A deceptive pro-pesticide public relations campaign came to town last week, promoting pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to families and children, claiming pesticides are safe and necessary to maintaining healthy pest-free schools, homes and gardens.
The campaign, funded by a lobby group named Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), sponsored the River Cats game against the Fresno Grizzlies, who beat Sacramento 3-0. Karma?
In retrospect, the corporate pesticide industry sponsored a losing game for all those who attended last week’s game. Promoting toxic chemicals as the “go-to” solution to treat your lawn and get rid of pests is irresponsible and deceiving given all the natural and organic practices that have been developed to reduce or eliminate having to rely on pesticides in the first place.
Cleverly named “Debug the Myths,” the PR campaign, funded by the pesticide manufacturing industry, has been making its way from the East Coast hosting family events to promote their pro-pesticide message to families and children: “Pesticides help keep our families healthy and our homes happy.”
This summer Debug the Myths is on tour, traveling around in a giant green RV and a new promotional Prius determined to “debug the myth” about the dangers of pesticides, sponsoring plenty of sporting events and offering kid-oriented activities like a “What Pest Are You?” quiz. Adults can also participate by writing a letter telling their local government officials about the benefits of the pesticide and fertilizer products used in the home and around the community.
Their campaign specifically targets children, however, by partnering with children’s organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, where they donate plants, host clean-up events by donating time and labor to the children’s facility and provide “educational” materials that are more frightening than they are informative.
According to the Debug the Myths website, the staff teach kids and parents that chemical lawn-care treatments are important to “reduce tripping hazards and other ailments or injuries that can occur due to invasive weeds or poorly kept grass.” In other words, they’re saying that spraying pesticides to treat your lawn will make it “safer” for athletes and kids to play on.
Not surprisingly, the money spent on lobbying efforts and PR campaigns are paying off for the pesticide industry in California. RISE also successfully defeated a bill in the State Senate earlier this month that would have forbid the use of known carcinogens and blanket spraying on school grounds. The Healthy Schools Act of 2011 would have helped school districts take steps toward at least educating school administrators on integrated pest management practices by having schools send at least one person to one of the Department of Pesticide Regulation trainings.
In addition to RISE’s blatantly irresponsible efforts to influence the public’s perceptions by padding the wallets of the institutions we trust the most and pushing a pro-pesticide agenda, DeBug the Myths indicates the industry’s strong advances being made to undermine the progress made in both the local and statewide pesticide-free and pro-organic movements.
Similarly, the pesticide manufacturing giant Arysta Life Science hired Bush administration strategist J. Scott Jennings at Peritus Public Relations to influence government officials to ignore independent science and secure approval for methyl iodide. This offensive public relations war waged by corporate pesticide interests has been successfully pushing a highly cancer-causing pesticide into our strawberry fields instead of cutting-edge green agriculture.
Late last year, Peritus and Arysta successfully convinced then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to allow the use of methyl iodide in California, instead of investing in forward-thinking agriculture. Despite an incredibly well-organized and large public outcry from advocacy coalitions across the state, including a lawsuit brought against the California Department of Regulation challenging their approval of this dangerous pesticide, methyl iodide is being approved for use on strawberry fields across the state. In fact, May 20 was the first approved application of methyl iodide in California.
Certainly, the corporate pesticide industry will not stop at anything to keep their products on the market, and they certainly have the resources to perpetually infiltrate our institutions, governments and airwaves in an attempt to silence the public’s voice. And for those individuals who may already be a part of a larger movement to move away from relying upon these toxic substances in our homes and gardens, the corporate pesticide industry sponsoring family-fun events to promote the use of pesticides should be indicative of the momentum that industry has gained to counter the pro-organic and pesticide-free movements.
The pesticide industry would be virtually non-existent if these two movements were ever to reach their full potential, which is why the industry pours so much into their public relations campaigns to sway consumers into believing pesticides are necessary for healthy lawns, homes and communities.
Still, Sacramento may have found itself to be ill informed last Friday night when this “invasive pest” came to town parading around with toys, games and a brand new Prius to convince Sacramentans that pesticides are necessary and “safe” to use. Raley Field could have backed out of the partnership but chose not to even after several statewide coalitions wrote a letter requesting they end the partnership with RISE. The letter urged Raley Field to instead consider other partnerships that provide information, resources and ideas promoting sustainable landscaping practices.
Asael Sala is a community organizer with Pesticide Watch Education Fund and member of the UC Davis Health System Community Advisory Board. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can also reach him directly at (916) 670-0529.