In response to:

A Heroine in Defense of Nature from the November 22, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

Tim Flannery in his review of the biography of Rachel Carson makes one mistake and that concerns pesticide use reduction in Canada [“A Heroine in Defense of Nature,” NYR, November 22, 2012]. The first Canadian province to ban the “cosmetic” use of specified pesticides and herbicides—i.e., for gardens and flowers, and not for commercial crops—was not Ontario (2009) but Quebec (2006).

This was the result of grassroots activity at the local, municipal level and it was backed by a national organization, the Campaign for Pesticide Reduction (CPR!), of which a leading sponsor (surprisingly perhaps) was the Canadian Labour Congress. The ban was backed by the Canadian Cancer Society, the first of many moves in the direction of cancer prevention, versus cancer treatment and research. Quebec’s move to ban the sale as well as the use of these products was a violation of the federal authority over commerce and it resulted in a challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, Chapter 11).

Some of Rachel Carson’s aims over pesticide use reduction could be achieved by a statute requiring the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which, properly interpreted, results in the avoidance, or use reduction, of synthetic organic chemical pesticides wherever possible. Canada, like most countries, has not done this: pesticide registration or licensing is easy to get and, once a pesticide is on the market, it is very difficult to prevent its proliferation or to remove it from the environment. But unlike many Canadian environmental measures, the bans so far on the cosmetic use of pesticides are truly progressive.

David Bennett
Former Director
Health, Safety and Environment
Canadian Labour Congress
Ottawa, Canada