A city finds its soul

Update for anyone who missed the landmark Richmond council meeting of May 28, 2012, or would like to experience it again: The City Clerk’s office has confirmed with Shaw Cable that the event will be rebroadcast on Shaw’s Richmond Cable 4 at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 2. (Thank you, Gail Johnson, Richmond City Clerk’s Office.)

At the Richmond council meeting today, the community resoundingly rejected genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Richmond, and council unanimously voted that way. My estimate when I did a rough count was 170 citizens present (besides council, city staff, and media). However, people were coming and going. The local anti-GMO people had printed 200 stickers and ran out, and I doubt that I was the only supportive person who chose not to take a sticker.

Many of the participants addressed council, typically with eloquence. The spokeswoman for CropLife spoke bravely in favour of GMOs, and two men were on that side too. The rest—of all sorts of ages and insights—were firmly opposed to GMOs. It was heartening to see the passion for conservation and the high level of informed views.

It was also great that the citizens were respectful of all views. With the help of timely reminders from Mayor Brodie, annoyingly audible negative reactions were minimal, though still not excusable. As is usual nowadays, the mayor also wanted people to stifle their natural inclination to applaud, but fortunately he want along with Coun. Harold Steves’ suggestion that they could wave instead, since that would not slow down the proceedings. The waving was mildly amusing and quite unifying in a subtle way, and it was refreshingly childlike without being childish.

The resolution that council passed has no teeth, but—far better—it has a soul, a spirit that characterizes the community. It is a soul that places high value on the conservation of what we have. For Coun. Steves, the gift of a soul that council and community unwrapped together was perfectly timed: it took place on the eve of his 75th birthday.


Below, I’ve added the agenda version of the resolution and then the speaking notes for my short presentation. (A detail: To be clearer, Council agreed to a refined version of the motion.)


Mayor Brodie and Councillors,

I’m representing the Garden City Lands Coalition Society. We keep advocating for diligent use of best available knowledge.

Our comment is about part 4, “That the City of Richmond agrees to revisit this resolution as pertinent new information becomes available. . . .” We agree but urge caution.

It’s predictable that Monsanto surrogates will take that as an invitation to claim your decision is not scientific. Their response to pesticide bans illustrates what to expect. For instance, my googling quickly found CropLife arguing against bans because Health Canada approval of a pesticide shows it’s safe. Well, no—not so!

We trust lawyer Andrew Gage, who has provided legal advice to our society, and he has analyzed CropLife’s claim for West Coast Environmental Law.

Andrew Gage points out that a Health Canada-approved label on a pesticide may show how the product is scientifically not safe. As an example, he discusses Wilson® Lawn Weedout® Concentrate. He begins, “In the Environmental Hazards part of the label on that weedicide, Health Canada warns that it is ‘Toxic to birds, small wild mammals, aquatic organisms and non-target broadleaf terrestrial plants.’”

I’ll abridge the rest of the lawyer’s comments to save time.

In addition to this warning, Health Canada’s label gives detailed safety instructions . . . including what to wear . . . and what to do if the pesticide penetrates that clothing. . . .

It warns against entering treated areas until the spray has “thoroughly dried” raising questions about . . . children and pets. . . . It warns how to get medical treatment if someone swallows the pesticide (call poison control immediately), gets it in their eyes, or gets it on their skin or clothing (flush eyes or wash skin for 15-20 minutes and then call poison control). 

The label even warns how to “minimize possible contamination of groundwater”, which requires the . . . user to be aware of whether their soils are permeable . . . and the depth to their water table. . . .

. . . Health Canada assumes that all of these label requirements are followed.  So if a neighbour doesn’t think he needs to read the label, or misreads it, or perhaps doesn’t know how to read the label . . . Health Canada would acknowledge that health or environmental risks are a real possibility. . . .

[And] Why would you want something that is “toxic to birds [and small animals]” sprayed in your neighborhood to control dandelions?

So Health Canada science shows the opposite of what CropLife says.

On the CropLife website, I found video clips of a skillful spokesperson. For instance, she refers to some Nanos research like this: “Eight out of ten felt that agricultural biotechnology had benefits.” Well, anyone who is in favor of making beer and penicillin must feel that biotechology has benefits. (They both use biotechnology.) Similarly, I bet that a Nanos survey would find that eight out of ten Canadians feel that sunshine has benefits, but we still want our governments to help limit harmful effects of sunshine such as melanoma, which is skin cancer.

We think you will be ready when you get house calls from the spin doctors. We support your vigilance.


1 Comment »

  1. 1

    There isn’t a spin I cannot counter. Their mantra’s are slowly fading. No one buys it anymore. How can you when you know these chemical companies worked on a solution for a problem that didn’t exist? They made one fatal mistake: they showed up, and now everyone saw their loss and the precedent it set. I am proud of my former city and Council and Mayor! And of the hundreds that came in support! I knew it 2 years ago when Arzeena and I presented this to Council. Cream always rises…

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