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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, April/May 2005

Make "Green" a Primary Color This Year

With a smarter pest control program, you can be on step closer toward joining the big leagues in making eco-friendly practices pay off.

by Frank Meek

Since the inception of Earth Day in 1970, the world’s awareness of environmental concerns has skyrocketed. As small, locally owned organic food marts emerge on Main Street U.S.A. and multi-national chains like Whole Foods Market, expand rapidly, we can easily make smarter, eco-friendlier choices when it comes to everyday purchases. But, how can food processors and others in the food and beverage industries make similar choices in their businesses?

The best approach is to examine components of day-to-day operations and make modifications to minimize impact on the environment. Evaluating your pest management program is a good place to start. New technologies and techniques are being added to the pest control arsenal every day, allowing facilities to reduce their pesticide usage and better control pests at the same time.

Pest controllers once relied on harsh chemicals to kill pests, but things have changed. Many pesticides registered for use in the United States have been banned, and no less than 14 different Federal Acts now regulate some aspect of the manufacture, registration, distribution, use, consumption and disposal of pesticides.

Turning Point

A turning point came in 1996 for the pest control industry, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). This act amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which fundamentally changed the way EPA regulates pesticides. The requirements included a new safety standard - reasonable certainty of no harm - that must apply to all pesticides used on foods.

The result of this increasing regulation is an ongoing search for “greener” alternatives - by pest management professionals, chemical manufacturers and industries that rely on effective pest control. For any environment where food quality is of the utmost concern, trained pest management professionals can provide several new and eco-friendly ideas for treatment, such as:

Monitoring: Before treatment, pest management professionals can monitor “hot spots” in and around your facility. This ultimately achieves two chief results: it helps identify pests and, if done properly, it will allow for targeted pesticide applications to specific areas.

Pheromones: Pheromones are chemicals secreted by pests that send specific messages to others of the same species. By manufacturing synthetic forms of these pheromones and using them strategically, pest management professionals can influence the behavior of some pests, causing them to congregate for more effective elimination or become trapped on glue boards

Non-Volatile Baits: Unlike sprays, non-volatile pesticide baits don't become airborne, so staff and customers are much less likely to get exposed to the chemicals they contain. They are placed in such a way so only the target pest can gain access and be exposed to the bait.

Insect Growth Regulators: These insect hormones, specific to the target pest, disrupt the normal insect life cycle, preventing insects from reaching full maturity, stopping reproduction and keeping populations under control.

Organic Cleaners: Organic cleaning agents are an alternative to harsh cleaning chemicals and use naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes to eat away grease and grime that often build up in drains, sinks and garbage disposals. If left unclean, these areas can serve as breeding grounds for fruit flies, drain flies and other pests. Certain organic cleaners become active only when mixed with water, making them safe to store, effective when applied with a mop and easy to incorporate into a daily maintenance schedule.

Seeing and Saving Green

While environmentally conscious consumers may not mind paying a little extra for natural products, managers in the food and beverage industries have to weigh their investment in environmental impact reduction much more carefully. Customers and prospects often ask Orkin about the costs associated with a greener pest control program. Many are surprised at the answer.

In 2004, Orkin published a study with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University on the effectiveness of integrated pest management (IPM) versus conventional spray-based methods and the costs associated with each. The study showed that IPM techniques are less expensive over the long term because they address the sources of problems rather than symptoms.

What’s more, the study proved that IPM techniques are more effective than conventional spray-based control methods. While many companies are eager to try greener treatment options, some stick by the tried-and-true spraying methods. It’s worthwhile to point out that pesticides aren’t taboo. Such treatments are an acceptable part of an IPM program, but should be reserved for treating a specific pest presence and used only when other methods have proven or are known to be ineffective. Fortunately, advances in pest management have paved the way for highly effective programs that don't depend solely on pesticides.

The important thing to remember is that pest control is only one piece of the puzzle. You might want to consider meeting with other quality assurance or plant managers to share additional environmental concerns and discuss ideas for improvement. Consumers already recognize and support brands like Aveda and Newman’s Own because of their leadership in the “green” marketplace. With a smarter pest control program, you can be on step closer toward joining such brands in making eco-friendly practices pay off.

Frank Meek is technical director for Orkin Inc. Reach him at fmeek@rollinscorp.com.

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