Cooper Reflects on Pest Management’s Past


September 10, 2013

I used to think looking back in the rearview mirror was to determine whom I passed or who was gaining on me. Yet, as I’ve mellowed, looking back at the “bad old days” at the beginning of the 1990s has served as a beacon that’s shining a light on what our industry was up against, how we persevered and how favorably we’re perceived today.

Back then, it seemed our industry was the unfair target of self-anointed environmentalists. The major media harped on every minor mishap to front-page slip-ups, real and imagined, which often weren’t even pertinent to pest management. This naturally culminated in unreasonable legislative edicts that fed on negativity at the expense of science. The pest management industry was branded as catastrophic polluters of the planet.

Shortly before my election as National Pest Control Association (NPCA) president (1991-1992), the harangues of the public, press and legislators were making our lives miserable. After discussions with our executive board, staff and public relations organization, I was selected to respond to many incorrect assertions about the hazards of pesticides on ABC TV. I was well prepped on the relevant talking points. The host asked me questions, and I thought I responded calmly and made salient points. Except for the host and camera crew, there were no other speakers in the studio communicating for or against pesticide use.

That evening, I watched the broadcast. Under my image, my name was imposed along with my title: “Vice President of National Pest Control Association.” After that, a person I’d never met, let loose in the broadcast with a dissertation that included the words “pesticides kill and are toxic to children and adults” in a passionate but unscientific tirade. Under her image and name was her title, “Environmentalist.” What a kick to the stomach, mind and heart. In an intuitive flash, I realized we lost the debate. If she’s an environmentalist and I’m debating her (although not in the same time and place), that equated to me and our organization being anti-environmentalist. I’ll never forget that epiphany.

Time for change
I told the NPCA members at the opening of the 1992 convention in Dallas there were more active environmentalists gathered there than there were a few months earlier at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Most of them were environmental activists, which could be defined as those who act, demonstrate and apply pressure in response to perceived or alleged threats or abuses to the environment. Don’t confuse those environmental activists with active environmentalists, those such as yourselves who are engaged in improving the well-being of our planet and people. Our industry has begun to enjoy a renewed sense of who and what we are. The public, the media, government officials and the industry have become more aware of our positive role as protectors of public health and the environment.

The NPCA’s environmental message received favorable coverage in England, Canada, Japan, much of Latin America, the Pacific Rim and the U.S. This couldn’t have occurred without NPCA’s incredible staff, who worked diligently to underline our professionalism and sincere concern for the public good to Congress, the media and the community at large. The executive board, past presidents, suppliers and manufacturers, members and nonmembers volunteered to create the momentum that continues to this day.

Looking back, our industry has certainly made great strides. Looking forward, I’m confident our proven people and products will continue to overcome any and all obstacles. pmp

Cooper is a pest management industry mergers-and-acquisition expert who has consulted on more than 50 pest management acquisitions over the past several years. You can reach Cooper, a PMP Hall of Famer and former president of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) at, 914-698-8659.


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