Government monitoring data demonstrates effectiveness of California’s pesticide regulatory system

Sacramento, CA — In May the California Department of Pesticide Regulation issued its most recent Pesticide Monitoring Annual Report showing that 97 percent of fresh produce tested in the state had either no detectable pesticide residues at all or residues that are below health-protective levels.

Similar results for produce grown in California are also found through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program. Over multiple decades of monitoring, both programs have come to the same conclusion — California produce is exceedingly safe.

“These results don’t happen by accident,” says Lindsey Carter, Executive Director of the California Agricultural Commissioner and Sealers Association (CACASA), which represents a team of officials located throughout the state who are charged with oversight and enforcement of pesticide laws at the county level in California.

“California produces 75 percent of the fruit, nuts and vegetables consumed in the U.S. and we are well-known for having the most stringent laws in the world when it comes to the use of pesticides,” says Carter. “But what makes a real difference in California is our unique system to ensure these laws are enforced and that California farmers are doing an exceptional job of complying with the ever-growing list of pesticide regulations they must follow.

“If we listen only to media reports about the dangers of pesticides in our food, people might think there are no laws or regulations at all in place to protect the public,” continued Carter. “Additionally, when we hear some of the dramatic testimony presented to state legislatures who are considering new laws governing pesticide use, it can seem as if our system of pesticide regulation in California isn’t working. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Carter explains that pesticide laws in California are passed by the legislature, signed by the Governor and subsequent regulations are then developed and set forth by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).  In a great many instances, the regulations set by DPR are more restrictive that those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Once DPR has set the regulations, our members who are Agricultural Commissioners located in every California county, are charged with enforcing them,” says Carter.

She explains the comprehensive process for enforcing pesticide laws in California by Agricultural Commissioners that includes multiple checks and balances. For example, farmers must notify the Ag Commissioner in their county when they plan to make an application of any restricted use pesticide. Prior to the application of these materials the Ag Commissioners can conduct pre-site inspections to assess environmental and weather conditions along with other factors to ensure the application can and will be conducted safely.

As part of California’s regulatory system, county Agricultural Commissioner offices employ 500 inspectors located throughout the state. Each year they conduct over 30,000 in-person inspections of farms, ranches and other operations, including the safety and training of pesticide applicators, handlers, and field workers all with the goal of verifying compliance with DPR’s pesticide use enforcement regulations and worker protection standards.

“Notably, despite the ever-challenging array of regulations, data collected as part of the Agricultural Commissioners inspection system shows that from the 30,000 inspections conducted annually, California farmers have been able to maintain a 98.5 percent compliance rate in adhering to pesticide laws and regulations,” she continued. “This statistic coupled with the DPR monitoring data that shows 97% of our produce has no or very low pesticide residues, is a real tribute to farmers and the regulatory system in California.”

 “One of the most important aspects of  California’s regulatory this system is that Agricultural Commissioners live and work in their farming communities and they keenly understand and consider the unique kinds of farming operations, weather, environmental and other conditions that exist locally – and these vary widely among California counties,” continues Carter.

Carter noted that she is always surprised at the criticism leveled against government regulators and the ag industry as well as the increasing pressure to enact even more stringent pesticide regulations in California.

“Often there is no scientific basis that increasing regulations will make people safer – which is the ultimate goal of pesticide laws. In fact, too much regulation can actually detract from this goal because it takes emphasis and attention away from the most critical safety issues,” she adds.

“In short, the incredible regulatory system in California make this state one of the most difficult places to farm, but the work of regulators at DPR, local enforcement through the Ag Commissioner system and a high level of compliance among farmers make it one of the safest places in the world to grow food.”