Pesticide plan dangerous, costly
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is rapidly moving to create a legal document that will lock in for decades the state's outdated approach to invasive pests, which has not changed since the notorious medfly aerial malathion spraying during the 1970s.
The statewide Pest Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (Pest PEIR) will cost taxpayers a minimum of $3 million to $4.5 million, and is intended to give advance approval for toxic treatments on short notice, for unknown future pests, anywhere in the state.
Health and environmental groups are urging the state to instead undertake a consensus planning process, at an estimated cost of $300,000, modeled after the successful 2010 Agricultural Vision Process conducted for CDFA.
This "Invasives Vision" planning process would:
• Modernize the state's approach to invasive species by capitalizing on cutting-edge UC research.
• Create invasive pest programs that are more efficient, effective, and supportive of farmers.
• Significantly reduce wide-scale pesticide use on farms, in neighborhoods and around schools.
• Minimize litigation, conflict, and public mistrust.
• Reduce costs to taxpayers.
For more than 30 years, the state has been quarantining farmers, spraying pesticides, and using other ecologically disruptive pest control methods that endanger ecosystems and public health. These programs burden our farmers, especially small, organic farmers, and are costly, ineffective, and not based on current science.
Forty percent of the state was under quarantine for invasive species last year, and CDFA has conducted 274 pest eradication projects since 1982 for the same nine insects. We simply cannot afford to continue to battle invasive species this way.
Pesticides are clearly linked to a profound array of chronic health disorders. Children are particularly affected because the amount of pesticides they absorb is proportionately much greater than adults as a result of children's unique physiology and behavior.
The state's reliance on wide-area repeated chemical pest treatments intended to create virtual clouds of toxins is especially dangerous for children's health.
According to Caroline Cox, research director for the Center for Environmental Health, "New research shows that even minute amounts of pesticides can cause significant changes to our immune systems, brain development, as well as other serious health risks." It is very troubling that the state wants to obtain advance approval under California environmental law for outdated policies that allow pesticides to be sprayed repeatedly in our neighborhoods and on our food for years to come.
Our coalition is asking the state government to use scarce tax dollars to develop policy solutions for pest management based upon solid, independent science, through a visioning process that brings stakeholders to the table, eliminates an expensive and conflicted legal process, and can result in a planning document that revolutionizes the state's invasive pest policies. The Invasives Vision Process is a planning approach whose time has come.
Environmental attorney Keith Wagner, a partner in the environmental law firm Lippe Gaffney Wagner LLP, has identified the legal problems of the PEIR as currently proposed. "Under the California Environmental Quality Act," said Wagner, "it would be impossible as a practical matter for CDFA to evaluate in a single EIR, as they are proposing, all health and environmental impacts of all programs for current and unknown future pests on all species and ecosystems under all conditions statewide."
Wagner added that, "This new PEIR continues the flawed approach of the apple moth PEIR, which is currently being challenged in court. The new Pest PEIR will cost far more and take much longer than CDFA plans, and is most likely to also end up stalled in court if CDFA does not seriously rethink its approach."
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Nan Wishner is with the California Environmental Health Initiative. Debbie Friedman is chairperson for MOMS Advocating Sustainability (MOMAS). Paul Towers is state director of Pesticide Watch.