Broad-Spectrum Pesticide Use Declines by 66%

WATSONVILLE, Calif. During the past decade, California's conventional fruit and vegetable growers cut their usage of broad-based, highly regulated chemical pesticides by 66%, and have been transitioning to more targeted pest and disease controlled options, including some methods approved for the production of organic foods, according to a recent report published by the Alliance for Food and Farming.

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — During the past decade, California's conventional fruit and vegetable growers cut their usage of broad-based, highly regulated chemical pesticides by 66%, and have been transitioning to more targeted pest and disease controlled options, including some methods approved for the production of organic foods, according to a recent report published by the Alliance for Food and Farming.

Specifically, “Pesticide Use Trends in California Agriculture” cites data from California's Department of Pesticide Regulation, which indicates that usage of Category I, Category II and Category III organophosphate and carbamate classes of insecticides declined from 9.6 million pounds in 1998 to 3.3 million pounds in 2009. Meanwhile, sulfur and mineral oil — both approved for use on organically-grown crops — became the number one and number three most-used pesticides in the state in 2009, with 42.3 million pounds and 11.6 million pounds applied to the state's crops, respectively.

As a result, “the older, more highly regulated pesticides analyzed in this report represent just 2% of all pesticides [currently] applied in the state,” the report notes.

Organophosphate and carbamate pesticides are broadly toxic to all insects, killing both insects that are harmful to crops, such as aphids, and beneficial insects such lady bugs, which are natural predators of aphids.

These pesticides were widely used from the 1960s through the 1990s, the report notes. Since then, there has been a trend toward the development of more targeted pesticides, which tend to have lower human toxicity, and toward Integrated Pest Management, which combines limited pesticide use with techniques including the introduction of predatory insects and the use of mechanical controls such as traps, physical barriers and tillage.

However, availability of these older compounds is still necessary to control severe outbreaks, to address infestations of insecticide-resistant pests and sometimes, to address infestations of non-native, exotic pests that have made their way into the state, the report argues.

Consumer concerns regarding pesticide use have been on the rise, driven largely by the efforts of consumer advocacy organizations such as the Environmental Working Group. EWG's annual “Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce” and the guide's “Dirty Dozen” list, in particular, have received a great deal of attention in the consumer media, and could have a negative impact on consumer consumption of all fresh fruits and vegetables.

Industry groups including the Alliance for Food and Farming have recently ramped up efforts to combat these concerns and correct what they view as misconceptions regarding conventional fruit and vegetable production.