Recommendations and decisions to use "least toxic pesticides" and "pesticides as a last resort" have flourished in the last decade, but according to three scientific organizations – the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA), the American Phytopathological Society (APS) and the Plant-Insect Ecosystems Section of the Entomological Society of America (P-IE ESA) – these are not the correct approaches to the pesticide component of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.
The three organizations have joined to take an objective look at the problems associated with "least toxic pesticides" applied as a "last resort" and today issued the following statement:
IPM is Fundamental Wherever Pests Must Be Controlled
It is essential to practice IPM, whether managing weeds, insect pests or plant diseases ¬– on the farm, on commercial sites, on public lands, or in or around the home. Key components of IPM include making the habitat unfavorable for pests, excluding pests where feasible, using proper sanitation practices, monitoring the infestation level, knowing the pest tolerance level for the specific situation and implementing the necessary management practices.
Judicious use of pesticides is a critical component of many IPM programs.
Judicious (careful) use refers to various practices – following all label directions and making all appropriate stewardship decisions required in the particular situation. This includes applying a product registered for the target pest(s) after accurate pest identification, and consideration of the level of infestation and the potential for economic, health or other negative pest impacts. Careful use extends beyond pesticides to household chemicals, automobiles, medicines, alcoholic beverages, and countless other products that are part of our daily lives.
The Problem with Selecting Only "Least Toxic Pesticides"
The Problem with Using Pesticides Only "As a Last Resort"
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.
The WSSA, APS and P-IE ESA do not promote the use of pesticides above other pest management techniques. Pesticides should ONLY be used when needed, when risks to non-target organisms and habitats have been carefully considered, and when diligent attention will be given to following all label directions and other applicable laws. In addition, general and product-specific stewardship must always be practiced to prevent undesired effects under the particular application conditions.
Pesticides are an important component of many IPM programs for a variety of reasons. A fungicide, for example, may prevent disease, have curative effects, induce plant resistance to disease or promote plant health and yield. The most important message is to follow the label – the entire label, including all safety and other precautions – and practice good stewardship. Suggesting that only "least toxic pesticides" be used, as a "last resort," ignores the extensive research, regulatory, educational and stewardship efforts that make important pesticide tools available and define their proper and safe use in Integrated Pest Management programs.
Societies Renew Their Endorsement of IPM Definition in USDA "National Road Map for Integrated Pest Management"
No pest management-related term has been defined in so many different ways as "Integrated Pest Management." WSSA, APS and P-IE ESA strongly oppose a non-scientific approach to IPM and re-endorse the USDA National Road Map definition:
"Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a long-standing, science-based, decision-making process that identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies. It coordinates the use of pest biology, environmental information and available technology to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means, while posing the least possible risk to people, property, resources and the environment. IPM provides an effective strategy for managing pests in all arenas, from developed agricultural, residential, and public areas to wild lands. IPM serves as an umbrella to provide an effective, all encompassing, low-risk approach to protect resources and people from pests." (USDA National Road Map for Integrated Pest Management)
Real examples of the risks when pesticides are used only as a "last resort" and the benefits of using appropriately timed pesticides as part of an integrated pest management program, as well as common questions and answers, are available online.