Posts Tagged ‘DDT’


Looking at the bananas in the grocery store, I have wondered if organic bananas are worth the extra few cents they cost. After all, you peel the skin off the banana, right? What difference does it make? The answer is it makes a lot of difference. It matters to the birds that use the banana grove and to the workers who have to spend time applying and living with the pesticides. In Costa Rica, banana plantations typically apply forty-five kilograms of active ingredients of pesticides per hectare.


It is now approaching half a century since Rachel Carson’s landmark book, Silent Spring, was published in September of 1962. At one time, DDT was a household chemical. It was advertised in national magazines as just the thing for the happy wife. Carson’s book spearheaded a movement that eventually led to the banning of DDT in North America, yet DDT, a fat-soluable pesticide lives on in the food chain. Testing has found that its breakdown product, DDE, is found in the blood-stream of nearly everyone across North America, years after DDT was banned.

The types of pesticides used have changed since DDT, but we are using more pesticides than ever. Birds are in as much danger today as in the 1950s because modern pesticides are more lethal. Many pesticides that are acutely toxic to birds, such as chlorpyrifos and diazinon, are used widely on vegetable and fruit crops in the United States and Canada.

Pesticide use is even heavier in Central and South American countries. Pesticides that are regulated or banned in the U.S. may still be used and farmers often don’t have sufficient training to apply pesticides safely. Pesticide use is heavy because farmers spray pesticides according to a regular schedule, rather than as needed to treat a specific problem.


The top five crops in the United States that pose the greatest risk for pesticide poisoning of songbirds at the local level are Brussel sprouts, celery, cranberries, cabbage and potatoes. You can help to reduce the use of pesticides that threaten birds by purchasing organic produce at your grocery store. It’s better for you and your family, and its much better for birds and other wildlife.

If you feel that shade-grown coffee, which does come with a premium price tag, it too much for your budget, consider buying organic, fair trade coffee as the next best choice. Nabob brand coffee is working with the Rainforest Alliance to produce sustainable coffee and is a good choice for consumers looking to make a difference with their coffee dollars. Look for Nabob Rainforest Alliance certified cans.


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I’ve been down by the Iroquois lock a half-dozen times since the spring, but it was only on a visit this week that I noticed a nest. A LARGE nest, in an unexpected place!


On the arm of a crane set beside the lock is an Ospreys’ nest. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) build their nests of dry branches, interwoven with other materials such as strips of old cloth, plastic, and seaweed. The average Osprey nest is 30 to 60 cm deep and about a meter across. Usually nests are placed high up in a tree beside water, but Ospreys will also use a utility post or artificial platform. This pair have found a unique support. A crane! The crane is only used for emergencies, and a birder I met at the lock lookout told me that it has never been used since the lock was opened, so the nest is safe.


Two birds could be seen in the nest, a female and her chick. The female usually does most of the incubating and tends the young chick, while the male is the sole hunter for the family. He feeds the female while she incubates and once the chick hatches, he brings food for both the chick and his mate. Ospreys are fish specialists (sometimes called fish hawks) and have feet especially equipped for grasping slippery fish. They are the only raptors that can turn one front talon backwards, and the pads on the soles of the feet have spines. An Osprey catches fish by diving from the sky with its claws stretched forward and splashing into the water to snatch its prey. This pair may have been attracted to this location because fish are concentrated by the control dam south of the lock.


Here comes Dad, making a delivery to the nest. He passes the food to Mom, who feeds the chick.


Raptors such as Ospreys are relatively long-lived birds and feed at the top of the food chain. This makes them more susceptible to poisoning from pollutants and pesticides than more short-lived, plant-eating birds. In the 1950s and 60s, DDT had a catastrophic effect on many raptors, including Osprey. Since DDT was banned, populations have been rebounding.
Osprey pairs often share the same nest year after year, and may repair the nest late in the summer for use the following year. It will be interesting to see if this pair returns next year.


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On Earth Day, April 22nd, a pesticide ban came into effect in Ontario. The province banned the sale or use of about 250 pesticides and ingredients, including 2,4-D and malathion, for cosmetic use. The action comes more than 40 years after Rachel Carson’s landmark Silent Spring was published. The book helped to bring about the ban of DDT in 1972 and marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. It also sparked one of the first corporate disinformation campaigns as the chemical industry sought to discredit Carson. The chemical industry is still at it. Dow AgroSciences is suing the government over a pesticide ban in Quebec. I picked up Silent Spring in the late 1970s and read the first 50 pages. I was so horrified, I never finished the book, and never used pesticides on my garden again.

Gardening organically isn’t complicated. I don’t even bother with organic cures. I don’t buy plants that are finicky and difficult to grow, unless looking for a challenge. If a plant fails to thrive in one location, I try it somewhere else. If it still struggles, I remove it and replace it with something sturdier. Garden centres are filled with interesting plants. There is always something new to try. I also use a ‘wait and see’ approach. Sometimes perennials that are attacked by insects one year will survive a skeleton stage and regrow the next year as lush plants, while the insects have moved on.

The pursuit of a perfect lawn baffles me. It’s nice to have a patch of ground for the kids to play on, but otherwise, why bother with grass? Ecologically speaking, lawns have little to offer the natural world. A planting of native flowers can both add to curb appeal and offer pollinators an important food source. If you want to do something different with your front lawn, check out Liz Primeau’s book, Front Yard Gardens: Growing More Than Grass. It is more of an idea book than a “how to” with lots of colourful pictures. Get inspired. Dig in. Make a difference.



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