Photo By Laurence Acland
can no longer use Lindane on their crops - but that could
change if our pesticide agency wilts under threat of NAFTA
Did feds stack a
review board to get lethal pesticide back on fields?
It's hard to wrap your head around
pesticide talk when all things green have long been withering under
a thick crust of ice, but let's. Especially since
pesticide in question, has a penchant for drifting into northern
countries and lodging itself in the fatty tissue of animals and
people, and the company that distributes it is aggressively fighting
to have Canada's ban on the DDT-like seed coating overturned.
The situation might not trigger a
great deal of alarm if environmentalists had much faith in the
agency whose job it is to defend the ban. But just last week the
Sierra Club of Canada walked away from the Pest Management
Regulatory Agency's (PMRA) official review of the persistent
pollutant, saying the hearing is shamefully stacked in favour of the
U.S. based pesticide company, Crompton Corp.
The group says fears of a NAFTA
lawsuit might be influencing the Health Canada offshoot agency's
position on the seizure-inducing pesticide. Indeed, Crompton seems
so confident of its imminent success in coercing Canuck regulators,
it's already claiming victory.
So while the review board
deliberates about whether the agency was wrong to ban the toxin in
the first place, one question hangs in the air: is Canada's
historically secretive and chemical-friendly pesticide regulator
capable of standing up to corporate interests and doing what's
It you don't know it by name, you
know its work. For the last half-century,
lindane has been used on
everything from California cucumbers to Canadian corn. Its main use
on our side of the border has been in preventing beetle larvae from
borrowing through our top crops (prized grains like wheat, canola,
oats and barley) by "treating" the seeds. Then evidence started
pouring in about lindane's downside. The substance was linked to
poisonings, seizures and breast cancer. Soon it was recognized
internationally as a persistent neurotoxin that doesn't readily
break down and builds up in the food chain. Treaties targeted its
reduction. Major canola processors started raising their eyebrows
over lindane residues. And by the end of the 1990s, the U.S.
outlawed its use on canola, joining 33 countries that have
restricted the substance for various crops and 52 that have banned
That's when Canadian canola growers
started having trouble selling their potentially
lindane-contaminated goods south of the border and pressured the
PMRA to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, it was time for us to
consider banning the pesticide, too.
Now, five years later, all our
crops have been lindane-free for, oh, about a month (though,
strangely enough, it's still permitted in lice shampoos) and we're
already ensnared in efforts to overturn the ban.
Turns out Crompton has asked for a
new review of the PMRA's decision before an independent tribunal.
Trouble is, say activists, the tribunal doesn't seem all that
Of its three members, one runs an
American consulting firm with plenty of litigation experience in
defending pesticide company data. And another, a Canadian scientist,
has been quoted defending the safety of both DDT and the
much-maligned bovine growth hormone. "The selection of the review
board was a mystery to everyone," says Sierra Club environment
campaigner Katie Albright.
But why would the PMRA, which chose
the board, shoot itself in the foot, selecting pesticide-friendly
board members who would presumably side with Crompton and recommend
overturning the agency's own ban? Sounds a smudge twisted.
Albright blames it all on the
Chapter 11 suit Crompton initiated over the lindane ban before it
asked for the new review back in 2002.
"It's had an effect in terms of the
creation of the board and who's on it. I think the fact that [the
lawsuit] is there slightly adjusts the decision-making for the whole
Of course, the PMRA denies the
allegation, saying the selection of the tribunal members was based
strictly on their experience in the field. Coincidence or not, the
panel members aren't the only thing the company has going for it.
Turns out the hearing is so narrow
in focus that it's only mandated to weigh material in one area,
occupational risk. All the other evidence related to its persistence
in the environment, bioaccumulation in the food chain and general
health risks used to back other countries' bans isn't admissible.
Aarin Bronson, a spokesperson for
the PMRA, says these restrictions weren't the agency's call, but
rather the review board's. Marvellous. Bronson adds that the narrow
spotlight does, however, reflect the scope of the PMRA'S original
lindane review of 1999, which led to the ban. "[At the time] we
identified a particular concern for workers handling these seeds
during treatment," explains Bronson.
Now Crompton is hinging its case on
what it says was an inadequate investigation of
lindane. "We had
expected a [complete] review of the product, and they didn't perform
that assessment," says Mary Ann Dunnell, Crompton's VP of corporate
and investor relations. "The PMRA did not meet its side of the
No doubt the company has a vested
interest in making sure it wins – but its motivation goes well
beyond accessing the Canadian market.
"From Crompton's perspective, if it
can reverse that decision in Canada, it makes it much easier for the
re-registration of lindane for canola use in the U.S.," says the
Pesticide Action Network's Kristin Shafer. The U.S., after all, is
one of the only Western countries that still allows the use of lindane on its crops, with the exception of canola. And the company
is pulling out all the stops to reverse that ban, too.
For its part, the PMRA says that
even if the review board sides with Crompton, the agency isn't bound
to overturn the ban. It's simply, says Bronson, a recommendation.
Even so, says Albright, "the fact
that a recommendation has been made would provide evidence for
Crompton's NAFTA suit."
And that, critics say, is a legal
battle the pesticide agency seems much too eager to avoid.
NOW | FEB 3
- 9, 2005 | VOL. 24 NO. 23