To hear some environmentalists tell it, pesticides are the bane of civilization that need to be eradicated.
Activists will tell us any pesticide use will produce all sorts of malignant maladies, dangerously pollute the air and waterways, severely damage the environment, and are poisonous in the foods we eat.
But missing in their arguments are some common sense details, the most obvious one triggering the question: If we do not control the pests and diseases that threaten our food crops then how is the agricultural industry going to feed the billions of hungry stomachs on the planet?
With all the rhetoric, it is quite understandable that many consumers fear the use of any amount of pesticides on crops, and their concerns are not to be dismissed but merit careful consideration.
On the flip side, farmers who live and work on farms and have families of their own are especially cognizant of the dangers when pesticides are applied improperly. It hardly seems believable that farmers would run the risk of harming their own families if they weren’t convinced about the safety of working with these types of chemicals.
The truth is before modern pesticide tools were created the planet was rampant with food famines, disease, and insect invasions that devastated vast amounts of crops that left scores of people dead or on the brink of starvation.
Pestcides are tools
Modern pesticide tools turned this scenario around.
It’s a fact that pesticides are indeed toxic by design and deliberately released into the environment. But when used properly, both natural and synthetic pesticides protect people and their environment from pests – animal, plant, or microbial – that threaten human health and the balance of nature.
What most people are unaware of is that there is a highly integrated and multi-layered process of safety procedures to assure that pesticides are accessed for their safe use around humans and in the environment.
U.S. EPA scientifically reviews all pesticides for safety before they can be registered. The process not only involves scientists at the Office of Pesticide Programs, but scientists at other departments within U.S. EPA including the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
This guarantees to all states that any pesticide used in the U.S. States has been accessed and is safe.
And then there’s California…
Nowhere in the world are pesticides more heavily regulated and closely monitored than in California.
After some hours of research on the website of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation , it became obvious that minus the hysteria of certain green groups, DPR employs a strong scientific approach that has built the agency into what many would argue is one of the most comprehensive pesticide regulation programs in the world.
DPR’s mission is to protect human health and the environment by regulating pesticide sales and use and by fostering reduced-risk pest management.
The agency is funded by regulatory fees and has about 350 employees, including toxicologists, environmental specialists, and risk managers whose job it is to evaluate the scientific information and identify how products can be applied in a manner that is safe to the environment, workers and the public.
A portion of DPR’s budget supports local pesticide enforcement by county agriculture commissioners. Under DPR oversight, the commissioners and the roughly 250 biologists who work for them serve as the local enforcement agents for pesticide laws and regulations in the state’s 58 counties – a one-of-a-kind program in the nation.
Here’s just a few of the examples DPR oversees to assure and enhance pesticide safety:
If manufacturers cannot demonstrate that their products can be used safely to protect workers, consumers, and their children, and others who may be exposed to pesticides, DPR will not allow the pesticide to be used;
The department oversees the statewide licensing of commercial applicators, dealers, and other pesticide professionals to ensure they are adequately trained;
DPR evaluates the health impacts of pesticides through risk assessment and illness surveillance;
The agency monitors potential health and environmental impacts of previously registered pesticides, helping to find ways to prevent future contaminations;
DPR performs residue testing of fresh fruits and vegetables, sampling domestic as well as imported produce;
Through grants, awards, and regulatory incentives, DPR supports development and adoption of safe pest management practices designed to encourage reductions in pesticide usage in favor of more natural pest controls, and to reduce or eliminate the harmful environmental and health impacts of pesticides.
Furthermore, DPR is involved with community outreach projects that emphasis the safety of pesticides through training programs for agricultural businesses that can send certified and trained staff to farms to teach farm workers and farmers about on-farm safety.
The farmers enroll in a program where products and equipment that are used on their farm will be discussed and reviewed. This business model has been replicated by other private companies throughout the state.
Mid Valley Agricultural Services, for example, is one of DPR’s approved companies certified to pursue this objective. According to Rachelle Antinetti, business development manager for Mid Valley, her company discovered almost a decade ago that there was a high demand for creating awareness and helping farmers and farm workers work safely on the farm.
Mid Valley created Cal Ag Safety with the stated mission of educating farmers and farm workers on farm safety and compliance.
“The program is successful because we work with farm workers and farmers in their own environment, with their own equipment and tools,” she told me. “The classes are offered in both Spanish and English and include a variety of hands-on learning activities.”
Antinetti says that a great safety program is complete with proper documentation and can assist growers with this documentation, as well. Because of the success of programs like these, Cal Ag Safety implemented Cal-OSHA programs.
Some of the trainings include CPR, forklift certification, heat illness training and harvest safety. Retail organizations across the state now provide similar kinds of services to growers to assure growers and their employee safely handle and apply products.
Clearly, great care is taken to protect workers and assure the safe use of products in the agricultural sector, but what about the general public?
To assure that all citizens are protected, the regulations dealing with the safe use of pesticides are established on a statewide basis through the state’s pre-emption authority. Pre-emption assures regulations will protect all sectors of the public through protocols that are established for all uses and settings.
And like U.S. EPA, other health agencies that specialize in public health consult and recommend safeguards before products are approved for use.
But pre-emption is not unique to California. Like California, states such as Hawaii and Arizona utilize pre-emption to provide for the safe oversight of pesticides for their citizens. While recently contested in Hawaii, federal court decisions have validated the state’s authority over the use of pesticides, thereby assuring a uniform, scientifically sound regulatory process for the oversight of pesticides.
California, Hawaii, and Arizona have specific departments that exercise authority over pesticides, and all three states work cooperatively with other agencies within their states in determining the safe use of pesticides. Additionally, all states work cooperatively with U.S. EPA on pesticide issues.
The agencies that regulate pesticides employ individuals who are highly qualified and experts in their fields. Their decisions are never made in a vacuum, with not only agencies within a state consulting with each other in their areas of expertise, but with their neighboring state agencies, and with U.S. EPA.
The public should rest assured that pesticides products are assessed at the highest standards and continuously evaluated to provide safe products and assure their safe use.
And that’s fact, not rhetoric.