(Beyond Pesticides, June 23, 2017) In a packed hearing room, the Portland, Maine City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee heard community members testify in support of an ordinance to restrict pesticides on playing fields, parks, and private lawns for nearly three hours on Wednesday night. The hearing focused on a draft pesticide policy that was recently released by the Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force, set up by Mayor Ethan Strimling. A range of community members testified, including doctors, parents, organic land managers, an organic products retailer, and public health advocates. Beyond Pesticides’ executive director, Jay Feldman, was at the hearing to support the adoption of ordinance language similar to that adopted by neighbor city South Portland in September 2016. In reaction to the Task Force proposal, which advances an undefined integrated pest management (IPM) approach that allows the use of “least toxic” pesticides, Mr. Feldman testified, “An ordinance requires specificity if it is to accomplish the goals that the community embraces –safe playing fields, parks, playgrounds, and a community that does not allow the poisoning of soil, air, and water.” The lack of specificity in the draft contrasts with the South Portland ordinance, which adopts a list of allowed materials and envisions an organic systems approach to land management that utilizes practices and products compatible with the ecosystem and protective of public health.
Over the last year, the Portland Pesticide Task Force reviewed the South Portland ordinance and assessed whether it should be adopted by Portland as well. The outcome is a draft ordinance that rejects the allowed materials approach in favor of the use of undefined least toxic pesticides through a waiver system, and report findings that endorse an undefined IPM approach. In contrast, the South Portland ordinance allows homeowners and pesticide applicators to use materials allowed under the Organic Foods Production Act and its National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
Mr. Feldman told Council members, “In my experience, we are not served by words, such as ‘least toxic,’ which are not defined by the draft ordinance. Similarly, IPM has time and time again failed us because of inexact definitions. And, emergencies [broadly defined in the Task Force draft] that are not public health-related are not emergencies in the context of turf and landscape pesticides.” He went on to tell the Committee that,”We have a model in the South Portland ordinance and do not have to invent a new approach. It is a systems approach that has been critical to the success of organic farming and gardening systems for decades. The focus is on soil health, soil biology, beneficial fungi and bacteria, and natural cycling of nutrients for healthy plants.” Mr. Feldman urged the Council members to incorporate into the ordinance “practices and products that are compatible with organic systems, in sync with nature and protective of health.” He pointed to resources represented at the hearing that were operating to support organic land management systems, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Eldredge Lumber and Hardware, an ACE Hardware store in York, Maine that has replaced products like Roundup and Weed and Feed with materials compatible with organic systems, and cited Beyond Pesticides’ Products Compatible with Organic Landscape Management list.
At the hearing, some testified in favor of the Task Force proposal, suggesting that it would institute a sweeping ban on cosmetic use and that allowing “organic pesticides” would not be the answer to curbing dependence on toxic chemicals. But organic turf management, which meets the standards of the Organic Foods Production Act, is a “feed-the-soil” approach that centers on natural, organic fertilization, microbial inoculants, compost teas, compost topdressing, and overseeding, as needed. This approach builds a soil environment rich in microbiology that will produce strong, healthy turf able to withstand stress. The aim of a natural approach to land care is not to simply swap one herbicide or insecticide for another, but instead to build a soil environment that is rich in microbial diversity produces strong, healthy landscapes not vulnerable to weeds, insects, fungus, and disease.
In an IPM approach, as suggested by the Task Force, land managers say toxic chemicals undermine the ecological balance necessary to enhance soil biology with beneficial bacteria and fungi that contribute to soil health and support plants, which are less vulnerable to disease and infestation. In contrast, all material inputs used in organic production must undergo a rigorous evaluation by a board of independent experts that considers a number of factors relevant to the type of policy Portland intends to pass. The materials review includes impacts on the environment and public health, essentiality in an organic system, as well as compatibility with organic systems.
In its written statement, Beyond Pesticides said: “We have learned that toxic materials are not necessary to grow beautiful turf. The Task Force Report, however, holds on to the theory of acceptable use of hazardous chemicals that, “if used inappropriately and/or in excess [emphasis added], pose a threat to the environment and to human health.” This is the toxic chemical-reliant model in which, according to the Report, “homeowners and turf managers should use techniques that do not require pesticide inputs before they consider the use of a pesticide and conditions when the application of a pesticide might be appropriate. . .” This type of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) thinking, incorporated into the ordinance language, would most certainly result in toxic pesticide use, since all pesticides would be allowable under the waiver provision as predicted emergencies emerge without a shift to a sustainable systems approach with cultural practices and compatible materials.”
At it works to effect a paradigm shift to organic land management, Beyond Pesticides tracks community pesticide and land management policies nationwide in its Map of U.S. Pesticide Reform Policies. The map highlights over 120 communities that have enacted some level of lawn and landscape pesticide reform. Community examples prove in practice that organic methods of managing landscapes are feasible and cost-effective for local governments. As land managers are trained and familiarize themselves with organic methods and new practices and products continue to emerge, more and more communities are moving toward common-sense, sustainable approaches to land care. These practices do not endanger people, pets, and the environment, including pollinators and other wildlife. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscape webpage. Educate your neighbors and community with our Want a Green Lawn Safe for Children and Pets door hangers. The first packet is free. Contact Beyond Pesticides.
See complete written statement of Beyond Pesticides before the Portland, Maine City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee.
Source: Press Herald
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.