Leafy Spurge. Photo Credit;
Idaho Weed Awareness Committee
But it's hard to tell how often these kinds of extreme measures are used. According to the province, "Any incidents relative to weed control on private land are handled internally between the municipality and the landowner." In other words, this information is secret. And attempts by this author to obtain more details, have had little success, so far.
Another key element in this "war" has been the spraying of railway rights-of-way and ditches along rural roads adjacent to farm fields or pastures. As early as the 1930's, the province of Manitoba began ordering herbicides such as 2,4-D in bulk, paying up to half the cost. But an incident which came to light this fall, has cast new doubt on the wisdom of this approach.
Neufeld estimates their losses that year, at at least $10,000. But now, they not only have to get their hay from somewhere else, they have to pay for it too. They're still in business. But they had to remove the contaminated soil from their greenhouse and now just hope their groundwater hasn't been contaminated. Despite all of this, he doesn't blame his RM. Nor does he expect them to provide compensation for the loss. That's because, unlike previous years, he had neglected to ask them whether they had been spraying the ditches. And, they had.
While few studies were done on the toxic properties of Agent White at the time, such was not the case with Agent Orange. It was widely blamed for killing or maiming up to a million people in Vietnam as well as causing countless health problems for US war veterans.
But since then, the evidence against Agent White (Tordon 101), has been mounting, too.
Then, about two years ago, a team of researchers at Oregon Health and Science University tested the toxicity of picloram on neurons derived from mice. It found the weedkiller “significantly decreased total RNA,” a substance which helps all living things build protein. It also "damaged nerve cells and affected antioxidant enzymes" which help the body ward off cancers.
In 2003, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens in Chauvin, Alberta, died. Government tests revealed picloram had infiltrated the village's groundwater. It cost about $100 thousand to get a new source.
Neufeld has so far been frustrated in his efforts to get Manitoba to suspend the use of picloram until the legal issues are sorted out. “The Noxious Weeds Act uses scare tactics," he laments, "to force all land owners and applicators and councillors to fall into line. This sounds more like a military structure than a voluntary democracy of free people. Our governments seem more willing to refer to business interests than to public interest.”
Meanwhile, in 2011 alone, the Government of Manitoba issued permits to RMs, railways and even government departments, to apply more than 21 thousand litres of picloram-based herbicides. And little seems to have changed since Neufeld and his partner faced that fateful growing season almost three years ago. According to the provincial government, the number of permits it has been issuing for picloram-based herbicides has remained the same; 65 in 2011, another 65 last year. On the contrary, the provincial government may be pressing on with its"war" with more zeal than ever. It is considering changes which could actually see it begin to fine local governments if they do not put "proper weed control programs" in place.
Ironically, Manitoba seems on the verge of joining several other provinces in placing a ban on the sale and application of "cosmetic" pesticides, those used to control nuisance weeds like dandelions on lawns. If it does, it would be acting on recommendations that such pesticides are linked to adverse health effects, notably in children and pregnant women. According to a government website inviting input into a ban, "Pesticides in agriculture or to control noxious weeds may be the same pesticides that are used for cosmetic purposes, but are not the subject of this consultation." At least one chemical would be the same in both contexts; 2,4-D, an active ingredient in Tordon 101. It has been sold in Manitoba for years under the brand name, "Killex" to control lawn weeds. Meanwhile, the Manitoba Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), Ron Kostyshyn (whose department administers the Noxious Weeds Act), is not available for comment on any suggestion that the province may be applying a double standard, or even breaking the law in the way Tordon 101 is applied.
Eva Pip is a water quality expert and a professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg. She lives in the Rural Municipality of Brokenhead, just east of the city, so is able to observe, first-hand, what happens there. "The weed district people spray the ditches when they are full of water, which does little for the weeds but contaminates the water. While cattail are excellent nutrient absorbers and therefore clean the water entering Lake Winnipeg," Pip observes, "the weed people are out to kill everything that might possibly improve the quality of runoff water. The Manitoba government speaketh with forked tongue. On the one hand, they bemoan the nutrient problem and how do we reduce it, on the other, they kill the plants in the ditches that are the primary nutrient removers.”
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