In response to someone who had difficulty reading the scanned copy of James’ article, Angela and Irene Profit took the trouble to write to the Guelph Mercury (to a Mr. Phil. Andrews) to get the text of the aforesaid article:
Captions to the Photo:
“Photo: GEOFF ROBINS, GUELPH MERCURY Father Jim Profit S.J., supports Guelph’s proposed ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides. It would, he writes, provide an incentive to the development of alternative, less toxic pest management methods.”
“WE CAN’T LIVE WITH PESTICIDES
By JIM PROFIT
In the GUELPH MERCURY (3/28/2003)
I hold an agriculture degree in horticulture from the University of Guelph. Does this make me an expert in landscaping or agriculture? No, though I have had some experience in both of these areas.
I am also a priest. Does this make me an expert in ethics? No, though it does not prevent me from speaking out on various moral issues. So, what moves me on this occasion to weigh in on the discussion of pesticide use in the city of Guelph? I am a son. My father died a year ago from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
My father began his career as a farmer, and became a potato inspector in Prince Edward Island.
He experienced the “miracle” of pesticides. They made farming easier, and helped increase production. We had a large garden at home, and applied pesticides liberally. There was seemingly no other way, and why should there be? My father walked potato fields five days a week for three months a year, for more than 35 years. He was exposed to a large quantity of pesticides.
There is clear scientific evidence connecting some forms of non-Hodgkins lymphoma with pesticide exposure. Some may wish to debate this evidence. Yet, by the time my father died, he did not need the scientific evidence for him to make his own conclusions. He came to realize that pesticides were not the miracle he once thought they were.
When I graduated from the University of Guelph, I too took the use of pesticides for granted. There seemed to be no other way possible.
My “conversion” away from pesticides was gradual. When I lived on our Ignatius Farm in the ’80s, I and others began to see that there was an inconsistency between our love for the land, our desire to be good caretakers of the land, and our use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
We could see the diminishment in numbers of birds, the lifeless quality of our soil, and the gradual greening of our pond from algae. We talked with other farmers who were caught in the treadmill of needing more and/or stronger pesticides and chemical fertilizers to achieve the same results.
Our discussions then, began the gradual conversion of our farm to organic. The biggest resistance came from an inability to see how we could be doing it differently, in spite of our desire to do so.
When I worked with peasant farmers in Jamaica in the ’90s, I did not discourage the use of pesticides. I simply did not know what other advice to give, in spite of my uneasiness about pesticides. We lived next to a big banana plantation which was regularly sprayed, sometimes by airplane. We found dead fish in the river. Upon analysis of the fish, we found that they contained a pesticide used by the plantation. We chose not to speak out about this, because the banana plantation was the largest employer in the area.
For the past six summers, there have been 26 fish kills in 17 waterways in PEI. Government tests indicated the source of the pollution was a pesticide used on potatoes, and that pollution occurred even though farmers followed the label container guidelines and procedures recommended by government.
The cry of support for continued use was that farmers needed the pesticides to farm, so no other way was possible.
The argument in favour of the use of pesticides in our city often has taken this route. We cannot live without pesticides. No other control of pests is possible. Landscaping needs pesticides.
The truth is that we and the other life forms of the Earth cannot live with them. Our addiction to pesticides cannot be used as an excuse to prevent us from change.
We can find other ways. We have found other ways. The PEI government has banned the use of the particular pesticide that caused the death of the fish. Some landscapers have found alternative ways to control pests and provide nutrients to lawns and gardens. We, like a growing number of farmers, have converted our farm at Ignatius to organic production methods. We are converting our lawns to natural landscapes.
Recently I visited the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Zambia, which specializes in the training of peasant farmers.
Organic methods of production are all that is taught there. There are solutions for third world food production other than the industrial chemical model.
Yes, there are alternatives. Rather than resist change, the landscape and golf course industry would do better to join some of their colleagues to provide these alternatives.
What do we really want? What do we consider beautiful? Do we want to hold onto the notion that beauty means a green lawn with primarily Kentucky Bluegrass, but little other life forms?
Are we willing to sacrifice our health and environment? Or can we allow ourselves to experience real beauty by seeing colour and wildlife return to our yards.
We cannot win our battle against nature. Can we allow ourselves to live within nature, instead?
Rather than crying that there is no other way than the deadly status quo, let us put our energy behind enabling alternatives to be the reality.
A bylaw restricting the use of cosmetic pesticides would give all of us, including the landscape industry, more incentive to providing alternative pest management methods.
Jim Profit, S.J. is director of Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph”