Animal groups want pesticide bill withdrawn

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Loosening cosmetic pesticide restrictions in Manitoba will be a step backward in protecting public health, animal and environmental welfare groups claim.

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Loosening cosmetic pesticide restrictions in Manitoba will be a step backward in protecting public health, animal and environmental welfare groups claim.

The Manitoba government is looking to relax existing provincial restrictions on the use of non-essential, or cosmetic, pesticides in the Environment Act, through Bill 22 (Environment Amendment Act — Pesticide Restrictions). Bill 22 has passed second reading and is expected to become law in November.

Specifically, the bill removes an instalment, made by the NDP government in 2014, on the application of certain pesticides to urban lawns, as well as the sale of those pesticides is no longer subject to provincial regulations. It also expands the list of where use of those pesticides are prohibited from daycares, hospitals and schools to include municipal playgrounds, picnic areas, dog parks and provincial parks.

Brittany Semeniuk is an animal welfare consultant for the Winnipeg Humane Society, one of the several groups opposed to Bill 22. (File)

“[These pesticides] kill by design, not just the intended target, but often non-target animals,” said Kaitlyn Mitchell, a lawyer for Animal Justice, one of the several groups speaking out against the legislation.

“You spray these chemicals into the environment, and they are out there and have an impact throughout the ecosystem, including risks to songbirds, birds of prey, fish, endangered species and companion animals like cats and dogs.”

Animal Justice, alongside the Winnipeg Humane Society, Little Red Barn Micro Sanctuary, World Animal Protection, Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre, Free From Farm Sanctuary, Save A Dog Network Canada, Humane Society International/Canada, The Fur-Bearers, D’Arcy’s Animal Rescue Centre and Manitoba Animal Save, wrote a letter to Environment Minister Jeff Wharton and Health Minister Audrey Gordon asking the province to abandon the bill.

Mitchell noted the groups’ concern is over non-essential pesticides, and they understand the need to use chemicals to control pests and weeds that pose a threat to humans and the environment, but don’t see a practical reason for loosening cosmetic pesticide laws.

In addition to health and environmental concerns, Mitchell said, this goes against the growing trend of municipalities and private citizens moving away from using such means to deal with nuisance species like non-threatening insects, dandelions and other non-toxic weeds.

However, a public consultation on Bill 22, held by the province, found that more than 70 per cent of Manitobans want to see the current restrictions pulled back or rescinded, a government spokesperson told the Sun in an email.

Manitoba still has the strictest pesticide regulations in the Prairies, the spokesperson added. The province has also expanded the list of sensitive areas with the intent to protect pets and children while keeping the community safe and minimizing environmental impacts. These protected areas include schools, hospitals, child-care centres, provincial parks, designated municipal picnic areas, playgrounds and dog parks.

Cosmetic pesticides are carefully reviewed by Health Canada using a rigorous scientific process, the spokesperson said. All pesticides sold or used in Manitoba are federally approved by Health Canada scientists under the Pest Control Products Act.

“Health Canada ensures that pesticide products do not present unacceptable risks to Canadians, their pets and the environment,” they stated.

The bill, should it become law, will have a provincewide impact, said Brittany Semeniuk, animal welfare specialist with the Winnipeg Humane Society. While there are restrictions in some public places, she said, there are concerns over animals and humans being exposed to these chemicals on private lawns.

Why this bill is being tabled isn’t clear, Semeniuk said, but it seems to favour the pesticide industry and doesn’t consider the dangers of increasing levels of toxic chemicals in the environment.

Beyond risks to pets, she said, the bill endangers the natural environment, particularly pollinators.

“To introduce more chemicals to the environment they will ingest and die from is so counter-intuitive to talk about environmental health, yet we are introducing chemicals that will damage our ecosystem,” Semeniuk said.

The Brandon Humane Society wasn’t available for comment this week, and the City of Brandon didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.

The letter is available online at bit.ly/3Ezwb4o.

» kmckinley@brandonsun.com, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press

» Twitter: @karenleighmcki1

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