Pesticide Free

May 01, 2009
Written by Michelle Brisebois
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This spring big changes are coming to the type of product Ontario garden centre retailers will be able to stock on their shelves.

The provincial government has introduced legislation that is set to take effect in the coming months banning the cosmetic use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides on private lawns, fruit trees and gardens. While these restrictions will certainly alter the way retailers do business, the best way garden centres can plan for these changes is to fill store shelves with worthy alternatives and arm your employees with knowledge of these new products.

Under this new legislation, cosmetic use is defined as those pesticides used to improve the appearance of lawns, gardens, parks and schoolyards. Bill 64 prohibits the sale of pesticides that are intended for cosmetic applications and the bill also forbids their use. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is implementing one single law to replace municipal restrictions currently in place in more than 30 Ontario municipalities. The law is targeted to take effect this spring. Existing restrictions vary from municipality to municipality in terms of their flexibility, which has resulted in a patchwork of regulations. The new legislation would allow for spraying in the event of emergencies such as an outbreak of West Nile virus. McGuinty has tried to reassure Ontarians that this ban would not impede businesses such as farming, forestry and (under strict restrictions) potentially golf courses. He stressed this point by saying to farmers at last year’s Agri-Foods Summit, “I want to take this opportunity to reassure you that what we’re doing with the cosmetic banning of pesticides will stay in backyards, and not affect your back fields.” But for garden centres – our business is the backyard. How will the upcoming pesticide ban affect our industry?

As of Dec. 31, 2008, there were 152 pesticide bylaws across Canada, with Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver leading the charge. Calgary also has a draft pesticide bylaw pending. Due to these current pesticide bylaws, it’s estimated that almost 50 per cent of Canada’s total population is enjoying enhanced protection from unwanted exposure to synthetic lawn and garden pesticides. The current patchwork of bylaws, however, can be problematic. Kate Jordan, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, explains: “The new provincial legislation will supersede any current bylaws municipalities have enacted. Having one consistent regulation means that businesses will have a level playing field. One located in an area with more stringent regulations won’t suffer more than a competitor who happens to fall into another jurisdiction with more flexibility. Businesses have told us that they welcome this change.”

The target for implementing the regulations formally remains spring 2009. At press time, a specific date has yet to be defined but the ministry is getting closer.

“We’ve spent the last few months collecting stakeholder feedback from the public and industry,” confirms Jordan. “The closing date for submissions was Dec. 22, 2008. Since then, the ministry has carefully been reviewing and assimilating the input. Once all of the feedback has been factored into the plan, a final date for formalizing the law will be announced. We anticipate that announcement to be in the near future.”

With a spring 2009 implementation landing squarely in the busiest time frame for garden centres, it’s important for retailers to become familiar with the framework for the ban and to ensure purchasing decisions, operating procedures and consumer programs are already in place ready to launch when the ban becomes law. Make sure you know which substances are in the proposed ban and make sure you don’t carry large inventories of products containing these substances. The same rationale applies to any pesticides used within your operation. The biggest piece will reside with the consumer outreach program and it’s an area the ministry is already addressing.

Representatives from the ministry have already partnered with some retailers to address the consumer education piece. According to Kate Jordan, various elements are being created to educate consumers about which ingredients are to be banned. This will include potentially some external media as well as point-of-sale materials and in-store signage. “The consumer education will focus not only on what substances are banned but also why they’re being banned,” explains Jordan. “These new regulations are designed to especially protect the health of children as well as being a more environmentally friendly strategy.”

You’ll want to prepare your teams to adeptly address questions or concerns consumers will have and those questions are sure to come. While we may be following the status of the pesticide ban closely because it affects our industry, you can bet that the average consumer is too busy worrying about the economy and digging out from a tough winter to know what it’s all about. Conduct training sessions to explain the pesticide ban to your staff and perhaps give them an FAQ (frequently asked questions) sheet to anticipate the queries consumers may have. Make sure your teams are familiar will all of your pesticide products for sale and can reassure consumers that they comply with the law. Prepare your teams so they can inform consumers who already abide by their municipality bylaw that the new Ontario law will trump the municipality bylaw. Consider creating a series of seminars for customers to attend on topics like organic gardening and eco-friendly pest control. “Retailers should certainly prepare themselves for more consumer interest in organic gardening,” advises Kate Jordan. With so many of us living close to the U.S. border, should garden centres worry about consumers importing banned products from the States? “Use of those products would be against the law,” cautions Jordan. Make sure customers know that there are viable safe options right here at home.

The Environmental Registry’s website contains a list of all the banned substances in their various classes as well as regular updates on the status of the ban. Visit www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/ to access this information.

As the deadline for the cosmetic pesticide ban to take place approaches, it can be daunting for retailers wondering when the ban will take effect and how it will be communicated. The most important course of action is to anticipate its implementation and prepare your business as best you can.

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