John S. Gless

John S. Gless is a third-generation citrus farmer in Kern and Riverside counties.

When it comes to pesticides, the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is caving into political pressure from activists who have never farmed a day in their lives. These groups are fond of attacking “corporate agriculture,” but provide nothing more than simplistic, kneejerk opposition to any and all pesticides.

This is especially discouraging to countless California farmers like me who, unlike our critics, are in touch with the land and nature on a daily basis. What these activists fail to understand is that farmers are the original environmentalists. It defies commonsense that we would harm our own families, workers, and communities. It is incredulous that as farmers we are accused of poisoning those who buy our produce.

But that is the accusation being made by activists who seek to ban chlorpyrifos, which is an essential and safe tool for combating pests like Red Scale (CRS) - an armored scale insect and deadly pest of many crops – and Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which can carry the deadly and incurable plant disease Huanglongbing (HLB) threatening our State’s citrus trees.

Chlorpyrifos is a necessary tool used in conjunction with beneficial insects to prevent our crops from being diseased and killed. Without it, many crops will be destroyed leaving Californians with less available locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Prices will increase and more will be imported from other countries, where crops are grown using chemicals and pesticides we banned 10, 15 and 20 years ago.

Without chlorpyrifos, pests like Red Scale will continue to plague California farmers and make our crops unmarketable – would you buy fruits damaged by pests and disease?

When it comes to HLB, we need every effective tool in our toolbox to protect California’s iconic citrus industry and the thousands of citrus trees we all enjoy in our backyards. California produces 80 percent of the Nation’s fresh citrus. If we can’t grow citrus in California, where will we source our fresh grapefruit, lemons and mandarins?

It would be one thing if there were any legitimate danger to the public. But that is simply not the case. Consider: The irrational concerns about chlorpyrifos are rooted in an old study that does not meet the scientific standards required for pesticide registratrion and has never been provided to the EPA. In fact, other legitimate scientific studies have repeatedly discredited this study. Most recently, a comprehensive review by the Australian national government determined that “Following a comprehensive assessment of these new studies, it was concluded that there is no evidence to indicate potential neurodevelopment effects reported in some studies . . .”

Using new and more credible science, the Environmental Protection Agency revised its risk assessment and confirmed that there is no causal link between chlorpyrifos and health problems; Based on safety assurances, chlorpyrifos has been approved for use in more than 100 countries around the globe to protect more than 50 different crops; California has the most restrictive environmental regulations in the world and existing safety limits already ensure safe use of chlorpyrifos; Without chlorpyrifos, our nation’s food supply is jeopardized.

DPR is setting a dangerous precedent by ignoring the overwhelming body of scientific evidence and pandering to activist demands. Chlorpyrifos is the target today and if the activists are successful, what will the next target be? 

The citrus industry is critical for our state and nation. Many countries won’t accept our exported crops if we cannot assure they are free of pests and disease. If DPR is going to take away our last line of defense against fighting deadly citrus pests and diseases, farmers like me are doomed.

Playing this scenario out to its logical conclusion, California will be a land of people who say they want locally grown food, but will be forced to import it. When future recessions hit the state’s economy, agriculture will no longer be there to keep the state afloat as it has done for decades.

And for what? DPR shouldn’t be playing politics with our food supply and the livelihoods of hardworking farmers who care about the environment and their communities.

John S. Gless is a third-generation citrus farmer in Kern and Riverside counties.