Lisa Caine's article about the recent Supreme Court decision allowing municipalities to ban pesticides ("Are Pesticides Such a Problem?" August 2, 2001) misses the most important point. The Supreme Court entrenched the Precautionary Principle as the standard of public safety.The Precautionary Principle is a powerful protection for ordinary Canadians from corporate depredations such as genetically modified foods, toxic waste dumping, or pharmaceutical experimentation. Under the Risk Assessment model, in the past, it was up to the public to prove that corporate activities endangered the public. With the Precautionary Principle, the onus is on the corporations to prove that their activities are safe.When Len Ritter says that there is no proof that pesticides cause cancer, he is referring to the old Risk Assessment model. What he fails to grasp (and so does your reporter) is that it's no longer enough to say that the link is not proven. The Canadian Toxicology Centre needs to add a new branch, to identify pesticides that are unquestionably safe for humans.Mr Ritter is right to say that the Supreme Court reviews laws, not toxicology. In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruling sets a vitally important, crucial, and rather bold standard for public safety. Toxicologists can argue how many poisons can dance in our intestines without harm. The Supreme Court has said that Canadians are entitled and empowered to pass laws that protect us from toxins, no matter how profitable they might be, unless the manufacturers can prove that those toxins are absolutely safe.
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