Dealing with 'least toxic pesticides'
The Problem with Using Pesticides Only “As a Last Resort”
- “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) in crops, gardens, buildings and other sites, with negative impacts on yield, quality and/or health. In fact, delaying treatment can significantly increase the ecological and economic damage to crop and non-crop areas.
- Using pesticides as the last line of defense can result in a more limited choice of pesticides, as well as reduced crop tolerance, the need for higher rates, and less effective control because of higher infestation levels and/or more tolerant pest stages. For example, seedling weeds and early-stage insect larvae and diseases are usually more easily controlled than later pest stages.
- 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. Pesticides are widely used, but discretionary federal funding of the U.S. Pesticide Safety Education Program has been eliminated in 2011 and 2012. This program is vital to educate pesticide users and dealers who must be certified to apply or sell pesticides, and to teach the public how to use pesticides safely.
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.