Opinion: California Gov. Newsom can set national example by letting science guide state agricultural policy decisions

Instead of the Centers for Disease Control, imagine for a minute that Washington political pundits or even US Senators and Representatives had been the ones responsible for setting our national health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, this would amount to a complete abandonment of science in favor of politics.

In California, fortunately, Governor Gavin Newsom has made it a priority to let science guide his major policy decisions. Whether it’s climate change or imposing public health restrictions during a pandemic, his mantra has always been to trust science.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped California lawmakers from seeking to create new laws that ignore the science. At the close of this past session, the legislature sent Governor Newsom a bill that blatantly disregards the scientific process and findings of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), the which includes hundreds of health. studies and decades of reviews.

The measure, Assembly Bill 2146, asks Gov. Newsom to enact restrictions on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are used to fight a variety of pests, including mosquitoes, bedbugs, fleas, cockroaches and a variety of invasive species. Neonicotinoids are also vital for protecting home garden and citrus trees that help provide important food for families around the state.

While there may be political reasons for AB 2146, there is certainly no scientific justification; the measure is wrong and unnecessary for a number of reasons:

  • Pesticide regulations should be set by scientific bodies like the DPR and not the legislature. This is why DPR has an entire army of scientists and why this department was created in the first place.
  • If concerned about chemicals, the state legislature should direct the DPR to either undertake additional assessments or provide more supporting information for its regulations.
  • California’s regulatory framework is science-based and more restrictive than any other state and possibly the world.
  • Neonicotinoids were developed in large part because they are both effective and a safer alternative to previously used insecticides.
  • DPR is currently preparing new neonicotinoid regulations that will be the most restrictive in the country.
  • As part of this process, DPR has already reviewed the current regulatory requirements for neonicotinoids in urban or domestic environments and has found that additional action is not necessary. This echoes the findings of the EPA and its scientific advisory panels.
  • Both EPA and DPR have aggressive regulations and commitment to pollinator protection as appropriate. More anti-science mandates are unnecessary.

As if all these scientific reasons weren’t enough for Governor Newsom to veto AB 2146, what about the ramifications if the bill were to become law?

Fires, for example. If you take away the means to fight invasive species and other harmful pests, there will be more dead plants and trees to fuel the state’s wildfires. AB 2146 creates more polish for our dry condition.

And while it would eliminate a critical tool for protecting a wide range of crops, the biggest threat would be to California’s $2 billion citrus industry. AB 2146 denies that neonicotinoids prevent the spread of Asian citrus psyllids (ACP) from residential trees to agriculture.

About 8 out of 10 citrus trees in California grow in urban areas. If our urban communities lose the ability to use neonicotinoids because they do not have the resources to hire professional private applicators, there would be a high potential for a domino effect that would destroy an entire industry and urban gardens. If you don’t believe it, just look at what happened to Florida, Texas and northern Mexico because they couldn’t control ACP.

Is an excessive, benign, unscientific law worth risking the health of Californians? Expanding wildfire threat? Compromising California agricultural commodities that help feed the nation and the world? Of course not.

We believe that Governor Newsom, with a simple veto, will keep the neonicotinoid regulations where they belong – in the hands of regulatory experts and scientists. Because “Trusting the Science” shouldn’t just be about public health and climate change – it’s also about agricultural policy decisions. California can and should lead the nation in setting this example.

Renee Pinel is President and CEO of the Western Plant Health Association. The Western Plant Health Association supports the safe use of pesticides that protect the environment and human health.

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