Weighing in on the Pesticide Ban
Our mission is to provide a practical green solution to reduce waste in Winnipeg. From time to time, we come across ways that the public can make this city greener beyond signing up for our weekly compost collection service, and we post these opportunities for engagement on our blog.
The Province is reviewing a pesticide ban that was introduced last year, and is looking for input from the public. We've compiled a brief summary of the issues at stake and a few resources for those interested in pursuing this further.
The David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the World Health Organization have identified the health risks of pesticides, including cancer, reproductive issues, respiratory illnesses, learning disabilities, and death due to poisonings.
In spite of the evidence pointing to severe health risks from pesticide exposure, most people advocating for continued use of these chemicals divert attention to the ground beneath our feet. "What will we do about the weeds?" they want to know.
When you rely on pesticide-fertilizer combinations to grow everything from grass to food, it's hard to imagine an alternative. But the use of synthetic chemicals in farming and landscaping only took off in the post-war period of the twentieth century, when factories producing chemicals for warfare needed another market for their products.
Arsenic and DDT were some of the first pesticides used for agricultural purposes; things that we now collectively agree are too harmful to use. But with large corporations insisting on the safety of glyphosate—the key ingredient in Roundup—it is the most widely used herbicide ever used. Biopesticides such as Fiesta are considered too expensive and impractical to become a realistic alternative to glyphosate.
The problem is that pesticides—whether biological or chemical—alter the chemistry and biology of soil. In every teaspoon of healthy soil, there are thousands of helpful bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and other microscopic organisms that help plants absorb nutrients and fend off diseases. These tiny beings are killed or driven away by pesticides, fertilizers, and many of the other "natural" remedies we rely on to minimize pests and weeds.
Weeds thrive in poor soil conditions; consider the kind of plants that pop up in the cracks of an abandoned parking lot. Most urban soils do not contain enough organic matter to support beneficial microorganisms, so pesticides are a quick and easy solution to mask the weeds that are symptoms of a bigger problem.
Healthy soil ecosystems are best supported by quality compost and organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, mulch, and dead plant material. In combination with over-seeding, top-dressing lawns with weed-seed-free compost is all you need for an enviable lawn. Rebuilding the life in urban soils takes some time and reskilling, but as golf courses are beginning to recognize, we don’t need to choose between our health and weed-free turf.