Organic Pest Control is the Right Choice

If you ever worry about organic pest control or natural flea control, you’ll be interested in this bit of news. Although it does not specifically have to do with flea treatment for dogs or flea treatment for cats–it does show an important trend.

Commercial product manufacturers would do well to pay attention to the latest green pet trend and adopt some different (and safer) models of pest control.

A study by researchers from Washington State University (WSU) and the University of Georgia suggests that a balanced mix of insects and fungi in organic fields provides for both better pest control and larger plants than in conventional agriculture. The study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and published in the July 1 edition of the journal Nature, shows that organic farming practices lead to many equally-common beneficial species, and that this reduces pest problems.

“It’s always been a mystery how organic farmers get high yields without using synthetic insecticides,” says co-author Bill Snyder, Ph.D., associate professor of entomology at WSU. “Our study suggests that biodiversity conservation may be a key to their success.”

The study involved 42 potato plots enclosed in fine mesh on the Pullman campus of WSU. The researchers planted both potato plants and Colorado potato beetles (a very problematic pest of the potato) in each of the plots, adding varying numbers of beneficial insects, fungi and nematodes, microscopic soil-dwelling worms that attack beetles’ eggs and larvae.

Crops placed in the organic test plots with a more balanced insect population grew faster, because no one species of insect had a chance to dominate the plot and kill the potato plants. In fact, the study found that the increased evenness of species in the organic plots compared to the conventional plots led to 18% lower pest densities and 35% larger plants. Larger plants generally translate to greater potato yields, suggesting that organic methods might provide higher profits as well as an ecological sustainability advantage.

Though previous conservation and biodiversity studies tended to focus on species richness, or the number of individual species present in an area, this study is one of the few to consider the advantage of relatively equal numbers, or “evenness” of species for a beneficial agricultural ecosystem. Thus, the results show that both richness and evenness must be maintained to ensure a healthy environment. Conventional agricultural methods, which rely heavily on spraying pesticides, tend to wipe out the majority of insects, leaving behind a few hardy species that end up dominating the conventional field ecosystem. These findings promote the reliance on a mix of natural predators as a way to avoid the “pesticide treadmill” that forces farmers to use larger and larger volumes of different costly chemicals to kill hardy pests that develop resistance.

Research director Andrew Jensen from The Washington State Potato Commission, which partially funded Dr. Snyder’s research, says they hope to translate the study into practical advice their members can use. Washington is second (after Idaho) in potato production in the U.S., but less than 1% of the state’s potatoes are organically grown. Studies like these might convince potato growers to cut back on spraying and eventually switch to organic methods, which would suit top potato customers, like McDonalds and Wendy’s, who are being pushed to green up their practices.

“People who buy a lot of potatoes are asking the growers to reduce insecticide use as much as possible, to document pesticide use, and include biological control as a consideration,” remarked Dr. Snyder in a comment to the Seattle Times.

This study adds to the body of scientific literature considering the benefits of organic agriculture, which includes a paper published by the Rodale Institute in 2003, describing how an organic system produces better yields of corn and soybeans under severe drought conditions and gives better environmental stability under flood conditions through lower runoff risks and greater water retention capabilities in the soil. This helps to balance inaccurate, industry-funded studies which only confuse consumers.

Prior to major commercialization we did use better methods of pest control and this trend is better for the environment and everyone in it.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see major changes in a lot of the pesticide use as people begin to understand just how bad they are for humans and animals.

Recently I learned of the pest control that occurs without application to the human skin (mosquitoes) and was thrilled.

Take a look at the flea control kits in the sidebar and once you visit the site be sure to also look for the pest tag for pets–great options for your pets.

For more information check out the Beyond Pesticides organics page.

EPA Flea Treatment Study Hits the News

Flea Control Secrets ebookThe long overdue results from the last Office of Pesticides Program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to make significant changes when it comes to spot-on products.

Ya think?

I wrote about this in the eBook Flea Control Secrets and anticipated the results last fall at the latest.

Today it was announced that there will be an increased scrutiny of flea treatment products, specifically spot-on treatments.

The spot-on flea treatment product investigation results were introduced on March 17, 2010 when the EPA conducted an online flea treatment webinar to discuss their findings from the investigation that I mentioned last year—and have been waiting for.

The investigation was sparked by reports of injury and deaths occurring from over the counter flea and tick products.

The agency is inviting public comment about how to implement their new measures. You can view the Federal Register notice announcing the opening of docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0229.

Take a moment to voice your concerns and opinions now.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) collaborated on this study.

The results found dermal, gastrointestinal and neurological reactions were the most commonly reported complications.

What disturbed me was that the initial posting (listed in Flea Control Secrets) was removed from the EPA website.

Was it pressure from manufacturers of these products?

In addition to looking at the REPORTED incidents involving cats and dogs, and at both the active and inert ingredients, and finally evaluated product labeling.

Some of the problems involved inconsistent reports on adverse reactions and information reported by pet owners.

Also, incidents that weren’t included in the EPA’s evaluation were those from products without EPA registration numbers, those that were vague, and those that were not able to be identified as a specific pesticides or drugs because a combination meant that a reaction couldn’t be definitively tied to a specific product.

In addition, incidents that involving multiple animals were not included because many of these could not be accurately identified.

So, in the great, vague, non-committal way the government seems to be operating these days, the EPA stated that their evaluation indicated that additional restrictions should be applied to these products.

Uh, we knew that already.

Ultimately, the public comment period is vital since, there are a variety of ideas they will implement—such as different packaging, clearer warnings, etc.

It is not clear if restrictions will apply to over-the-counter products, prescription products or both.

Findings included:

  • Small breed dogs were affected more often than medium and large breed dogs.
  • Dogs affected over three years of age were significant.
  • Younger cats affected were significant.
  • Products containing cyphenothrin and permethrin stood out.
  • Dosage ranges are currently too broad and may need refinement.

I find it interesting that blame is being passed on to the consumer once again since the EPA emphasized the importance of following the manufacturer’s directions carefully, suggesting that misapplication may have be a major contributor to incidents, and that the misuse of dog products on cats or splitting a tube between animals was a concern.

Unrevealed information includes inert ingredients (unlisted and often proprietary additives) which are indicated as an important factor in adverse reactions.

You can find a list of the flea treatment product/manufacturer by number here.

The analysis was done with percentages to omit any bias based on sales and differences in product popularity and use differences.

Meaning, that a popular product may show more incidents versus a less popular product.

How do you feel about that?

Many people want to see all the numbers of incidents, ingredients, etc.

However, the EPA noted that deaths and adverse incidents were reported for all the products included in the study.

Flea Treatment Safety Steps YOU Can Take

  • Consult your veterinarian before using any product.
  • Do not purchase flea treatment products from suspect suppliers (such as online) as counterfeit flea treatment is a problem.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions and entire label (follow the directions as detailed).
  • Pay attention to warnings and use caution on weak, elderly, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets.
  • Follow age restrictions.
  • Weigh your pet before application and follow weight restrictions on package–and err on the low side.
  • Follow species specific practices. Only use a dog product on a dog and a cat product on a cat.
  • Keep the package and record the dates and times you treat your pet. Lot numbers and product data is vital if your pet has an adverse reaction.
  • Use a flea treatment product on a pet when you are going to be present so you can watch your pet and identify an adverse reaction quickly if it happens.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately if your pet has symptoms of an adverse reaction.
  • You can also call an emergency clinic or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

EPA Flea Control Product Investigation Links

Go now and give your public comment on flea treatment products to the EPA or you can contact individuals involved in this process:

• Kimberly Nesci, MS US EPA, Registration Division (reach her with questions at
• Lois Rossi, MS US EPA, Director, Registration Division
• Kit Farwell, DVM US EPA, Health Effects Division

This post is a reprint from Flea Control Secrets blog. Please feel free to distribute this post or republish it as long as you keep it intact. You can purchase Flea Control Secrets eBook here.