Humans as a “pest” species

In July of 1990, a federal ‘Review Team’ released its preliminary report A Proposal for a Revised Federal Pest Management Regulatory System. The discussion taking place across Canada concerning this proposal, brings out a number of the issues concerning pesticide use in pulpwood forestry. The Proposal, we are told, has been developed “by an independent multi-stakeholder team, assembled by the minister of Agriculture to recommend improvements to the existing federal pesticide regulatory system.” Members of the ‘team’ included, among others, representatives from the Canadian Manufacturers of Chemical Specialties, Crop Protection Institute of Canada, Crop Protection Advisory Committee, and the Forestry Sector. All the members of the team signed the Proposal, except for the Canadian Labour Congress representative.

In its Minority Report, the CLC stated: “Unfortunately, we believe the proposed model will result in more rather than less chemical pesticides.” (The CLC Report does accept some pesticide use and fosters illusions about the ‘high level’ of the Canadian registration process.)

Two members from the Canadian Environmental Network Pesticides Caucus signed the Proposal, showing not only that working for the Review Team meant assimilation, but on this particular issue, mainstream environmentalism is tailing organized labour. (The Canadian Environmental Network, as an NGO organization, is funded by the federal government. In August of 1990, the Network submitted to Environment Canada, a request for $14 million to cover projected expenses from 1991 to 1996.)

Basic assumptions

Anyone concerned about the use of pesticides in forestry — forest spraying, tree nursery pesticide use, wood preservatives, anti-sapstain chemicals, etc. — has to be alarmed about A Proposal for a Revised Federal Pest Management Regulatory System. One of the ‘six fundamental principles’ guiding the Review Team was: “support for the development of policies that assist economic viability/competitiveness of farming/forestry/fisheries.”

Economic viability and competitiveness are codes for the use of pesticides. So the basic assumption is that pesticides should be used. In a similar way, the basic assumption underlying The Green Plan: A Framework For Discussion On The Environment, is support for ‘sustainable development,’ i.e., more economic growth. In my view, once either assumption is conceded, the environmental battle is lost, and only a rear-guard delaying action can be conducted. From the point of view of non-human life forms, the growing chemical contamination of the Earth has shown that humans have become the only real ‘pest’ species. We have denied the right to other species to have clean air, clean water, and clean soil, uncontaminated by pesticides. (The Proposal takes as a given, the ‘right’ to carry out animal tests on birds, mammals, and aquatic organisms, for the registration of pesticides in Canada.) Environmentalists need to articulate the perspective, in opposition to that given in the federal pesticide Proposal, that all pesticides used in farming, forestry and fisheries — and personal use of pesticides — must be banned in Canada. Pesticide use is a criminal activity, no matter what fraudulent ‘science’, is brought forth as justification by pesticide promoters.

Public meetings

In September and October 1990, public meetings were held across the country to ‘discuss’ the Proposal. At the meeting arranged for Halifax, on September 27, a number of environmentalists were graciously offered ten minutes to air any concerns they might have. Prior to the commencement of the meeting, three representatives of the mainstream environmental trend in the province, held a press conference and distributed a press release. The release expressed sentimentsl like we “welcome the positive steps Agriculture Canada’s pesticide review report has taken”, and “This report serves as a wedge which opens the door to changes needed to get Canada off the chemical treadmill,” etc. On the street, about a dozen representatives of the radical environmental trend in the province, expressing total opposition to pesticide use, held a demonstration. A leaflet distributed, Pesticide Pushers Streamline For Increased Use, said that the Proposal was designed for “optimizing do it yourself pest control,” i.e., speeding up pesticide regulatory decisions, while seeming to respond to various criticisms that have been raised of the federal registration process. These responses uphold corporate interests. This is shown, for example, by the Proposal stating that a member of the public must sign a so-called “Confidentiality Undertaking Form,’ with “substantial penalties’, in order to see company pesticide data. This stops public discussion.


We all live downstream. Pesticides don’t ‘disappear.’ Pesticides not only end up in the environment and wildlife, they end up in people. The August 8/90 issue of Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News #193, a weekly American research publication, ‘Providing news and resources to the Movement for Environmental Justice,’ points out:

“If breast milk from American women were bottled and sold commercially, it would be subject to ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it is contaminated with more than 100 industrial chemicals, including pesticides. FDA has set limits on contamination of commercial milk by pesticides, and human milk routinely exceeds those limits by a wide margin.”

It could be argued that one of many ‘Canadian’ contributions to the above situation, is our growing of those ‘natural’ Christmas trees, many of which are exported to the United States. Christmas trees, which are often cultivated on cut-over pulp land, if not organically grown, can have a variety of pesticides used in their cultivation. The Christmas Tree Growers Manual: Atlantic Canada 1987, a government-funded publication, recommends the use of over 40 pesticides — herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. A number of the recommended pesticides are known to be toxic to fish, birds, honey bees and other insect pollinators. Nova Scotia, which has about 30,000 acres of Christmas trees, and about 3,000 growers, exports about 95 per cent of its trees to the States.

A new politics

We are poisoning the Earth and ourselves and no economic goal can be allowed to justify this. People are victims of a system that promotes pesticides, yet all of us have to take responsibility for our own actions. No one is ‘forced’ to use pesticides, as no one is forced to clearcut old-growth forests, mine asbestos, work in a nuclear poer plant, or fish herring just for the roe. Those who do these things are part of the problem.

Green politics cannot accept ‘reforms’ of practices which are Earth-destroying. The new politics means to really put the Earth first in our thinking and actions. For me, this means to adopt a biocentric, not a human-centered world view, which takes the preservation of the ecological integrity of the planet as the primary concern. Potential allies in any coalition-building, need to share this primary concern, otherwise the politics are old style, and essentially defeat the task at hand. Social justice is only possible in a context of ecological justice.

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