For Immediate Release, October 18, 2021

Contact:

Nan Wishner, California Environmental Health Initiative, (707) 882-1944, nan@cal-ehi.org
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466, jevans@biologicaldiversity.org
Rika Gopinath, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, (415) 297-8779
Bill Allayaud, Environmental Working Group, (916) 601-9280, bill@ewg.org

Court of Appeal Rejects California’s Blanket Approval of Pesticide Spraying

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— In a major victory for health and environmental groups, California’s Court of Appeal has ruled that a statewide pesticide-spraying program violates the law by failing to study and minimize the threats from pesticides and to properly inform the public about the risks of spraying.

“This ruling sends an important message to the Department of Food and Agriculture to make protecting the health of our communities and food supply the top priority by joining the transition to sustainable pest-management practices,” said Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.

The ruling points to numerous instances where the department evaded its responsibility to analyze and disclose the health and environmental harms of the more than 75 pesticides that the agency proposed to use statewide into the indefinite future. The court decision also highlighted that the proposal was made largely without public notice and without evaluating local impacts or allowing opportunity for affected communities to opt out.

In the ruling, released on Friday, the Sacramento Appeals Court criticized the California Department of Food and Agriculture for failing to assess and reduce the damage that pesticide spraying does to bees, other pollinators and waterbodies; for evading its responsibility to inform the public when the department decides to apply pesticides; and for failing to consider the risks of its spray program in different areas of California’s widely varying geography.

“The court affirmed Californians have the right to know when dangerous pesticides are sprayed in their communities and what the risks are to people and to pollinators crucial to our food supply,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The court said that the California agency under-represented the harms of its pesticide program by hiding the full effects on water quality. The agency also understated both the amounts of pesticides used in the state, including other pesticide programs, and the cumulative danger of adding to the more than 150 million pounds of pesticides already being used in California each year.

“The state can’t just give itself a blank check to spray people’s yards, exposing children and pets to a range of pesticides that can cause serious long-term problems for children, including cancer, asthma and IQ loss,” said Rika Gopinath, co-chair of MOMS Advocating Sustainability.

The court also emphasized that both public notices of the agency’s decisions to apply pesticides and site-specific analysis of the environmental threats of pesticides are required.

“The court was right to rule against the Department of Food and Agriculture’s outrageous effort to hide from the public where toxic pesticides are being sprayed and to downplay the risks these chemicals pose to pollinators, the environment and the health of those who live near farm fields,” said Bill Allayaud, California director of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “It is our hope the department accepts the court’s ruling and joins the state’s movement toward sustainable pest management, represented by the governor’s recently released Sustainable Agriculture budget initiative and the state Department of Pesticide Registration’s Sustainable Pest Management Work Group.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s statewide “pest management” program that was the subject of this case used, on private residential property, public property and agricultural and wild lands, pesticides known to cause cancer and birth defects and to be highly toxic to bees, butterflies, fish and birds. Those pesticides included:

The suit was brought by the City of Berkeley and 11 public-health, conservation and food-safety organizations: the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group, California Environmental Health Initiative, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Pesticide Reform and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, along with Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.