DOW AGROSCIENCES is challenging Quebec's provincewide ban on the residential use of weed-killing chemicals as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and is seeking at least $2 million in compensation from the Canadian government.
The company, whose 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) herbicide is widely used to control broadleaf weeds, contends that the prohibition on lawn and garden chemicals is inconsistent with the investor-protection provisions of the trade agreement among Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Quebec instituted its pesticide ban two years ago.
Dow maintains that Canada has breached its obligations under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, which allows corporations to sue the federal government of any of the three countries for enacting laws or regulations that they believe harm their investments.
Dow alleges that Quebec began a campaign against 2,4-D in 2002 without any scientific basis for a ban. The company notes that a unit of the governmental agency Health Canada concluded earlier this year that 2,4-D can be used safely according to label directions for a variety of lawn, turf, and agricultural applications.
"The actions of the government of Quebec are tantamount to a blanket ban based on nonscientific criteria, and we are of the view that this is in breach to certain provisions of NAFTA," says Jim Wispinski, president and CEO of Dow AgroSciences Canada.
The company is seeking compensation of not less than $2 million, plus legal costs and unspecified damages.
"This action by Dow is a blatant assault on the democratic process by a vested interest," says Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, a nonprofit group. "It's also a boneheaded move from the company's own [public relations] point of view. Parents are not going to look kindly on a corporation that tries to force pesticides down their children's throats."
Pesticide bans are spreading in Canada. In June, Ontario passed legislation that will prohibit the sale and use of pesticides for cosmetic use on lawns and gardens throughout Canada's most populous province when it takes effect next spring.