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TruGreen Takes a Step Toward Pesticide Reduction, Falls Short of Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, August 5, 2008) Under pressure from activists and shareholders to change its chemical dependent lawn care practices, TruGreen—the world’s largest lawn and landscape care company, has joined the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP). Although the voluntary move comes with a pledge to reduce pesticide use, the company’s reformed practices will still fall short of organic land care, which does not utilize toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic land care is effective, affordable and better for human health and the environment, but TruGreen has failed to commit to organic methods.

The PESP is a voluntary program started in 1994. According to the EPA, “By joining PESP, organizations pledge that environmental stewardship is an integral part of pest management, and they commit to working toward innovative practices that reduce risk to human health and the environment.” One of the benefits of joining the PESP for companies, according to the EPA website, is that “Membership may enhance public perception of your organization, constituent support, and employee morale.” Underneath this enticement to join is the clear potential for “greenwashing,” or the promotion of a product or service as environmentally friendly when the veracity of such claims is dubious.

The interpretation of “environmental stewardship” as incorporated in the pledge to join the PESP varies, and membership on the PESP is not limited to companies and organizations that have adopted environmentally sensitive practices. Among the PESP members is CropLife Foundation, which is part of CropLife America, an organization of pesticide producers whose members include notorious producers of toxic chemicals such as Dow Agrosciences, FMC Corporation, Monsanto, and Syngenta. CropLife Foundation’s pledge for the PESP amounts to educational programs regarding the proper storage and disposal of pesticide containers.

TruGreen’s PESP strategy is admittedly more focused on pesticide use reduction than that of the CropLife Foundation, but without taking the step to eliminate all toxic pesticides, the move cannot be applauded as truly “green,” but merely greener. TruGreen has pledged to select products that fit an “overall reduced risk strategy,” which includes “reduced risk products applied as basal drenches or with effective injection systems to reduce air-borne application of pesticides to landscapes.” However, their criteria for reduced risk products is undefined. The EPA’s list of reduced risk pesticides includes glyphosate and fipronil, two products with proven deleterious health and environmental effects.

With 3.4 million residential and commercial customers, TruGreen has the potential to transform the industry of land care, but until they pledge to adopt organic methods, Beyond Pesticides encourages consumers to find service providers that use less- and non-toxic chemicals.

Source: Market Watch


3 Responses to “TruGreen Takes a Step Toward Pesticide Reduction, Falls Short of Organic”

  1. 1
    Gary Fish Says:

    The following statement in your story is not accurate, ” will still fall short of organic land care, which does not utilize toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.”

    Organic Land Care as shown in the NOFA standards allows the use of pyrethrum, neem, essential oils, insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, boric acid, etc. All of which are toxic pesticides.

    You should be more mindful of your language and claims. It is just as bad for you to do the same thing that pesticide manufacturers have done in the past; make spurious claims of safety.

    No pesticide is non-toxic. You could say lower in risk for some of them, but many of them, like essential oils have not been tested for long term health effects and many of them are causing respiratory effects.

    Just FYI,

    Gary Fish
    Maine Board of Pesticides Control
    Maine YardScaping Partnership

  2. 2
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    Thanks for your comment. As you state, it is critical that users understand that in organic systems many natural products and allowable synthetic chemicals (that are allowed to contain an active ingredient only in the following categories: copper and sulfur compounds; toxins derived from bacteria; pheromones, soaps, horticultural oils, fish emulsions, treated seed, vitamins and minerals; livestock paraciticides and medicines and production aids including netting, tree wraps and seals, insect traps, sticky barriers, row covers, and equipment cleansers) can cause harm on some level. The allowable synthetics must fit into one or more of these above categories established in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). It should be noted, though, that organic systems attempt to avoid the use of these chemicals and must show, through a farm plan under OFPA, that the operator is incorporating cultural, mechanical and biological practices that are intended to establish systems that clearly avoid pesticidal inputs.

    Organic represents a paradigm shift from conventional and even many integrated pest management (IPM) systems that assume pesticides are a part of (and perhaps integral to) the management system. Most chemical-intensive farmers typically say that they don’t want to use more pesticides than are necessary because they are expensive or hazardous; however, their management systems do not generally try to eliminate pesticides but are inherently dependent on them. So, this dramatic philosophical difference drives very different orientations toward use and choice of inputs, whether allowed or not, and has organic operators often looking to avoid use altogether. This is both a philosophical and a commercial decision because natural predators are organic farmers’ real pesticide, and avoidance of any chemical use protects the ecological system in which they thrive.

    In lay persons terms, the pesticides allowed under EPA registration standards are much more toxic than any of the pesticides allowed in organic systems. However, it is critical (and Beyond Pesticides should always stress) that there are materials allowed in organic that can cause a range of effects, be they health or environmental. To that end, Beyond Pesticides continue to develop a database system that is helping individual operators to make choices about what they use with the help of an evaluation tool that looks across the spectrum of potential adverse effects, from cancer, neurological, immunological, endocrine disrupting, developmental to respiratory effects. So, even though EPA may have registered an essential oil product and waived health and safety data under Section 25b of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), we are searching through existing databases and the scientific literature to disclose what is known and not known about natural pesticides.

    This is what we have found. As a general rule, natural essential oils derived from plants do show fewer effects when compared with synthetic pesticides. On the other hand, any dust or spray can cause respiratory problems. Some of the natural products, like synthetic ones, can end up in waterways. So use restrictions are just as critical to natural-based products as they are to synthetic ones. But because the chemicals used in organic systems generally show fewer hazards than those used in conventional systems, and because organic operators in compliance with standards are less reliant on chemical products, if they are incorporating proper prevention practices, the overall dependency and use of products with potential hazard is severely reduced.

    Here is an example: As a worst case example, an essential oil product like Bioganic Home and Garden Insect Spray contains the ingredient wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate) which, according to an EPA review, can cause a developmental effect (failed closure of neural tubes) and, according to Poison Control Center data, is acutely toxic to children under six years of age from ingestion. When evaluated for acute/ecological toxicity, neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, developmental/reproductive effects, endocrine disruption, and environmental fate, the chemical is associated with these two effects. This is one example of perhaps an ingredient in an essential oil product that stands out as a problem, with the other essential oils (such as pepermint oil) we have looked at not showing similar problems. On the other hand, it we are to compare this with a conventional synthetic chemical product like Bifenthrin Pro Multi-Insecticide (containing the common synthetic pyrethroid bifenthrin), we have a very different story with clear hazards associated with 5 of 6 categories of health and environmental effects, including developmental /reproductive effects and environmental effects. The choice is clear.

    We believe it is generally counterproductive and misleading to downplay the value of transitioning to organic by suggesting that it is not much different from conventional chemical-intensive systems. That is not true, certainly. On the other hand, we have to be aware and constantly reviewing what we use in organic systems to make sure we are effectively avoiding chemical products and employing least toxic solutions. Additionally, we have to constantly protect organic integrity by ensuring compliance with standards and honest and effective certification systems, as we wrote about in this blog in “USDA Cites Deficiencies in Organic Certification, Consumer Group Calls for Peer Review” on August 12, 2008. Organic systems, with good oversight, debate and strong compliance standards, are our survival.

    Thank you for contributing to this effort and ensuring that we constantly seek to improve how we define and what we allow in organic.

  3. 3
    LawnBro Says:

    They won’t change their ways until forced to, unfortunately. They will ride the chemical wave as long as they can….

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