IPM- Do No Harm

What if?

The Weed Science Society of America, a nonprofit scientific society that was founded in 1956, The American Phytopathological Society (APS) a nonprofit, professional scientific organization benefitting from the research of the organization’s more than 5,000 worldwide members and The Entomological Society of America (ESA), the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines,

All said the same thing?

I mean got together, took the time, looked at the evidence and then reasoned among themselves and came right out with a press release. Would that have some clout with you? I mean if they thought it important enough to go through the effort would YOU consider their words? Or would you scoff and say these people were just a bunch of crazies trying to hold onto things of the past? That all else be damned and new was better and that their ‘evidence’ and ‘conclusions’ weren’t worth the time to consider? I trust not.

Well these experts DID come together and considered deeply the concept/definition of IPM (integrated pest management) and while the following words may not be what you’d expect, it is well reasoned and in my opinion, what should be the accepted position of our industry.

IPM is Fundamental

All three of these distinguished organizations agree; Excluding pests where possible and that proper sanitation and knowledge of pests and pesticides are a key ingredient in successful pest control practices. That accurate pest ID and corresponding pesticide selections are paramount and that pest pressures should be a consideration and stewardship is of utmost importance in our role as pest control professionals. The societies also emphasize that they are not promoting the use of pesticides above other controls, and they emphasize that pesticides should be used ONLY when needed. The most important message, they say, is to follow the label and practice good stewardship.

Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly submit to you that I have been in this industry for almost three decades and that NONE of this information is new to me. This same refrain and logic has been drummed in my head since day one. Not only this, but also the PRIDE that came along with being a professional who placed chemicals (that’s right-chemicals) in a home or business. That I was a defender of such sacred places, a needed, skillful, technician, an expert at my trade. Dare I say; “Those were the days”

IPM Definition

Over the past fifty years or so we as an industry have allowed new definitions to take hold and the result has not furthered our profession nor has it garnered the continuing support from those whom we serve, the public. In fact, we’ve allowed a nebulous interpretation to dominate the industry and no one, not even the creators of the concept (whoever THEY are) can agree or come to a consensus. Still, somehow, we’re all told that this is the best and ONLY way to go.

Least Toxic

Part of the definition is the exclusive (well almost-see below) use of the IPM term ‘least toxic’ pesticides. By sheer use of these words one is led to believe that spraying a pesticide is a woeful act and to do so portrays unprofessionalism. No one wants TOXIC anything around and so the definition is easily accepted. But what do the three associations say?

Their words not mine

Least toxic” implies there are pesticides available for every pest spectrum that are least toxic to everything else. This is not true.—. It is also important to remember that toxicity is not the same as risk, which is dependent on both toxicity and exposure.—Assigning a “most” or “least” toxic rating does not equate to actual risk when the product is properly applied.—All pesticides – including those referred to as “least toxic,” “organic” and “natural” – are toxic to one or more pests and possibly humans and other organisms as well. Use of these terms can lead to false security regarding the need for careful handling of pesticides and proper environmental stewardship.

Pesticides as a Last Resort

The definition continues and is no less damning to the industry as a whole. The seldom stated goal is of course using NO pesticides at all under any circumstance but that has never proven to work on any scale other than the anecdotal. So besides using pesticides that are either natural, green, carbon neutral or are ‘least toxic’, the most common IPM edict is to use pesticides (traditional or other–like I said, the definition isn’t clear) as the LAST RESORT. Again, by sheer implication this is guilt by association and calls into question those who by any other standard would be considered ‘professional’s. Again, not my words but those of these esteemed associations who’ve been blazing trails in our industry for years.

“Last resort” implies that pesticides will work as well when every non-chemical control technique is attempted first. However, delaying application of a pesticide can cause buildup of the pest(s)—Using pesticides as the last line of defense can result in a more limited choice of pesticides,—Effective pesticide choices, when they are applied as a “last resort,” means fewer options to rotate pesticides, which is a critical step in preventing a pest from becoming resistant to a pesticide. “Last resort” pesticide strategies may also increase the need for multiple products and higher application rates to control the pest effectively.—Last resort” suggests pesticides are always the worst choice, which is not true. First using non-chemical techniques that are ineffective or inefficient has the potential to add to the cost of pest management, intensify the pest problem or create new problems.—Branding pesticides as the “last resort” choice certainly does not stimulate a strong public interest in funding education on their proper use.

Old Dog and New Tricks or That Dog Don’t Hunt? You Decide

So fast forward to today and catch up with the times. Nobody wants messy chemicals in their homes that cause illness and death. WHY? Is it based on scientific study? Oh really? Which one? Certainly these leaders in the industry would have cited them wouldn’t they? I’m sure these calculated professionals weighed all the evidence right?

Or would it be more accurate to say that ignorance and wrong teaching would be more of the catalyst of this quandary? I guess you must decide. In any case, I leave you with a final thought that is again, not my words but an aggregate collection of wisdom from not one, not two but a consortium of THREE groups of people who’ve dedicated their professional lives to the betterment of mankind and nature, by the science of pest control.

There is no benefit or scientific basis to simplistic messages like “use least toxic pesticides as a last resort” for the large number of pesticide users who apply pesticides according to the label and practice good stewardship. Nor are these messages beneficial for those who neither seek training nor adequately read the label believing instead that it is safe, practical, and effective to simply choose a product considered a “least toxic pesticide” and apply it only as a “last resort.” These messages hinder pesticide safety and stewardship education and practices that are in the best interest of the pesticide user, our food supply, public health and ecosystem preservation.

I encourage you to read the links supplied and welcome your comments.

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. Pestcemetery.com was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.
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  • stuto1

    I read in an article, I think it was PCT, that IPM was originally about saving money with pesticide application to crops. Cost were going up so applications were held off as long as possible.

    A lot of people practice this method of IMP all the time. An infestation is present or about to occur so they phone a pest control company usually after a trip to home depot and/or an application of a non pesticide(fill in the blank__) to an insect problem.

  • Dylan

    I just completed the Purdue University Advanced Urban/Industrial IPM course and it was as much about correctly choosing pesticide classes/formulations and application strategies as anything else. No kidding, one essay question was “What role do hydrocarbons and organophosphates play in a successful IPM program?” People who really understand IPM are on the same page as you Jerry. The other crowd is just pandering to a chemiphobe market and manipulate the definition of IPM to fit their agenda.

  • Congrats on the successful completion of the Purdue course. Quite prestigious. This article was mainly made up from the links cited–it IS nice to have some validation, you’re right.

  • I didn’t know that about the crops and losing revenue but it makes sense..money talks…

    Interesting take on the homeowners… I hadn’t thought of that but that’s pretty typical.