Read the entire Great Debate article in the September 1, 2005 Issue of Pest Control Magazine by clicking cover.

Offer control without pesticides — profitably

By Stephen Tvedten Contributor

There are probably between 30 million and 50 million insects. We have named about 1 million, and only about 1,000 are considered to be pests. The rest are beneficial insects — we literally cannot survive without them.

Pesticides cannot distinguish between pests and beneficial species. Before the advent of pesticides, we lost about 3 percent of our crops to insect pests. Now we apply more than 4 billion pounds of pesticides just in the United States, and we lose many more times more of our crops to insect pests now than before we began spraying.

It has been calculated that $520 million in annual crop losses are caused just by the pesticidal reduction of natural pest enemies in the United States. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of plants, insects and animals every year to man's "footprint." Still, after waging all-out chemical war against the 1,000 pests for more than 60 years, we have not controlled, much less eliminated, even one pest species.

In the December 1997 article of Pest Control ("The future of pest control"), Orkin Pest Control's Glen Rollins addressed the topic of the industry's future. Rollins, at the time vice president of corporate development for the Atlanta-based firm, was a speaker at the National Pest Management Association's Academy '97 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"The first challenge is safety concerns that exist in the market," he said in the article. "When I started in '79, there was a certain number of customers that had some satisfaction if you treated their homes with malathion in warm weather. They really didn't have the phobia they have nowadays, and I think we've all heard that and known that for a while."


Rollins went on to say that according to a University of Kentucky study,66 percent of Americans polled believed that pesticides caused cancer. For both their home and work environments, 77 percent were concerned about pesticides.

In addition, 85 percent wanted pesticides with no odor and 62 percent preferred only outdoor treatments. A whopping 83 percent of those polled would pay extra for a pest management professional (PMP) to use fewer pesticides in the account. In fact, 75 percent of that group would pay between 10 percent and 25 percent more for the same results.

Although 65 percent of Americans confessed to having a pest problem in a Gallup survey, Rollins reported, only about 10 percent of that group actually called a professional pest management firm. Of those surveyed, 54 percent believed pesticides that professionals used were harmful, and 64 percent said they would wait until a problem was severe before calling a professional. The overriding reasons included the belief that pesticides may jeopardize the safety of their children or pets, and the belief that pesticides professionals use in treatments were too strong.

In 1997, Rollins concluded that he believed "our market could be a lot bigger than it is right now." Eight years later, I'd like to note that public perception of pesticides is even worse today. Obviously, there is greater potential profit today for those of you who want to use safer alternatives.


My personal transition from "spray jockey" 35 years ago to an internationally recognized authority on intelligent pest management (IPM) today began when I lost family members and became seriously ill myself. I realized my use of pesticides had caused this. I had to detoxify, get well and then either find safer alternatives or leave the pest control business.

This is why I chose, and continue to choose, never to use any volatile registered pesticides. First of all, I do not want to re-injure or harm myself, or anyone else. Secondly, I get far better control with my chosen alternatives. I have had schools hire me saying, "We know our pest problems will increase, but we do not want to poison our children." After a few weeks, they call me and ask why they no longer have any pest problems.

I have developed, researched and/or field-tested more than 2,000 safe (and far more effective) alternatives to pesticides. If I asked you to build a home and only allowed you to use one kind of tool — all the hammers or all the saws or all the screwdrivers — you would think I was crazy. But that is what pest control has been basically since World War II and the advent of pesticides. When one pesticide no longer works, you continue to choose another pesticide, pesticide combination or application frequency. Still, you're using the same type of "tool."

When I started in pest control, we routinely used chemicals like DDT, chlordane, heptachlor and aldrin to such a degree that now it is considered "normal" for every living organism to contain residues of these now-banned toxins. If you think you are the exception, go have a blood test done.

There have been thousands of chemical trespass/injury lawsuits caused by even the labeled applications of these and other volatile pesticides. Even if you win, you still lose a great deal of money. There have been thousands of books and articles on the dangers of pesticides, and it is against federal law to say even the labeled use of pesticides is "safe." There are thousands of potential customers in your area who want to hire a professional who does not use dangerous pesticides. Why continue to go against public opinion?

If you choose to use only safe and far more effective pest control alternatives, you will find that there is no way your customers can or will sue you for chemical injury/trespass, and they will gladly sign any release protecting you from subsequent damage or infestation to hire you as a true IPM professional. They will be greatly pleased with the true IPM control you achieve. You will also find as I already have: They will gladly pay you more to truly protect their families and properties.

Stephen Tvedten is president of Get Set Non-Toxic Pest Control in Marne, Mich. His Web sites include and Contact him at

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