Back on Earth Day (April 22), a province-wide ban on the cosmetic sale and use of pesticides went into effect in Ontario, Canada. More than 250 products were outlawed, leaving most Canadian lawn care operators with little in their toolboxes to fight weeds and other pests this summer. Now many U.S. contractors are wondering if something similar could end up happening to them.
Several lawn care industry insiders don’t think it will, for two primary reasons. First of all, pre-emption laws with respect to pesticide regulation exist in 41 states, making it difficult for states and localities to enact pesticide bans like the one that just took effect in Ontario. Secondly, Americans generally have a stronger sense of their personal property rights, and do not want the government telling them what they can and cannot use to maintain their private lawns.
That doesn’t mean the lawn care industry should let its guard down. “We know there is activity all the time to get a state to contemplate some kind of restriction or ban on pesticides,” says Karen Reardon, director of communications for the Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE, pestfacts.org).
“The United States is starting to see a movement toward pesticide bans that’s very similar to what we saw in Canada: at the municipal and school level,” adds Jennifer Lemcke, COO of Weed Man (weedmanusa.com). “That’s how the activists get in there and start putting doubt in people’s minds. They build their case slowly and gain momentum.”
A lesson from Canada
Canadian-based Weed Man is a network of locally owned and operated lawn care franchises in Canada and the United States. Technical coordinator Chris Lemcke says the primary reason consumers went along with the Ontario pesticide ban was fear resulting from misinformation.
“Once you start trying to argue safety and science, especially at the municipal level, it’s lost,” Chris Lemcke says. “These people (municipal legislators) typically do not understand toxicology or how these lawn care products work. When a city counselor who wants to get re-elected has activists at his doorstep every day saying, ‘If you don’t vote to ban pesticides you’re saying you don’t care if people get cancer,’ how can you blame him?”
According to Reardon, one of the critical factors in Canada has been the fact that activist groups were able to coin the term “cosmetic use.” “This gave the activists a rallying cry,” Reardon says. “The public was convinced over time that products deemed ‘cosmetic’ were unnecessary and had no value. Also, we found that there wasn’t much public outcry because it would be hard for a consumer to speak out against the ban since the Canadian Cancer Society was heavily involved.”
Another factor in Canada simply has to do with the populace. “The population density is quite concentrated, and when that’s the case there’s a tendency to be much more vocal on certain issues,” says Phil Catron, president of NaturaLawn of America (nl-amer.com). “Coupled with that you have the fact that Canadian people have grown up in a much more socialistic society.”
Increased scrutiny in the U.S.
Catron is one of an increasing number of people in the lawn and landscape industry who is concerned about the United States heading more in the direction of socialism. “I hope this socialistic trend gets squashed,” Catron says. “If it (pesticide ban) were done the way it’s being done in Canada, I think it’s wrong. You can get to that point without legislation. NaturaLawn of America is living proof that it can happen by creating demand through consumer education.”
Research has told TruGreen that a growing number of consumers do want more environmentally responsible options when it comes to lawn care. While the company has offered an organic lawn care service for years, TruGreen has decided to go even greener this year with the debut of Targeted Lawn Care (TLC)—which is being tested in 38 markets across 16 states.