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California's new pesticide plan sparks protest

June 24, 2011 |  7:48 pm

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Twenty-five environmental and pubic health groups asked Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday to abandon the state's new plan for eradicating agricultural pests and explore a less toxic approach, such as crop rotation or planting neighboring crops that deter insects.

The plan, announced this week by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, would abandon the traditional practice of assessing the environmental effects of attacking pests one by one, and instead publish a $3-million comprehensive impact report on eradicating all flies, worms, moths and other insects at once.

Such a comprehensive report would reduce oversight, according to Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.  “This is a huge state, with many ecosystems and bio-regions, with many threatened or endangered species, and it’s impossible to assess in detail all the implications of all possible pesticides for any pest or future pest” in one report, she said.

“They’re trying to write the Encyclopedia Britannica of pest management.”

The environmental groups also criticized the state's traditional method of quarantining crops and then spraying pesticides, a method that does not look at alternatives other than pesticides to prevent invasive species. State agricultural officials have used 294 eradication programs over 30 years to combat nine pests, Wishner said. “Every year, [they are] trying to kill same bug, and it’s not working. We don’t need to poison whole fields to get rid bugs,” she said.

The environmental groups suggested that the comprehensive report would "erode public trust in state pest programs" and cripple the public's right to challenge future spraying programs in court.

Among the signatories to the letter were: Center for Biological Diversity, Physicians for Social Responsibility, California Sports Fishing Protection Alliance, San Francisco Bay Keeper, Pesticide Watch, Clean Water Action, Pesticide Action Network, and Wild Equity Institute.

Steve Lyle, an agriculture department spokesman, said a comprehensive plan would allow officials  to better combat pests before they descended onto fields. If an invasive species showed up without warning, officials would declare an emergency and rush to quarantine a field and spray pesticides, with no time to put together an individual environmental impact report. 

The comprehensive assessment allows a variety of options, including integrated pest management that combines non-pesticide alternatives with pesticides. Lyle cited one event in which the European grapevine month arrived and the fruit was removed from the vine, deterring the pest without having to apply the pesticide.

Public participation will grow with this report, Lyle said, because in the past, “Decisions could easily amended with additional public input." With the new plan, he said,  "The door always stays open.”

“We need science that would support the move away from pesticides  and we need to find support for that science,” Lyle said. “We all want to find a scientific solution that moves everybody in that direction.”

RELATED:

Pesticide spraying near streams to expand under Congressional bill

Pesticide-laden produce: apples and celery top the list

Strawberry pesticide targeted by environmentalists, farmers


Photo: A crop-dusting plane sprays pesticides. Credit: Gary Kazanjian, Associated Press 2007

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