In January 2023, the State of California released a document titled “Accelerating Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California” (referred to as “SPM Roadmap”). The document, developed by California’s Sustainable Pest Management Work Group (“SPM Work Group”) and Urban Subgroup in collaboration with different state agencies including the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (“DPR”), lays out a framework for either eliminating or significantly reducing the use of pesticides in California by 2050. The SPM Roadmap comes as part of an ongoing effort in California to decrease pesticide use throughout the state. That effort has included cancellations of certain pesticides, and regulations restricting the use of certain pesticides. While the trend is likely to have the greatest impact on California producers in the short term, long term other states may choose to follow.
The SPM Roadmap
The SPM Roadmap grew out of the Chlorpyrifos Alternatives Work Group (“Chlorpyrifos Work Group”) convened in 2019-2020 following California’s decision to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The Chlorpyrifos Work Group was tasked with identifying more sustainable pest management alternatives to chlorpyrifos. Ultimately, the Chlorpyrifos Work Group recommended that the DPR establish another work group which could evaluate California’s pest management system as a whole rather than focusing on individual pesticides. That recommendation led to the establishment of the SPM Work Group and Urban Subgroup that were responsible for developing the SPM Roadmap.
According to the SPM Roadmap, sustainable pest management is “a holistic, whole-system approach applicable in agricultural and other management ecosystems and urban and rural communities that builds upon the concept of integrated pest management to include the wider context of the three sustainability pillars: human health and social equity, environmental protection, and economic vitality.” Integrated pest management is an established approach to pest management that relies on comprehensive information about the life-cycles of pests and how they engage with the ecosystem to control pests with the least amount of impact to humans or the environment. According to the SPM Roadmap, sustainable pest management goes a step further by “intentionally looking at the interconnectedness of pest pressures, ecosystem health, and human well-being.”
The SPM Roadmap sets out two overall goals: (1) to eliminate the use of “priority pesticides” by 2050, and (2) to adopt sustainable pest management as the de facto pest management system in California. According to the SPM Roadmap, “priority pesticides” are those pesticides containing active ingredients that “pose a likelihood of, or are known to cause, significant or widespread human and/or ecological impacts from their use.” DPR would be responsible for identifying “priority pesticide” by considering a variety of factors, including hazard and risk classifications, the availability of alternative products, and any special consideration pest management situations that could cause severe adverse impacts.
In order to achieve those two general goals, the SPM Roadmap has identified various “keystone actions” intended to make the overall goals possible. Those keystone actions include prioritizing pest prevention, coordinating leadership at the state level, investing in SPM knowledge, improving California’s pesticide registration processes while bringing more SPM products to market, and enhancing data collection and monitoring. The SPM Roadmap considered how agricultural and urban pest management could be altered to accomplish the keystone actions. For agricultural use, the SPM Roadmap advises increased funding and research to develop “institutional infrastructure” for shifting away from pesticides and towards SPM practices; increased outreach and education on SPM; requiring all pest control advisors to become trained in SPM; reducing the economic risk to growers transitioning to SPM; and increasing the market demand for agricultural commodities produced with SPM practices.
Importantly, the SPM Roadmap is not a legally binding document. However, it does lay out a policy roadmap that identifies concrete legal actions that would help achieve the document’s stated goals. According to the SPM Roadmap, the next steps require the state to secure funding, and develop more formal structures for prioritizing pesticide reduction. Specifically, the SPM Roadmap calls on the state of California to “develop a plan, funding mechanisms, and programs to prioritize pesticides for reduction, and to support the practice change necessary to transition away from the use of high-risk pesticides” by 2025.
Additional Pesticide Restrictions
Along with publishing the SPM Roadmap, California has taken other actions aimed at reducing pesticide use within the state.
Critically, California became one of the first states to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide traditionally used to target insects. In 2019, DPR announced that it had reached an agreement with chlorpyrifos manufacturers to withdraw their products from California. Any pesticide containing chlorpyrifos would no longer be registered for sale or use within California, with sales ending in February 2020 and all use banned after December 31, 2020. Although California was not the first state to ban chlorpyrifos, other states have since followed suit, and in 2021 a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to cancel all uses of chlorpyrifos on food crops.
More recently, California has released a proposed rule to increase restrictions on the use of 1,3- dichloropropene (“1,3-D”). The pesticide 1,3-D is used to target various soil-borne pests, such as insects and nematodes. It is a fumigant that is usually injected directly into the soil or applied through drip irrigation, and is commonly applied prior to the planting of various crops including almond trees, raspberries, and grape vines. The proposed regulation released by DPR would add a number of new restrictions to use of 1,3-D. Those restrictions include: the use of “totally impermeable film tarpaulins” or comparable mitigation measures, such as deeper soil injections; increasing the buffer zone between applications of 1,3-D and occupied buildings; limiting the allowed methods of application of 1,3-D; and imposing additional restrictions on applications that take place between November and February when weather conditions can cause higher concentrations of 1,3-D to linger in the air following application.
In a press release, DPR stated that the proposed regulations were intended to address “both potential cancer and acute health risks to non-occupation and residential bystanders from 1,3-D use[.]” DPR also noted that these were the first in a series of regulations meant to restrict the use of 1,3-D. Additional regulations that would address the risks to agricultural workers from 1,3-D exposure are currently being drafted. The comment period for the 1,3-D regulations proposed by DPR closed on January 18, 2023.
At the moment, it seems likely that California will continue to pursue efforts to restrict the use of pesticides and increase the use of SPM practices. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, California is the largest agricultural producer in the United States. While in the short term pesticide restrictions in California are likely to have the greatest impact on the agricultural industry within the state itself, in the long term it is possible that other states could follow similar trends.
To read the SPM Roadmap, click here.
To read the proposed regulations restricting use of 1,3-D, click here.
For more National Agricultural Law Center resources on pesticides, click here.