Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pollinator Protection - Europe Shows Us How It's Done

Dear Editor, 

Oh, to be in Europe, now that they have put us to shame, once again! 

Member states of the European Union have just voted to clamp a temporary (2 year) ban on members of that "devil family" of bee-killing insecticides known as "neonicotinoids." It is now illegal to use the stuff anywhere over that entire continent! While Europe has finally seen the light, they're still applied prodigiously on food crops in North America. The seeds of crops such as corn and canola are now shot-full of them before they even go into the ground!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bee-Harming Pesticides Banned in Europe

The Guardian
EU member states vote ushers in continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides. Details here.

PLT: Below is a comment I left in the comments section following this story in "The Guardian."
"Damn straight, the EU did right by banning these chemicals! They are a curse & a threat to both the natural world and the future of many human food crops! As a blogger and journalist, I've written extensively on this topic, chronicling the disgusting and shameful, do-nothing approach of my own Canadian government, which acts more like an agent for Bayer et al than a representative of real people. I'd invite you to read one of my articles on this topic which I wrote some time ago."
"Are Canada's Pesticide Regulators on the Take? Canadian Authorities Refuse to Protect Precious Pollinators From Known Toxins. Is Something Crooked Going on Here? "

Should Capital Punishment be Applied in the Bangladeshi Garment Tragedy?

by Larry Powell

I don't believe in capital punishment. Never have. 

But maybe now is the time for me - and the rest of society- to step back, take a deep breath, and take another look.

The profound evil which has been at play in the recent, horrific collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh - killing hundreds of innocent workers - sinks to such depths of depravity in every aspect, such a re-assessment seems suddenly appropriate.

And I'm not sure I'd stop at the owners of the building. Western multinational corporations  have blood on their hands, too, by using such despicable sweatshops to make their clothing, cheap - Wal Mart, Sears, Loblaws (the latter through its "Joe Fresh" clothing line in Canada and the 'States) - they've all filled their boots with more than their share of guilt. And the history of such things, steeped in blood as it has already become over the years, offers no way out for these heartless entities, to somehow claim ignorance of what is going on. 

Perhaps its time to round up the CEOs, and ship them all off for trial before the ICC. I'm not even sure whether the death penalty is within that court's mandate. If it is not, perhaps it should be! Let the court assess their guilt, or degree thereof, and make its judgement.

For they are just as surely guilty of neglect, criminal negligence and, yes, even murder, as the buildings owners/managers who forced those poor (in more ways than one) souls, into that building when they apparently knew full well it was not safe. There, hundreds died horrible and sometimes slow deaths over several agonizing days.

Whether they be corporate entities, individual executives or even shareholders, whether they be in my country, the US or abroad, I can feel no more sympathy for them than I do for terrorists or pedophiles. And what about the millions of consumers, who expect to buy clothing dirt-cheap without giving a thought, or caring whether they are creating consequences down the line? Should they be considered blameless? I'm sure many are just plain ignorant - or don't give a thought - as to what happens in the world around them. Does that render them innocent? 

I wonder.

Having said that, I am under absolutely no illusion that what I suggest here, will happen. Thanks to hollow, greedy people and their spineless enablers, our lawmaking politicians, our world has now fallen under such complete domination by the globalists and free marketeers, all hope for justice or even for vengeance, is indeed nothing more than a pipe-dream.

While, by writing this, I may have succeeded in getting something off my chest in some superficial way, it will be cold comfort indeed to the families of the innocents whose lives have been so needlessly and senselessly taken from us.
Related article:  Battling for a Safer Bangladesh

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Canadian Officials Should be Ashamed for Attacking Scientists

rabble.ca - BY ELIZABETH MAY 
Earlier this week, our Minister for Natural Resources, the Hon. Joe Oliver, went to Washington on what the Canadian media mistakenly insists on calling a "charm offensive." It really cannot be described as having anything to do with "charm"…Details here.

Freedom Isn’t Free, Terrorism Is Pervasive

By Dr. Glen Barry, Ecological Internet
Enduring occasional acts of random terror is the cost of living in a free society. Giving up civil liberties does not provide security, but rather enslaves you in a state of pervasive terror. The human family is threatened by systematized eco-terrorism and other assaults by the elite upon the poor far more than by infrequent criminal acts which the courts can and should handle. Full essay here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Climate Crisis Threatens Canadian Agriculture, We Need an Agricultural Adaptation Plan, Now

Elizabeth May

All around the world, governments are mobilizing resources to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the climate crisis. Everywhere around the world that is except Canada. Details here.

Bangladeshi Outrage - Will Anything Change?

  • P in P: Will the outrageous tragedy involving the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh change anything with regard to workers' rights? Of course not. Wasn't it just the other month when a horrific fire claimed over a hundred lives at another similar factory in that same country, with workers locked inside? That sure changed a lot of attitudes and practises, didn't it?
  • While cute little kids dance on Canadian TV, advertising Joe Fresh clothes which are made in these horrific sweat-shops, there is plenty of blame to go around. But greedy, soulless, heartless corporations like Joe Fresh, Walmart and Disney, including their hollow, despicable shareholders, surely must remain at the top of the blame-list. 
  • Instead of improving working conditions and pay for the world's poor, thus allowing them to buy clothing, ethically made in places which pay decent, livable wages, human society is on a downward escalator, on a relentless race to the bottom.
  • As long as cowardly lawmakers there and here at home run from their obligations, as long as the world continues to worship at the altar of capitalism, greed, free markets and globalization, nothing will change.
  • Below are a couple of interesting comments which have just appeared on the Joe Fresh Facebook page;
  • Bex L Alex Until Joe moves it's manufacturing operations to North America, takes financial and legal responsibility for worker's rights and safety, I will not be shopping there. Also, a Bangledeshi worker's life is worth more than a $250 settlement. Do the right thing. Stop being greed-driven, exploitive parasites. Own up, pay out and end exploitational practices. 
  • Naomi Clement I agree Bex, but we as consumers need to do our part as well, and stop expecting a t-shirt to cost less than $10.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Roundup Could Be Linked To Parkinson's, Cancer And Other Health Issues

(Reuters) - Heavy use of the world's most popular herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson's, infertility and cancers, according to a new study. Details here.

Crop-duster. PLT photo

Video: Withdrawing From UN Drought Treaty For The Cost Of...

House of Commons
16, 2013
Video: Withdrawing from UN drought treaty for the cost of...

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister told this House that Canada legally
withdrew from the treaty to combat drought and desertification because it was “
…not an effective way to [use] taxpayers’ money”. The cost of the treaty, $300,000
a year, is roughly equivalent to half the cost of a G8 gazebo or 109 days of the care
and feeding of a rented panda, less than 4% of the PMO office budget, a third the
cost of shipping an armoured vehicle to India, or two days of government
advertising to tell us how happy we should all be with the way the government is
spending our money.
By what criteria is that spending more effective than pulling our weight in the world
to confront drought and expanding deserts?
Hon. Julian Fantino: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the criteria. That is
making Canada's assistance more effective and efficient so we can dedicate those
resources to the people most in need.
We are supporting concrete measures to help developing countries deal with drought
instead of paying for conferences, salaries, and bureaucrats. Our commitment is to
help the poor in a tangible way. We are doing that. It is not about talk shops or travel.
Share with Friends
Take Action: Restore Funding to the UNCCD
Must Read Article - Protecting Agriculture

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vancouver Island Declares Itself a GE Free Zone

51 municipalities yesterday supported a motion brought forward by Metchosin to make Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities a genetically engineered free zone – Details here.

Designed by PLT

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You Did It... The ELA lives!

Save the ELA


I have big news to share with you on the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA).

The e-mails and letters you sent calling for the ELA to be saved, the petitions you signed, the pressure you helped to mount on social media – it has all paid off.

Today the Ontario government announced that it will step in to help keep the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area operating.

Public pressure from concerned citizens like you made this happen. Your support enabled the Council of Canadians to join other groups in sustaining a broad and effective campaign over the last several months.

Our efforts culminated last month with our urgent '48 Hours to Save the ELA' action alert, in which nearly 4,000 Council members sent messages to Ontario Premier Wynne and Manitoba Premier Selinger calling on them to intervene – and today, they did!

You and I must build on the momentum of this victory for the next fight to protect water.

We must challenge the Harper Conservative government's gutting of environmental regulations, the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. We must stop the corporate control and ownership of water. And we must work as communities and individuals to change the way we view and treat our shared water.

Thank you for your valuable contribution in helping to save the ELA. You've proven once again that our collective action can, and does, effect real change.

You can keep up the momentum by making a $10 donation to our water campaign right now.


Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow
National Chairperson, The Council of Canadians
The Council of Canadians

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Black Market in Moose Thrives in Manitoba

Winnipeg Free Press

The animal has been wiped out in parts of Manitoba, so why is it easy to get moose meat? Details here.

Huge Response - Break the Grip of Monsanto

Wow -- 35,000 pledges already! Let's reach 45,000 and stop the take over of our food and our politics. Click here to pledge now.

Dear Avaazers,

One mega-company is gradually taking over our food supply -- putting the planet’s food future in serious danger. But we can turn the tide on Monsanto and other companies that push through policies that prioritise their profits over the public good. Pledge $4 now to help stop this dangerous domination of our politics and our food:

Pledge now
One mega-company is gradually taking over our global food supply, poisoning our politics and putting the planet’s food future in serious danger. To stop it we need to expose and break up Monsanto’s worldwide grip.

Monsanto, the chemical giant that gave us poisons like Agent Orange and DDT, has a super-profitable racket. Step 1: Develop pesticides and genetically modified (GM) seeds designed to resist them, patent the seeds, prohibit farmers from replanting their seeds year to year, then send undercover agents out to investigate and sue farmers who don’t comply. Step 2: Spend millions lobbying government officials and contributing to political campaigns, get former Monsanto bigwigs into top government jobs, and then work with them to weaken regulations and push Monsanto goods into markets across the world.

As long as US law allows corporations to spend unlimited sums to influence policy, they can often buy the laws they want. Last year, Monsanto and biotech giants spent a whopping $45m to kill a ballot initiative that would have labelled GMO products just in California, despite 82 percent of Americans wanting to know if they are buying GM. And just this month, the company helped ram through the "Monsanto Protection Act,” that blocks courts from stopping the sale of a product even if they’ve been wrongly approved by the government.

Monsanto’s power in the US gives them a launch pad to dominate across the world. But brave farmers and activists from the EU, to Brazil, to India and Canada are resisting and starting to win.

We’re at a global tipping point. If enough of us pledge just $4 now, we can join forces to break Monsanto’s grip on our politics and our food and help stop the corporate capture of our governments. Avaaz will only process the pledges if we get enough to make a real difference:


Prairies Get Ready For Runoff

Manitoba Co-Operator
Flood risks rise again in Manitoba, high runoffs expected in Sask. Details here.

A swollen Assiniboine, St. Lazare MB, 
Spring, 2011. PLT photo. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fish Die in Lake of the Prairies in Western Manitoba

(Video by Kirk Lyttle)
What caused the fish-kill (or the extent of it) are still unknown. Was it the dramatically-lower lake levels caused when the authorities deliberately "drew them down," in anticipation of serious flooding this spring? Was it lack of oxygen? Or both?Lake of the Prairies formed decades ago with the construction of the Shellmouth dam on the Assiniboine River, near Russell, MB. This year, authorities have drawn its water levels down dramatically, in anticipation of serious flooding this spring. See "then" and "now" shots below, both taken at the bridge which crosses the lake, east of Yorkton, SK.
Above, during the record flood on the Assiniboine in 2011. Note the high water levels below the bridge. Below, note the low levels and exposed abutments, in full "pre-flood" mode this past weekend. 

(PLT photos)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

BPA in Most Canadians’ Urine, Effects Unknown

Canadian Press

TORONTO – A Health Canada study suggests most Canadians have the chemical bisphenol A in their urine and all have traces of lead in their blood. Details here.

The Tyranny Of The Tar Sands

thestar.com - Clayton Ruby

In exploiting every last drop of tar sands crude, the government is impoverishing our country, its democratic freedoms and its future prosperity. Full story here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Curse of Fertilizer

Summer Ice Melt In Antarctica Is At The Highest Point In 1,000 Years, Researchers Say

Antarctica Summer Ice Melt

CANBERRA (Reuters) - The summer ice melt in parts of Antarctica is at its highest level in 1,000 years, Australian and British researchers reported on Monday, adding new evidence of the impact of global warming on sensitive Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves.

Researchers from the Australian National University and the British Antarctic Survey found data taken from an ice core also shows the summer ice melt has been 10 times more intense over the past 50 years compared with 600 years ago.

"It's definitely evidence that the climate and the environment is changing in this part of Antarctica," lead researcher Nerilie Abram said.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Would Anyone Celebrate the Death of Margaret Thatcher? Ask a Chilean

The Nation
Never have I witnessed a gap between the mainstream media and the public quite like the last twenty-four hours since the death of Margaret Thatcher. Details here.

Climate change: How a Warming World is a Threat to our Food Supplies

The Guardian
Global warming is exacerbating political instability as tensions brought on by food insecurity rise. With research suggesting the issue can only get worse we examine the risks around the world. Details here.

Manitoba corn following a freak frost; Aug.'07 PLT photo

PLT: As a Canadian, I'm getting quite tired of coverage such as this, concentrating on the US as centre of the universe, then radiating outward in any direction except Canada! The only reference I can find in this entire article to my country is this: "Canada will be a winner, as crops move north." Say what?  
I've lived most of my 70+ years on the Canadian prairies & the only crop "moving north" that I'm aware of is a rare disease of canola, purportedly carried north on the wind and thriving due to drought. (Kuz we had drought here, too, last summer!) 
As I look out my window this mid-April day, I see mounds of snow with more forecast. And I hear on the radio of highways turned into skating rinks, cars in ditches and schools closed, yet again. Much more snow is falling on Winnipeg and North Dakota as we speak, where serious flooding is again a virtual certainty. When North Dakota floods, we flood, thanks to the Red River which flows from them to us. Floods of epic proportions already ravaged my province (Manitoba) in '97, '09, '11 & '12 (plus slightly less serious ones in between). Cabins on lakeshores, millions of dollars worth of municipal infrastructure such as roads and bridges were destroyed. People were displaced with many still waiting to return, two years after the event. Millions of hectares of cropland either went unseeded then, or seeded crops were drowned. As of now; we don't really know when farmers will be getting on the land this spring, or whether they'll be able to get a crop in, at all! 
Blizzards are an everyday occurrence somewhere in this vast region of Canada, it now seems. Record cold has been the "norm" all winter, with temperatures (both maxes & mins), frequently running 10 to 15 degrees Celsius below normal. 
I'm still a staunch supporter of the science of climate change. Still, I'm growing increasingly puzzled as to how this record cold winter fits into the scenario of global warming. Meanwhile, I'm still watching and waiting for more detailed, scientific analysis of what is happening in the US, Africa and Asia, for sure, but also in my neck-of-the woods, too, if you please! Having read the above article, I guess I'll just have to keep looking!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Experimental Lakes Area Closure a Financial Blunder, Say Greens

Green Party of Canada Donate to the Green Party of Canada
 Grandview:  The Green Party of Canada calls on the 
federal government to keep the  Experimental Lakes 
Area (ELA) research station open. Closure of ELA will 
cost Canadian tax payers $50 million to decommission 
the site while keeping it open would only be $2 million 
a year.  “Do the math,” says Kate Storey, of the Dauphin 
Swan River Marquette Green Party. “This attack on 
science is a financial blunder.”

Giving no reasons, the Harper government terminated 
funding to the facility, forcing it to close this March. 
Concerned citizens have suggested that the closure is 
a vendetta against environmentalists. Research coming 
out of the experimental lakes could be inconvenient to 
those wishing to ignore the effects of toxins on the water 
and on the health of Canadians.

The Experimental Lakes station has operated as a unique, 
world-renowned centre for freshwater research in 
northwestern Ontario for about half-a-century. Studies 
done there have resulted in strategies to combat acid rain, 
climate change, algae blooms, mercury poisoning and 
nutrient buildup in lakes such as Erie and Winnipeg.  
The science could be used to move industry to become 
more environmentally responsible.

The ELA cost relatively little to maintain. Scientists could 
bring in specific funding for their experiments and be 
asked for rent, potentially making it self-funding. The 
scientific activity is also an economic boon to the local economy.  However, even scientists with funding to offer 
are no longer being allowed to work there.  Thousands 
of people have signed petitions to keep it open and various 
groups have offered to buy the facility, but the Harper 
government is deaf to common sense.
Storey is particularly appalled at the actions of the local 
Dauphin MP.  “Mr Sopuck ran a campaign on his "green credentials" and commitment to science.
Yet, on March 20thhe voted with his Conservative 
colleagues to defeat an Opposition motion calling for 
continued funding to keep the ELA open until another 
operator could be found. "Why would anyone with even 
a small bit of environmental or economic common sense 
agree to close such a valuable scientific facility?" 
Storey asks.
The ELA was a help to ordinary Canadians because it 
provided the science needed to keep our drinking 
water clean. Canada’s pre-eminent water scientist 
David Schindler recently called the government’s 
action “sheer stupidity.”
 CONTACT:   Kate Storey  204-546-2099 or 
Green Party Demands Action On GE foods

Dear Larry, 
Are you eating untested genetically engineered foods?
If you buy anything from a typical grocery store, the answer is yes.
Unfortunately, avoiding them is almost impossible since the labeling of GE ingredients is not required by law and is entirely voluntary.
Health Canada has never conducted independent research into the safety of GE foods, relying solely on information provided by the companies making the products.
In fact, despite being on shelves since 1996, genetically engineered foods have never been subjected to any long-term testing to review potential health hazards, including antibiotic resistance, toxicity, or allergic reactions. Genetically engineered crops also pose serious threats to the health of natural ecosystems and organic agriculture.
Elizabeth May has been fighting for transparency in food labeling, and to stop GE foods being sold in Canada.
The Green Party will continue to speak out to demand:
  • Mandatory labeling for all GE ingredients
  • Local, provincial and territorial GE-free food zones
  • Independent research of GE foods and GE crops and their long term effects on people and the environment
  • A ban on the introduction of new GE products like salmon and alfalfa in Canada
We can win this fight with your help.
Please help us continue to speak out publicly in Parliament and in the media about this important issue now by donating $15, or any amount you can afford.
With your support, we will have the resources needed to call attention to the Conservatives’ attempt to relax Canada's food standards, and ensure an open and transparent food system that is safe for all Canadians.

Kate Storey
Shadow Cabinet Critic for Agriculture
Green Party of Canada

Monday, April 8, 2013

Green Party Leader Gob-Smacks the Media Darling of the CBC and National Post

Greens do politics differently (But not in the way that Rex Murphy thinks)
By Elizabeth May

In his Saturday National Post column, Rex Murphy claimed that Canada’s Green party has no goal other than to get me elected as an MP — and that this has been the case for “two or three general elections.”  Full story here.

Alberta’s Bold Plan To Cut Emissions Stuns Ottawa And Oil Industry

The Globe & Mail
The Alberta government has quietly presented a proposal to sharply increase levies on carbon production and force large oil-industry producers to slash greenhouse gas....Details here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

This Is What Democracy Could Look Like

Murray Dobbin's Blog
One of the many things that Hugo Chavez, the charismatic and revolutionary president of Venezuela contributed to the world was his demonstration for people everywhere the difference between democracy and liberal democracy. Details here.

Dangerous Ditches

Manitoba’s “war on weeds” comes complete with powerful herbicides, questionable spraying practices and collateral damage.

Leafy Spurge. Photo Credit; 
Idaho Weed Awareness Committee

Many governments in North America believe, a good way to ensure successful food production, is to help farmers keep plants out of their fields which can cut into their yields and their profits. To achieve this, potent weedkillers, some with unsettling safety records, are often pressed into service to destroy these "weeds" in ditches before they can spread to adjacent fields and food crops. For most lawmakers, this must seem a natural extension of a chemical system of agriculture which has come to dominate the developed - and, increasingly - the developing world, as well. As a result, those who might have liked to chose a different path, are being increasingly marginalized. 

Manitoba is no exception. 

According to an official statement from the province, "Noxious weeds can threaten both farms and natural habitat. For example, the invasive species, leafy spurge, has spread to over 1.2 million acres. It costs the province and farmers over $40 million each year through loss of production on agricultural land." So, ever since the province was born 142 years ago, it has set out to annihilate any wild plant standing in the way of that goal. 

A sweeping piece of legislation as old as the province itself, called the Noxious Weeds Act, gives Rural Municipalities (RMs), cities, towns and Weed Control Districts, the power to declare any property a noxious weeds site. Authorities can then move in and destroy any offending weeds or seeds found there by mowing, burning or killing them with chemicals. The owner or occupant could face hefty fines or see the property put up for sale or rent, with little recourse under the law. (Many other jurisdictions in North America are said to have similar legislation.) 

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 atteempts by this author to obtain more details, have failed.

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.

Dave and Maggie; Symbols of a Bygone Era - or Champions of a Better Way?

It was the spring of 2010. David Neufeld and his partner, Magdalene Andres, were looking forward to another growing season, as they had done for about two decades before. The two grow organic bedding plants in their greenhouse near Boissevain, in southwestern Manitoba.

Then, tragedy struck. 

In David's words, "Every single one of our plants curled up grotesquely and died!" They sent samples to a Winnipeg lab, which confirmed that the culprit was the herbicide, Tordon 101. 

Unknown to the Neufeld's at the time, their local government, the RM of Morton, had sprayed the chemical in ditches near their home. As he had done before, Neufeld had cut hay in those ditches to feed to their horses, and then used the composted manure to fertilize their greenhouse plants. (Tordon 101 kills broad-leaved plants like leafy spurge - above - but not the grasses he cut for the hay.)

Their farm, "Room to Grow," is set amid the rolling hills of the "Turtle Mountains." The two had met where they studied at the University of Waterloo. Their backgrounds in the Mennonite church had instilled both with a keen sense of sustainable living.  They married and spent eight years with the Mennonite Central Committee. Much of that time they served in Africa, where their four children were born.  They moved to their "woodland farm" in Manitoba in the early '90s. There, they became the first and only producers in the province at the time to market certified organic seedlings, such as tomatoes, peppers and medicinal herbs, to fellow growers. 

Their rural homestead became a gathering place for others who share their wish for a simpler way of living. Customers who want to "get away from it all" can sit around a campfire, listen to the coyotes howl, then stay in a guest house, made of straw bales, free of modern conveniences such as TV or Internet!  While no longer officially certified as organic, Dave and Maggie's passion to produce their plants without the use of chemicals, still burns brightly. 

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.

Are Authorities Breaking Their Own Spraying Regulations?

During the course of his own research, Neufeld discovered that, in 2010 Health Canada issued this directive on picloram."DO NOT apply this product directly to freshwater habitats such as…..ditches……" Yet, less than a year later, a Health Canada official in Manitoba, Shannon Van Walleghem, seemed to do an about face. She informed Neufeld, roadside ditches are NOT considered aquatic habitat. Rather, what the regulation really referred to, she explained, was a ditch "used to carry water for irrigation or domestic uses," not to "a typical prairie roadside ditch." When pressed on this apparent contradiction, Health Canada insisted that "Ms. Van Walleghem's letter does not represent a change in interpretation…."

Tordon 101 is made by the chemical giant, Dow AgroSciences. Its active ingredients are picloram and another herbicide, widely used on its own, 2,4-D. Dow refers to its product as "The vegetation manager's choice for controlling unwanted weeds, brush and trees in and along rights-of-way." It also claims that it breaks down rapidly in surface water and is unlikely to reach groundwater.  

Over the years, Tordon 101 has come to be known as Agent White, one of the so-called "rainbow" chemicals applied in wartime. Along with its even more infamous companion, Agent Orangeit was heavily used by the US military in the 60s to defoliate the jungles of southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war.  But the US military was not alone in those early applications. Canada used them, too. In the 1950s, Agents White and Orange, were sprayed as defoliants in New Brunswick, along power lines and at the Camp Gagetown military base.  Class-action lawsuits have been launched after many cases of serious health issues among those applying the spray there, were documented. 

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. 
In 1997, the Journal of Pesticide Reform published lab tests on animals which concluded, "Picloruam is contaminated withe a carcinogen (hexachlorobenzene) In addition to causing cancer of the liver, thyroid and kidny, (it) also damages bones, blood and the endocrine and immune systems. Nursing infants and unborn children are particularly at risk..." 
Contrary to its manufacturer, Dow, independent research concludes, it has been "widely found as a contaminant in wells, lakes and rivers in the US and is deadly to small fish." Some 20 years ago, almost seven thousand kilograms of fish died at a hatchery in Montana, on a waterway not far downstream from where it had been sprayed on a roadside. In tests on lab animals, it has been found to cause reproductive problems including miscarriages and birth defects. The Journal also describes as startling, the damage picloram can cause to potato, cotton and tobacco crops. 
Several decades ago, mules were used to cultivate a US tobacco crop after the animals had grazed in a pasture treated with the herbicide. “Stunted crop with spotty distribution” resulted on and near mule droppings deposited in these fields. 

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.

Citing its persistence, mobility and toxicity,  Sweden and the State of California both banned picloram, decades ago.
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.

Yet, as recently as 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US was unmoved by any of this. Nor was it swayed by two of its own branches, which recommended discontinuation of the product. While it did add some restrictions, the Agency renewed the herbicide’s license. (Canada has, for years, followed the lead of the EPA in its own rulings, following a process called "harmonization.)

So What, if Anything Might Change? 

 “The Noxious Weeds Act uses scare tactics," David Neufeld 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.

More than 500 "noxious weeds" are listed in the Act, although some may seem like unfortunate choices. Take milkweed, for example. It provides the only source of food for Monarch butterfly larvae, and is therefore essential to the very survival of that species. The prevalence of milkweed has already been significantly reduced in the US, through the aggressive application of chemicals needed for the success of genetically- modified crops. Latest figures show populations of the Monarch dropped this year to their lowest levels in the two decades in which records have been kept! 
Butterfly milkweed(above). Photo credit - ScienceViews

The plant has an abundant, high-quality nectar which supports a diversity of pollinators, including honey bees. 

Even cattail (above) is there. This common marsh plant is so good at filtering out impurities, municipal governments sometimes use it to purify waste water from municipal sewage lagoons.

Although the chemical culture is deeply ingrained in  the psyche of the province, Neufeld is not without his allies. 

Ruth Pryzner also farms in southwestern Manitoba, near Brandon. While serving as a local councillor herself from ’02 to ’06, she says she tried to protect individual property owners from spraying which “contaminates their land.” For several years now, she’s had a stormy relationship with her local government, the RM of Daly and the supervisor of the Midwest Weed District, Sid Lewis. 

About a year ago, in a letter to her local paper, the Rivers Banner, Pryzner referred to Neufeld’s plight, months before his story had broken in mainstream media. She said local authorities were taking her to task for simply questioning the safety of picloram. In columns of his own in the same paper, Lewis accused Pryzner of causing “undue problems for our weed management program.” 

Neither was he impressed that Pryzner used to graze some 200 sheep in local ditches, as a method of controlling leafy spurge (top photo), which they love to eat.  Lewis wrote that the weed growth in municipal ditches adjacent to her property “is more of a concern to neighbours every year, compared to what we have sprayed.” 

Pryzner disagrees. She says the sheep were controlling the weeds so nicely that the Deputy Premier of the time, paid a visit to observe. But she had to end the practise in 2008 when "someone mysteriously sprayed the ditches illegally." She claims it was illegal because the province had granted her an exemption from the spraying. Then, for safety reasons, because they were raised for their meat, Pryzner says she has not let the animals graze there, since. The RM denied it had anything to do with the spraying incident. A follow-up investigation by the province was inconclusive.

Manitoba Ponders Ban on Similar Chemicals.

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. 

Academics Join the Fray

William Paton chairs the Department of Biology at Brandon University. He has directed a horticultural extension program there for more than 30 years. "Right from the start, damage to shelter belts, crops and horticultural materials has been an ongoing tragedy," Paton explains, "not only here in Manitoba but also in prairie US and Canada. The unfortunate thing is that much of this damage could be avoided if applicators followed the rules particularly with respect to wind speed and atmospheric conditions. I have shared this information with Health Canada with no effect.” 

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.”

Peggy Kasuba and her husband, also live in  Brokenhead. “We had a 'fit',” she proclaimed, after the operator of a spray rig passing by their property some time ago, warned them to keep kids and pets away until the 2,4-D had a chance to dry.  Not only did our dog romp through the ditches, mallard ducks swim in them when they have water. Just north of us, Showy Lady Slippers grow in the ditches. Every year we noticed dead young trees and the lower limbs of large trees dried up and the leaves curl up and die. Friends living not too far from us no longer hear frogs in their ditches.”

Kasuba says the spraying is not even necessary, since farmers already spray their own fields. Besides, “there are no farmers’ fields near us, anyway!

Despite their requests to be put on a “no-spray” list, she says, it has continued.

                               (Photos by PinP, except where noted.)
NOTE: Another version of this story appears in "The Dominion - News From the Grassroots," both in print and online, here.

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