You better think again. Sure, manufacturers of chemical products have recognized that
the attribute "non-toxic" has become a selling point and is perceived as a seal
of quality. But who makes sure that this fact is not abused and who defines what non-toxic
means in practical terms? Does it mean the product is edible in any quantity? Does it mean
the product is safe if used as intended or does it just mean the product is not as
hazardous as others in this category?
The reality is that it can mean any of these definitions and hundreds more. The use of
the term "non-toxic" is not regulated in Canada and therefore its use in label
advertising is always misleading, because it is left to the buyer to assume what it means.
Of course, there is the Canadian Domestic Substances List and the American Toxic
Substances Control Act which define what the law considers to be safe at the present time.
But neither of these acts is independent from industry input and they had to be changed in
the past, i.e. chemicals considered safe at one time were recognized as unsafe later
(asbestos, formaldehyde, penta-chlorophenol, DDT, etc).
So in fact the consumer is still fully responsible to make an educated choice out of
300,000 chemicals presently in use worldwide without being a chemist or a toxicologist. On
top, most product labels even dont list their ingredients.
(photo: Henrik Reinartz)
Logo of Eco-House Inc.
Eco-House Inc., based in Fredericton, NB, is developing and manufacturing Natural
Chemistry Products, which offer a way out of this dilemma. Eco-House Inc. uses less than
150 mostly-natural ingredients in its products, ranging from fine painting art supplies to
wood finishes and organic pesticides. All ingredients are listed on the labels and since
they are mostly of natural origin, there is a good chance that the consumer understands
what he/she is buying. The typical ingredients are "chemicals" such as orange peel oil, beeswax, carnauba wax, pine resin, rosemary
oil, linseed oil, cedarwood oil, castor oil etc.
The foremost objective in the product design is to develop products, which are;
1. as low-toxic to people as possible,
2. as harmless to the environment as possible in sourcing, manufacturing, use and
3. viable under technical and economical aspects.
Often these criteria contradict each other, making it necessary to balance one
objective against the other and still to achieve an above-average product.
The presently most-advanced Eco-House product segment caters to the art supplies market
all across Canada and the USA, providing low-toxicity solvents & thinners, painting
mediums, varnishes and raw materials for fine art painters from Newfoundland to Southern
The next two market segments to be covered are organic wood finishes and pesticides.
While art supplies and finishing products are not regulated in Canada, pesticides are
heavily regulated through the Pesticide Act and Health Canada.
Eco-House Inc is targeting to enter first the US-pesticide market in 1999, since
US-regulatory requirements appear somewhat easier to meet than the Canadian. While the
US-EPA requires a proof of product safety, leaving the proof of efficacy up to the
marketplace, Canadian authorities require a proof of Safety and Efficacy. The regulations
for the proof of efficacy require a 2-year test series on every crop/insect combination,
making this process very costly.
A manufacturer of natural chemistry pesticides, who spends the necessary money to proof
efficacy of his natural ingredients, will not be able to patent his product because it is
made from natural compounds. This means he will not be able to recover his investment and
his studies will even allow competitors to produce similar products without those initial
costs. To some degree, this Canadian regulation inhibits the development of
natural-sourced, organic agrochemicals.
(photo: Henrik Reinartz)
Finally we have to question whether it is more important for Canadians to protect
farmers and gardeners from the occasional ineffective product or the whole nation from
hard chemicals in the food chain.