Ontario Physicians Trash Pesticides
UPdate Spring 2004

The hottest pesticide news this year was the release of the Ontario College of Family Physicians’ review of pesticide research and human health. The review concludes that “people [should] reduce their exposure to pesticides wherever possible.” The review shows consistent links to serious illnesses such as cancer, reproductive problems and neurological diseases, among others. The study also shows that children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides.  The review found consistent evidence of health risks to patients with exposure to pesticides. “Many of the health problems linked with pesticide use are serious and difficult to treat – so we are advocating reducing exposure to pesticides and prevention of harm as the best approach”, said Dr. Margaret Sanborn of McMaster University, one of the review’s authors.  The full report is available at http://www.ocfp.on.ca

Almost as fascinating as the OCFP report on pesticides and health has been the pesticide industry’s response. Besides insisting that pesticides are safe, Lorne Hepworth, president of CropLife Canada, the trade association representing multinational companies which manufacture pesticides, questioned whether the College, a voluntary, not-for-profit association, really had the public's interest at heart in releasing the data. CropLife also argued that the doctors are making “sensational comments” and “fear mongering.” Pesticide interests have also labeled the report “bad science” and “junk science.” But it’s a lot harder to discredit a province-wide organization of family physicians than it is to discredit an individual doctor, and the pesticide industry has reason to be worried.

The media has given extensive coverage to the OCFP report. An editorial in the Belleville Intelligencer reflects the tone of much of the coverage, “Whose word will you take when it comes to the hazards of pesticides: the Ontario College of Family Physicians or the companies that seek to profit from continued pesticide use?” 

And where does Health Canada stand. So far, they have been noticeably silent on the report. Chris Krepski, media spokesperson for the Pest Management Review Agency, an arm of Health Canada, restated the PMRA official position, "As long as they [pesticides] are used according to the label directions, they can be used safely.” Of course, as some journalists have pointed out, the pesticides the PMRA say are an acceptable risk today, they may decide are not an acceptable risk tomorrow as has recently happened with several pesticide re-evaluations.