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A matter of integrity and trust

August 1, 2010 -  By

Ron HallJust over 20 years ago, a colleague wrote a short article alerting readers to unflattering test results for a product being promoted as the next great chemical turfgrass grub control. My friend hardly expected the backlash.

His news article, based on the research of a well-respected Midwest entomologist, appeared in an issue of Lawn Care Industry magazine, a sister publication to Landscape Management at the time. The scientist’s field-testing showed that the insecticide was being captured by turfgrass thatch and degrading before making it into the soil and controlling grubs.

The article ignited a reaction from an executive with the chemical company, who demanded further explanation from the scientist and a public mea culpa from the editor. The angry executive insisted the company’s research consistently showed that the molecule provided excellent grub control.

A lot of money was at stake. His company had been expecting to become a player in the $100-million turf insecticide market with the product that it had already begun marketing.

The researcher stuck to his results, and the magazine stuck to its story. Both had much to lose — for the researcher, future research funding from the company; for the magazine, advertising revenue.

Not surprisingly, the product, with further testing confirming its unsuitability as a grub control, was soon-thereafter pulled from the market. The chemical company was eventually absorbed by a larger company, as were many others during the tsunami of acquisitions characterizing the 1990s agrichemical industry.

So, what’s the point of rehashing ancient history? The turfgrass industry (indeed, the public) rightfully relies upon a small group of experienced and, yes, honest university researchers tasked with testing and evaluating the products being developed for the use by professional applicators. They do not falsify results for any company’s benefit. There’s too much at stake — not the least of which are their reputations.

Beyond that, the environmental and human safety protocols established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, which have been regularly reviewed these past 40 years, are among the strictest in the world.

That’s why I find it disturbing when politicos and agenda-driven individuals and groups launch emotionally charged campaigns to ban or restrict the use of time-proven products. They often disparage the findings (and in some instances, the integrity) of scientists and regulators who are the most knowledgeable about the chemistry in question.

Examples are numerous, with the most obvious being the pesticide bans sweeping Canada. This is occurring in spite of what had been a successful and functioning model urban integrated pest management (IPM) accreditation program for professional applicators there. Essentially, local and provincial politicos, bending to the rhetoric of individuals and groups with a variety of anti-industry agendas, have neutered this model IPM program by implying and, in some cases, stating that the regulatory apparatus of the country, and the research that supports it, is an industry lackey.

Similar in tone, at least, were public comments issued this past spring, as communities in and around Tampa Bay, FL, passed regulations banning summer fertilization of turfgrass there. Some of the people pushing for the bans specifically dismissed recommendations developed by University of Florida researchers, claiming the researchers were in the pocket of the fertilizer industry.

These attacks on the credibility of professionals who have and willingly share their knowledge about products and procedures that actually benefit our urban and suburban environments are the most troubling aspects of the pseudo-environmental agenda.

LM Staff

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