(Beyond Pesticides, April 14, 2004)
A recent article in the February edition of Landscape Management hints at lawn care industry tactics that are to come against grassroots activists in U.S., after the plethora of bylaws passed in Canada banning cosmetic use pesticides. The article states that the “urgent message from the Canadian lawn care industry to the U.S. lawn care industry is clear: Learn from us.”
In response to increasing regulations, the Canadian lawn care industry developed a well-organized public relations campaign. They created an organization to work against anti-pesticide laws called the Environmental Coalition of Ontario (ECO) and their subgroup, the Toronto Environmental Coalition (TEC). Guises as environmentally friendly organizations, lobbying, and massive ad campaigns were among the strategies the industry employed. On the day of the pesticide bylaw vote in Toronto, employees of TEC went to city hall with signs and shirts that read “Don’t Make Gardening a Crime,” ignoring the fact that gardening, lawn care and pest control are all possible without hazardous chemicals.
Despite the industry’s well-funded campaign, Toronto’s bylaw passed. Catrina Miller of the local grassroots activist group Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) stated, “I know [the lawn care industry] had three lobbyists at city hall playing the political game, and I know they launched a massive ad campaign that, as far as we estimated, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t have those financial resources, nor do the health or citizen groups. The bottom line is that the public was behind us and the councilors saw that.”
Canada’s lawn care industry has grown in its public relations in the past several years. Gavin Dawson, technical manager for Greenspace Services (formerly Chemlawn) stated the lawn care industry has been “working together and becoming their own entity. They’ve learned how to deal with politicians and customers in a different way.” Landscape Management reports that they have retained a lobbyist in Quebec “to put a strategy in place to fight bylaws there,” and are continuing to take legal action against Toronto’s recently passed bylaw.
U.S. industry is alarmed and preparing to respond to similar regulations here. Last year, the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) partnered with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). PLCAA’s vice president of legislative affairs, Tom Delaney stated, “We have learned from the recent activity in Canada that we must put more resources into being proactive to control the issues that can hurt our members’ businesses.”
Currently, 67 million pounds of pesticides are used each year on lawns, and suburban lawns and gardens receive far heavier pesticide applications per acre than most other land areas in the U.S., including agricultural acres. What is alarming is that of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 15 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 24 with neurotoxicity, 22 with liver or kidney damage, and 34 are sensitizers and/or irritants. (For more information, see Lawn Pesticide Facts and Figures