Friday, August 31, 2007

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

Are you scared yet?

Search "bedbugs" on Google News and you will find hundreds of news stories about mysterious itchy rashes, traumatized homeowners and frustrated pest control operators. Bedbugs are making a major comeback around the world, fueled by a massive increase in global travel that is spreading bedbugs way beyond their traditional stomping grounds of overcrowded housing and into the hotel rooms, luggage and even the homes of people who have never encountered them before.

Last week Saudi Arabia's Arab News reported that a pair of young Egyptian girls were killed by the pesticide treatment their father used to kill bedbugs in their bedroom. The whole family became ill, and the youngest girls died before reaching the hospital.

A recent NPR story exclaimed that "drenching the mattress with pesticides" is the only way to get rid of them. The good news is, this isn't the only way. Steam is extremely effective at killing bedbugs and their eggs - in fact, steam may be more effective than sprays, which can only kill the adult bugs. Pest control operators are reportedly using beagles to sniff out exactly the areas where bedbugs are hiding, to ensure good control.

While bedbugs are an extremely irritating pest - and a new one just emerging for most Americans - they do not spread disease, and should not be viewed as an emergency. In fact, while bedbugs are annoying, they pose less of a risk to your family than spraying pesticides inside your house. However, getting on top of the problem right away can spare you from some of the massive frustration that many people are reporting after experiencing an infestation.

Are you waking up in the morning with small, hard, itchy bites on you? Those may be bedbugs. Don't wait until the itching becomes ongoing and unbearable - inspect your bedroom to identify the culprit. Check your bedding carefully for signs of them. Tiny black dots spread around the sheets and mattress indicate bedbug activity.

If you think you have a bedbug infestation, you should immediately launder all the bedding in hot water and carefully vacuum the mattress (throwing away the vacuum bag afterward in your outdoor trash bin), remove all clutter from the room and move the bed away from the wall. For a full step-by-step on safe bedbug control, from prevention to identification to treatment, download this excellent fact sheet (pdf, 388 KB) from the New York State IPM program.

If you decide that you need the help of a licensed pest control operator, make sure that the PCO you call is experienced in dealing successfully with bedbugs. Call around until you find someone who knows how to handle them. They should be able to identify the pest, use technology (like beagles) to find all the bedbugs' hiding places, and then treat the area with the most effective, least toxic remedies available. We recommend specifically asking them about using heat and steam instead of spraying.

Bedbugs are gross, icky, weird, and new to most of us. But they're not a danger, and they can be controlled without poisoning our bedrooms - so don't let the hype get the best of you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Legislative wrap-up: Organic agriculture

Momentum, excitement... but no money. That's basically the bottom line of what happened for organic agriculture during North Carolina's 2007 legislative session.

You may recall that Senator Janet Cowell filed a bill called the "Organic Economic Opportunities Study" that would have funded a baseline study to understand the current and potential economic impact of organic agriculture in North Carolina. House and Senate members from both parties signed on to her idea, which would have not only looked at the potential impact, but the potential obstacles to organic growth in the state.

Unfortunately, like many other good ideas, the study didn't make it into the General Assembly's budget this year. The study would have cost $125,000, and legislators didn't manage to pull the funding together.

However, organic advocates took heart in the new excitement around organic agriculture at the legislature this year. Legislators heard from organic growers in their rural districts about the economic benefits of organic farming, and many from urban districts heard from their constituents that the demand for locally-grown, organic foods is nowhere close to being met. At a local, organic breakfast sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in April, legislators heard from several of North Carolina's organic farmers about the hope, and the profit, that organic can provide for small farmers.

We are looking forward to building on this momentum, and the new awareness of organic farming, during next year's legislative session. You can help! Sign up for PESTed Action Alerts (if you don't already get them), and take every opportunity you can to let your elected officials know how important local, organic agriculture is to you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Organic growth

Last week the nation's largest grocery chain, Kroger, announced that it would be adding lots of organic products to its line of house brands. By the end of 2007, Kroger will add 60 new certified organic products to its "Private Selection" label. The announcement comes as the USDA is considering a rule change to weaken the organic standards to allow food processors to include a list of 38 non-organic substances in "certified organic" food products.

Just a week before, Kroger had already announced that it would be removing all milk produced with synthetic hormones from its shelves, due to - you guessed it - consumer demand. Consumers frequently cite synthetic hormones for their shift to organic milk - and milk is frequently the first organic product that consumers try when they begin buying organic products.

Consumers concerned about unscrupulous foreign producers, synthetic hormones, GMO's, pesticides and other pollutants in their foods, are changing the grocery shelves by voting with their dollars. The organic foods market is growing consistently by as much as 20% annually, according to the Organic Trade Association. Consumers are concerned about the purity of their foods, and those who can are directing their dollars towards cleaner food choices. (See PESTed's recent article, Organic on a Budget, for tips on eating organic without breaking the bank).

As far as this writer can tell, while consumers are paying close attention to all the red flags on food production, the federal government is out to lunch. Country-of-origin labeling? GMO's? Synthetic growth hormones? Atrazine? 2,4-D? Yawn, we'll let the market decide.

Luckily, grocers are paying attention - and responding. I think I'll toast Kroger's decision with a certified organic beer.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pesticide Free Kids Days - Wrap up

This entry is written by Anna Jensen, who worked in PESTed's office this summer through the Into the Fields Internship program at Student Action with Farmworkers.
“What’s another way you can get rid of bugs in the house?” I prompted the 7-year-old standing in front of me.

With a little more coaxing, she finally remembered: “Squish them!”

“Do it!” the other kids urged, and she pantomimed stepping on me. Like any good cockroach would do, I curled up and died. Our audience of parents laughed and applauded.

The occasion for my transformation into a cockroach was Pesticide-Free Kids Day, an event that I organized in two different small towns in North Carolina this summer. Families in Prospect Hill (near Hillsborough) and Bailey (near Wilson) gathered to talk about pesticide use in their communities and how to protect their children from exposure. PESTed worked with health clinics and Migrant Head Start centers in these areas to organize an afternoon of food, children’s games, and discussion about the risks of pesticides and safe alternatives. During the parents’ discussion, the children created a play about the dangers of pesticides, and other ways to kill or prevent bugs in the house, which was how I ended up crawling around on the floor pretending to have antennae.

Both events aimed to teach safe pest control to parents, with an emphasis on safety for farmworker families who face additional work-related exposure besides the everyday dangers of pesticide drift, household pesticides, and food contamination. Parents had an opportunity for hands-on learning with a “make-your-own nontoxic cleaner” station, and kids learned about safe pest control as well by doing activity booklets, playing the quiz wheel, and creating their own play about safe alternatives to pesticides. Kids and adults alike enjoyed meals made from fresh local food donated by area farmers and stores. We finished off the events with raffle drawings for prizes like phone cards, gift cards, and movie tickets, also donations from concerned community businesses.

Perhaps most importantly, PESTed also had a chance to learn what families’ primary concerns were; whether parents were worried about safe home pest control, pesticide drift, or the pest control plans of their health clinics or daycares. PESTed staff gave the families information about alternatives, and the parents discussed among themselves and with the community partners present what their priorities were in reducing pesticide use in the area. PESTed made connections with parents, health clinics, and daycares who are interested in continuing to work together to ensure “Pesticide-Free Kids” in their communities!