Spin doctors can make even harmful pesticides sound harmless. Take the PR package distributed by the Integrated Pest Management/Plant Health Care Council of Ontario (IPM/PHC), the industry-backed group lobbying against a ban on pesticides. Here's how it's done.
PR Rule #1 Accentuate the positive
Under the heading "Healthy lawns, healthy families," the IPM/PHC kit asserts that a weed-free lawn "provides health benefits."
Among the more creative benefits outlined in the package are claims that lawns are good for morale ("lawns reduce the stress of urban life and crowding"); provide allergy relief ("green lawns reduce dust and pollen problems..."); soothe the senses ("lawns reduce noise levels by up to 30 per cent"); and of course, offer financial benefits ("attractive lawns increase the market value of properties").
What IPM/PHC doesn't mention A pesticide-free wild garden offers even more health and environmental benefits when it comes to controlling soil erosion, reducing carbon dioxide and preserving surface and ground water quality.
PR Rule #2 De-emphasize the negative
IPM/PHC goes to great lengths to stress that pesticides used by lawn care companies are "safe, approved... (and) highly controlled and regulated in Canada."
What IPM/PHC doesn't mention
Pesticides, including 2,4-D, may be approved, but they are also among the most harmful compounds known to humankind. Highly controlled and regulated? Canada is one of two OECD countries (the Slovak Republic is the other) that still do not collect data on the sale, types and volume of pesticides used.
PR Rule #3 Create the illusion of support
IPM/PHC's campaign is being backed by an entity calling itself the Toronto Environmental Coalition.
What IPM/PHC doesn't mention
This "coalition" is the creation of the consulting firm hired by IPM/PHC to develop its PR strategy.
PR Rule #4 Frame the issue in a manner that deflects attention
IPM/PHC makes much of the claim that "only 1 per cent of the pesticides used in Canada are dispensed by lawn care companies in urban areas." The rest are used in agriculture and by homeowners.
What IPM/PHC doesn't mention While lawn care involves a comparatively small proportion of total pesticide use, these companies are responsible for spraying thousands of litres every season. An estimated 6,000-plus tonnes of household-use pesticides find their way into Ontario's waste stream every year.
PR Rule # 5 Attack the science
IPM/PHC relies on a 1997 report by the National Cancer Institute of Canada to argue that there is no "definitive evidence that pesticides contribute to overall cancer mortality (and) no evidence lawn products are likely to be a cause of cancer."
What IPM/PHC doesn't mention While it's difficult to measure to what extent exposure to pesticides causes cancer, there are many health risks associated with exposure to pesticides, including soft-tissue cancers, lymphomas, birth defects and reduced sperm count. In one study, three times more developmental defects were observed in children born to women working in agriculture than to women in general.