PANNA: Government Agencies Failing to Cut U.S. Pesticide Use


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Government Agencies Failing to Cut U.S. Pesticide Use
October 9, 2001

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have done little to implement their 1993 pledge to encourage farmers to reduce pesticide use through the promotion of integrated pest management (IPM) programs, a recent report found. The report, “Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management,” was authored by the General Accounting Office (GAO), U.S. Congress’s ‘watchdog’ agency.

Following a 1977 policy announcement to promote IPM, the USDA renewed the U.S. government’s commitment to IPM in 1993, stating explicitly that the purpose of the policy was to reduce pesticide use and its associated risks. EPA supported the 1993 pledge and its goal of implementing IPM on 75% of total crop acreage in the U.S. by 2000. The following year, USDA announced an initiative to help achieve the goal through research, outreach and education.

After learning that pesticide use had risen by 40 million pounds since 1992, a U.S. Senator requested that the GAO review the implementation of the policy.

The U.S. government defines IPM methods as biologically-based practices such as protecting beneficial organisms and crop rotation to combat pests, sometimes in conjunction with the use of chemical pesticides. The USDA estimates that IPM had been implemented to some degree on about 70% of crop acreage in the U.S. by the end of last year. Although this seems just short of the 75% goal, the GAO report charges that “the implementation rate is a misleading indicator of the progress made towards the original purpose of IPM — reducing chemical pesticide use.”

By counting a wide variety of farming practices in estimating IPM implementation and failing to distinguish between those that tend to reduce pesticide use from those that do not, the report states that the USDA implementation rate does not reflect meaningful outcomes. For example, if farmers monitor for pests or clean their farm equipment, their acreage could count as having implemented IPM, although these practices may not reduce pesticide use.

The implementation of biologically-based IPM practices is much more limited than the overall IPM implementation rate suggests, the report found. For example, the USDA estimates that IPM was implemented on 78% of soybean acreage in 2000 although biologically-based methods were only practiced on about 7% of soybean crops. For corn acreage, the USDA estimate of IPM implementation in 2000 is 76%, when biologically-based measures were implemented on no more than 18% of total corn acreage.

The report found that chemical pesticide use — which accounts for three-quarters of all pesticide use in the U.S. — has increased from 900 million pounds in 1992 to 940 million pounds in 2000 while total cropland has decreased. Meanwhile, although the use of the riskiest chemical pesticides such as organophosphates, carbamates and probable or possible carcinogens has decreased from 455 million pounds of active ingredient in 1992 to about 390 million pounds in 2000, they still account for over 40% of the pesticides used in U.S. agriculture.

Citing the case of apple and pear growers in the states of Washington, Oregon and California who implemented IPM practices that reduced their use of chemical pesticides by 80%, decreased their pest management costs and produced a higher-quality harvest, the report also affirms that IPM practices can be successful. (See PANUPS: Organic Apples Win Productivity and Taste Trials, August 10, 2001 at

Despite USDA’s original commitment to the IPM initiative, the report notes some crucial impediments to implementation. First, the GAO found that the IPM initiative suffered from “serious leadership, coordination, and management deficiencies.” Second, the initiative lacks clear objectives. Although the clearly stated original purpose of the IPM initiative was to reduce pesticide use, subsequent USDA strategic plans stated that its purpose was to “meet the needs of agriculture and the American public,” with no mention made of reduced pesticide use as an intended result. Finally, the report noted farm-level impediments, such as insufficient delivery of IPM information and services to farmers.

Commenting on the report, the USDA stated that it will follow the report’s recommendations to improve implementation and coordination of national IPM programs. The report highlighted the need for better departmental coordination, a clear articulation of program goals and developing a method to measure the initiative’s progress. It also recommended closer collaboration with EPA if the USDA makes reducing pesticide use a goal.

Sources: U.S. Newswire, “GAO Finds that USDA, EPA Have Neglected Pledge to Cut Pesticide Use,” September 27, 2001; U.S. General Accounting Office, “Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management,” August 2001, available at (listed under September 28, 2001).

Contact: PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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