State Plan Could Force Organic Farmers to Use Pesticides

Tuesday, November 11, 2014
(photo: jetsandzeppelins at Flickr)

California is poised to rewrite its rules governing the use of agricultural pesticides that could subject organic farmers to mandatory use without much recourse.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) closed public comment days ago on its Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), a 500-page-plus document that would give the agency authority to spray toxic chemicals avoided, for the most part, by the organic community.

The document argues that the nation’s largest organic farming industry wouldn’t be economically harmed by having to use pesticides because they could simply sell their product in the conventional food market. They would keep their official state organic certification but couldn’t call themselves organic in the marketplace.

“Organic certification would not be lost, and the use of chemicals would not be expected to result in the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural use. Therefore, no impact would occur.”

No harm, no foul. Except for those organic farmers who abhor conventional farming practices. “I would rather stop farming than have to be a conventional farmer. I think I am not alone in that,” Zea Sonnabend, a Watsonville organic apple-grower with California Certified Organic Farmers, told the Associated Press.

The California organic farming community grew 54% between 2009 and 2012 in a U.S. sector now worth $35 billion. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies more than 90% of crop farms in the country as family farms (which is not to say they are small Ma and Pa Kettle operations), a small number of giant agribusinesses use market share to control every level of the industry—food production, distribution, marketing, consumption. “Four companies control 50% of the proprietary seed market and 43% of the commercial seed market worldwide,” according to Farm Aid.

The organic industry is driven by a consumer desire to avoid eating food that has been sprayed with toxic chemicals. California’s $43 billion agriculture industry is the nation’s largest and its state agencies have a history of aggressively authorizing use of some scary substances. Organic farmers try to use pesticides made from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured. That’s not popular with Monsanto and Dow Chemical.

A coalition of more than 90 organizations opposes the EIR. Mothers Advocating Sustainability leads its list of objections with the threat to organic farms, but also warns that the report gives only “cursory” analysis of the 79 pesticides it opens the door to using. “The list of pesticides could be expanded at CDFA’s discretion.”

The Ecology Center echoed criticism of the draft plan that would let the state “spray pesticides anywhere in California, with no input from communities affected, into the indefinite future. . . . The plan also does not include opportunities for public review before pesticides are applied, and allows the agency to approve new pesticides or expansion of its program with no environmental or health analysis.”

In other words—in this case, those of UCLA professor and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Engineering Tony Pereira:

The “overarching, dictatorial proposal is clearly an insidious covert ploy to overtly destroy organic farming in the state of California, an egregious assault on public health and a racket. It is an irresponsible, unconscionable mandate for chemical toxin industrial manufacturers to sell and apply poisons—cancer causing, pollinator- bird- and bee-killing pesticides and herbicides—throughout the state of California, and a trial run to, if successful, apply the same toxic martial spraying laws across the entire United States.”

Critics argue that it’s bad enough that the state pursues an agricultural policy that encourages the use of pesticides rather than helps develop and substitute less toxic alternative methods of pest prevention and treatment. Now, officials want to force farmers who are pursing those alternatives to give them up and use less healthy practices.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Showdown Looms as California Eyes Pesticides (by Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press)

Poison Anytime, Poison Anywhere, Poison Everywhere: California's Organic Food Industry Destruction Trojan Horse (by  Tony Pereira, TruthOut)

California Releases Draft Plan for Unlimited Future Pesticide Spraying (Earthjustice)

Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program Environmental Impact Report (California Department of Food and Agriculture)

Corporate Concentration in Agriculture (Farm Aid)

Toxic Pesticides Banned in Other Countries Continue to be used in U.S. (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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