Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Editorial – Thinking about Pesticides and the Long View

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Spring 2009 \ Libby Editorial

by Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director

During the cold days of January and February, on my way home I can see more than 50 miles to the White Mountains, and equally far to the mountains of the north and west. That chance to catch the long view lasts for only a limited time each year.

The same seems to be true for our political system. Each year begins with the enthusiasm of a fresh start, with a chance to think beyond the current situation, yet we rapidly get caught in the realities of solving day-to-day problems.

I suggest that we think again about that longer view as we move through the year ahead. Forty-five years ago Rachel Carson went before Congress and suggested that we need to secure the right of people to be safe in their homes from widespread and indiscriminate pesticide spraying. Isn’t it time – even past time – to change how we think about pesticides?

A decade ago Sharon Tisher of MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee led an initiative that resulted in the Maine Legislature passing “An Act to Minimize Reliance on Pesticides.” That law sets a reasonable goal – working to lower pesticide use in Maine. However, due to political realities of the day, no targets were set and no funds were allocated to encourage the kind of research needed to make progress on the issue.

The result: MOFGA has spent the last 10 years working for incremental change. Organic farm numbers doubled. Forty thousand acres of land is now managed organically. But we still haven’t eliminated conflicts about pesticide use, or removed many of the most toxic pesticides from regular use.

This year, we’ve proposed legislation that would lead to another important step in the right direction. “An Act To Require Citizen Notification About Powered Outdoor Pesticide Applications” would require people who want to spray to notify their neighbors in advance about what they are planning. The Act would also establish a free registry for people who want up-to-date notifications before each pesticide application. This Act, if passed by the Maine Legislature, would establish a clear sense of who is responsible for notification – the person who wants to spray. (By the way, the law would also cover organic farmers who apply pesticides with powered equipment.)

We think that’s an important first step. Longer term, the challenge is how to move Maine into a leadership position, where pesticides are applied only as a last resort, where a wide range of low toxicity options exists, where we have agreement on a research agenda to move us forward.

In January, the European Union Parliament passed wide-reaching legislation that severely limits pesticide applications near public spaces, including schools and parks; essentially prohibits aerial spraying except for designated emergencies; and puts any pesticide known to cause cancer or disrupt hormones on a rapid, five-year phase-out.

Maine can take the same steps, with the agreement of many farmers, if we can establish a long-term strategy that gives farmers clear alternatives to traditional pesticide applications. If we are looking ahead, that is going to be necessary for us to go beyond the incremental approach that has marked pesticide policy for the last 40 years.

Link to fact sheet on the proposed legislation:
“An Act To Require Citizen Notification About Powered Outdoor Pesticide Applications”

MOF&G Cover Spring 2009
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