides. "This makes the argument against synthetic pesticide an ideological argument, not a legitimate health and safety concern," he concluded.

The records also indicate Minister Thomson - the former executive director of the association representing British Columbia's agriculture industry - met with CropLife Canada's regulatory affairs and non-ag uses director Pierre Petelle on January 26, 2010 to discuss the "urban pesticide issue."

In an email sent to the minister following that meeting, Mr. Petelle wrote he was "reassured by your recognition of the real threats posed to agriculture by these bans as well as your commitment that any action needs to be based on sound science."

That's a reference the Campbell administration's August 25, 2009 throne speech commitment to consult with British Columbians about "new statutory protections to further safeguard the environment from cosmetic chemical pesticides."

Asked about the accuracy of Mr. Petelle's account of their conversation, Minister Thomson told Public Eye he wants to ensure whatever option government chooses "doesn't create a negative impact on the agriculture industry."

And that means recognizing "the non-cosmetic use of pesticides is essential for controlling invasive plants and noxious weeds and pests" that could move from the urban environment to farms.

So does that mean he'd opposed to a cosmetic pesticide ban? "As I said, what we need to do is make sure the processes and the policies that get put in place don't have a negative impact on the industry and that we can address those situations where there may be risks to the agriculture industry as a result of the introduction of pests."

Obviously, that didn't answer our question. So we tried another approach, asking him if it was possible to accomplish that if there was a ban.

The response: "I think those are the options that are going to come forward as to how we do that. I know the agriculture industry has been actively engaged in inputting into the consultation process" - which wrapped up in February - "and I'm looking forward to seeing the next stage of the process where the options and issues that came through that process come forward."

"We want to make sure we protect the health of our citizen. We also want to protect the health of our farmers. And we also want to make sure we continue to have safe nutritious food in British Columbia as well and we don't pose significant risks to the industry through unintended consequences."

The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned records.

Croplife Canada's correspondence With Steve Thomson

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