Pesticides and Perceptions

Posted March 10, 2009, at 6:42 p.m.

A change in attitude, not state law, is needed to ensure that the Board of Pesticides Control fulfills its obligations.

Last year, the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee voted against the governor’s nominee for the board, Deborah Aldridge of Jonesboro, saying that her views that pesticide use should sometimes be restricted disqualified her from the board. Ms. Aldridge, a blueberry grower who switched from conventional to organic growing, had supported a 500-foot buffer for aerial spraying, putting her at odds with others in the industry.

By statute, the board’s members must include three people knowledgeable about pesticides in agriculture, forestry and commercial applications. One person must have a medical background and another must hold a faculty position in either agronomy or entomology at the University of Maine. The remaining two members are selected to represent the public and must have an interest in environmental protection. Ms. Aldridge was meant to fulfill the last category.

Seven members of the committee voted against her even though none of the state’s agricultural groups testified against her nomination and she was slated to replace another organic blueberry grower who was leaving the board.

This episode left the impression that the committee believed the board was responsible for pesticide promotion, not regulation.

Now one of the committee members who voted against Ms. Aldridge’s nomination has submitted a bill to change the makeup of the board.

Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, has proposed to increase the board to eight members to include a representative of a statewide organization of organic farmers and gardeners. A public hearing on LD 68 is scheduled before the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee today.

Aside from the problem of having an even number of people on the board, this bill is unnecessary. The public nominees with interest in environmental protection now required could, if the committee were more open-minded, be members of organic groups. Or, the requirements for one of the two public representatives could be revised to include interest in organic farming without increasing the size of the board.

The bill also would set a bad precedent. If the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has a seat set aside on the board, why not the Maine Blueberry Commission or the Maine Potato Board? The board is meant to have a broad perspective, not to advocate for specific industries and practices.

That should not change.

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