For centuries, physicians have been controlling human diseases using all the tools available to them: proper nutrition of patients, sanitation, early disease diagnosis, and intervention through medicines — including those derived from natural sources, chemicals, and with more recent innovations, gene editing.

Likewise, farmers also control plant and animal diseases using the same approaches — proper plant and animal nutrition, sanitation, early disease diagnosis, and intervention through natural, chemical and genetic sources.

The terms vary, but the products used to control diseases are analogous. If the affected organism is a human, the common term is medicine. If it’s an animal, the term is veterinary medicine.

And if it’s a plant, the term is pesticide. The word pesticide doesn’t sound as soothing or healing, but pesticides are indeed plant medicines. And there are several kinds of pesticides.

Many of the stressors plaguing these different fields of work are the same — bacteria, insects, fungi, viruses etc. And they all have an equivalent objective: effective human, plant, and animal health management.

To achieve that, each relies on a known set of approaches: Identify the problem, quarantine the impacted areas so that the disease doesn’t spread, and implement evidenced-based strategies to ensure a healthy result. In farming and land management, that includes techniques such as crop rotation, use of more tolerant varieties of plants, targeted soil nutrition, and manipulation of harvest dates to avoid blight or insect infestations.

It’s only when other approaches don’t provide adequate control that other scientifically proven interventions are brought into the picture such as chemical and gene-editing treatments.

Indeed, these are the principles that form the basis of integrated pest management, in which several approaches are incorporated into a holistic, comprehensive, and sustainable treatment plan that is environmentally sound and cost effective.

Simply stated, integrated pest management is the most effective tool we have available to protect our health, and that of crops and the environment. For the eight years that I served as a state representative on the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, integrated pest management was by statute, and I believe still is, the policy of the state of Maine.

However, several towns and cities are attempting to take away a key element of integrated pest management by passing or voting on municipal ordinances that preclude the use of synthetic pesticide applications not just on publicly owned property, but also on privately owned residential lawns and gardens.

This is a misguided solution in search of a problem and an infringement on our private property rights. When used following the directions, these applications aren’t harmful.

To quote the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, integrated pest management “is a comprehensive, decision-making process for solving pest problems in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings,” and by using it, “informed decisions can be implemented to achieve optimum results in ways that minimize economic, health, and environmental risks.” And the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Pesticide Data Program Annual Survey corroborates that integrated pest management works.

We can all relate to wanting our families to live in a non-toxic environment, but banning use of synthetic pesticides will simply mean residents will lose the ability to choose how to protect their properties.

Often a treatment plan involves several strategies. The same goes for a healthy garden and back yard. Just as physicians cannot always effectively protect us from human maladies without chemical interventions, neither can farmers, foresters, landscapers and passionate gardeners when disease or insect outbreaks strike. Think browntail moths, West Nile virus, avian flu, poison ivy or encephalitis.

These problems impact not just vegetation but humans as well. That’s why integrated pest management is the most effective tool we have to protect our health, crops and environment. Towns and cities should not be precluding its use.

 

Dean Cray is a Somerset County commissioner. He is a former state representative who served on the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.


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