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The Future Role of Pesticides in US Agriculture
Because its task was so broad and it had a relatively short period for its study, the committee met five times over 11 months in 1998 and held three workshops to seek input from the public. A critical early challenge was to refine the charge. The committee defined the future of agriculture to be the next 10–20 years. Beyond 20 years, predicting technological innovations and their effects is extremely difficult. The committee also believed that the term pesticide required a precise definition for the purpose of this report. The legal definition set forth in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act is in part inconsistent with biological definitions of pesticides. The definition has social aspects as well; public perceptions inevitably color policy discussions and decisions. Accordingly, in this report the committee took a broad view of the concept of pesticide to include both the strict legal definition and microbial pesticides, plant metabolites, and agents used in veterinary medicine to control insect and nematode pests. Recent innovations in pest-control technologies (notably, genetic engineering) might necessitate a reevaluation of the legal definition in the near future. The committee also embraced the phrase ecologically based pest management (EBPM) as representing a pest-management approach that depends primarily on knowledge of pest biology and secondarily on physical, chemical, and biological supplements. The foundation for this management approach is a working knowledge of the managed ecosystem, including natural processes that suppress pest populations. Practitioners of EBPM augment the natural processes with such tools as biological control organisms and products, resistant plants, and narrow-spectrum pesticides.
With respect to the first charge—to identify circumstances in which chemical pesticides will continue to be needed in pest management—the committee decided early during its deliberations that an assessment of the full range of agricultural pests and of the composition and deployment of chemical pesticides to control pests in various environments would be an impossible task because of the large volume of data and the number of analyses required to generate a credible evaluation. The committee reviewed the literature and received expert testimony on the potential effects of pesticides on productivity, environment, and human health and on the potential to reduce overall risks by improving approaches that use chemicals under diverse conditions—soils, crops, climates, and farm-management practices. The committee concluded that uses and potential effects of chemical pesticides and alternatives to improve pest management vary considerably among ecosystems. That conclusion was reinforced by expanded solicitation of expert opinion. Overall, the committee concluded that chemical pesticides will continue to play a role in pest management for the foreseeable future, in part because environmental compatibility of products is increasing—particularly with