The Guardian (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada)


Group disputes "environmentally-friendly" claims and wants feds to take action

P.E.I.'s (Prince Edward Island) leading environmental group says the pesticide industry is contravening federal legislation when it uses such catch phrases as "environmentally friendly" to sell its product.

Earth Action is petitioning the federal government to enforce its own legislation and stop - what it claims - is the illegal advertising of products that can be extremely toxic to humans and wildlife.

And while not taking either side on the issue, P.E.I.'s Agriculture Minister Mitch Murphy says it is incumbent of the federal agency to investigate the Earth Action claim.

"We submitted numerous examples of advertising for both agricultural and lawn care pesticides that we believe contravenes the Pest Control Products Act," says Earth Action pesticide campaigner Sharon Labchuk.

The PEI activist organization also wants the PCP Act amended so that government officials are prohibited from making false and misleading claims about pesticide safety.

Advertising must not contain words stating or implying that a pesticide product is approved, accepted or recommended by the Government of Canada. Under Section 22 of the Auditor General Act, citizens and organizations can bring their concerns about environmental issues to the attention of federal ministers by submitting a petition to the Auditor General of Canada.

"There are rules and regulations when it comes to labeling and they should be followed,'' admits Murphy. "She's making the allegations and pressing the case and it's the responsibility of the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) to follow up and determine if there's any substance to these claims."

Labchuk said federal ministers who receive petitions must provide a response within 120 days of receiving the petition. The federal Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development oversees environmental petitions on behalf of the Auditor General of Canada.

The PCP Act prohibits advertising that is false or misleading, or makes environmental claims using words such as "safe" or "safer", and "environmentally friendly.

Labchuk says Bayer places full-page ads for the potato insecticide Admire in Island Farmer, a P.E.I. agriculture newspaper.

"Admire was first registered for use in Canada in 1995," she said. "It is now used on virtually every potato field in PEI thanks to relentless promotion by Bayer. Bayer claims this insecticide is "environmentally sound", "proven safe", "approved" by the federal government, and "not harmful to people or the environment".

Labchuk says all of this language is illegal under the PCP Act. In fact, she says Bayer's own label for Admire states it is highly toxic to bees, birds and aquatic invertebrates and that it "demonstrates the properties and characteristics associated with chemicals detected in groundwater."

Earth Action says web sites for lawn care companies are laced with false and misleading statements prohibited under the PCP Act.

The owner of Atlantic Graduate Lawn Care wrote in The Guardian that "there is no scientific research to support or link pesticides to being carcinogenic".

Earth Action also wants the PCP Act amended so that government officials cannot claim pesticide products are safe.

"We asked in our petition whether government officials who claim pesticides are safe are contravening the act. If they are not, we want the act amended to make it illegal for them to claim pesticides are safe, just as it is illegal for the pesticide industry to make these claims," says Labchuk.

She says Murphy told media earlier this year (Guardian April 27, 2003) that the pesticide 1,3-dichloropropene found in some Alberton drinking water wells was safe.

"This pesticide is listed by the State of California as a known ground water contaminant and a known carcinogen, and was later banned by the province," says Labchuk.

"Don Reeves, manager of the P.E.I. Pesticide Regulatory Program told media (Guardian May 27, 2000) that he hasn't seen any evidence that shows pesticides used on PEI pose any health hazard to Islanders."

Labchuk said the province has a serious problem with government officials continually supporting the pesticide industry and ignoring public health.

"In effect, these officials are mouthpieces for the pesticide industry and this is a loophole in the PCP Act. What's the point in prohibiting the pesticide industry from claiming pesticides are safe when government officials, the regulators and enforcers of pesticide laws, do it for them?"

Murphy said government officials are not the mouthpiece of the pesticide industry and said he is eager to review the results generated by the Earth Action proposal.
By Steve Sharratt