While the U.S. continues to struggle over the use of pesticides, its neighbor to the north has recently taken some major steps toward restricting its use. Earlier this year Canada’s largest grocery chain announced that its 440 garden centers would be pesticide-free by 2003. In the wake of this announcement the Canadian government introduced amendments to its 33 year-old pesticide control act. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston says that while this is welcome news… “what took so long?”:
While the U.S. continues to struggle over the use of pesticides, its neighbor to the north has recently taken some major steps toward restricting its use. Earlier this year, Canada’s largest grocery chain announced that its 440 garden centers would be pesticide-free by 2003. In the wake of this announcement, the Canadian government introduced amendments to its 33 year-old pesticide control act. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston says that while this is welcome news, “What took so long?”
Contrary to popular belief, there are at least three things that you can’t avoid – death, taxes and pesticides. Pesticides are everywhere – in our food, in our water and in the air that we breathe.
Ever since the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, 40 years ago, many environmentalists have expressed their concern that anything that can kill other living organisms must also have an effect on human health. They have patiently gathered evidence while encouraging the scientific community to do the same. But despite our growing awareness of the dangers of pesticides, progress toward restricting their use has been painstakingly slow.
And then came Hudson. A decade ago this small Quebec town passed a local by-law to restrict the cosmetic use of pesticides. Cosmetic use generally means using them to improve the appearance of lawns and gardens. Two lawn care companies immediately took the town to court. The ensuing legal battle dragged on for ten years. But the town’s remarkable tenacity paid off. Last year the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upheld Hudson’s right to legislate the use of pesticides and encouraged other municipalities to do the same.
The Supreme Court decision literally opened a floodgate of activity. Hundreds of municipalities that had been waiting for the Hudson ruling are now proceeding with their own pesticide legislation.
Even the traditionally conservative Canadian Cancer Society – known for its “cancer can be beaten” philosophy is calling for a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides known to cause cancer. Apparently, cancer not only can be beaten – it can be prevented.
Then in March a modern day corporate miracle happened. The Loblaw’s grocery chain announced that it would be pesticide free in all of its 440 garden centers by next year. What was so amazing about the giant retailer’s announcement is that a cancer victim inspired it. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, a young Canadian doctor went on a one-woman campaign to ban pesticide use. Dr. Bruinsma’s story caught the attention of a Loblaw’s company official and the rest is corporate history.
It was only after all of this, that the Canadian government finally introduced a long promised update of its 33 year-old pesticide act. While the bill isn’t perfect, it is a step in the right direction – the direction that environmentalists have been pointing to for decades.
The Canadian Cancer Society, Loblaws, even the Canadian government are making some dramatic shifts in direction thanks to the extraordinary efforts of ordinary citizens – many of them cancer patients, like Dr. Bruinsma. While struggling with their own disease they have gathered evidence about the harmful effects of pesticides in the hopes of preventing others from suffering the same fate.
Sadly, Dr. Bruinsma didn’t live to see the change in Loblaw’s corporate policy. She died of breast cancer just a few short weeks before the announcement was made. Ironically, Rachel Carson, the great-grandmother of the anti-pesticide movement also lost her life to breast cancer a few years after Silent Spring was published in 1962. What we can learn from their deaths – and their remarkable lives – is that change, as always, starts with the power of one.