Posts Tagged 'biodiversity-based farming system'

Our Vision for Sustainable Pest Management – Part 3: Incentivize regenerative organic and ban disruptive chemical pesticides

by Ron Whitehurst, PCA and co-owner Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc.

“Organic” has different meanings, but the particular meaning that is quite valuable for making state policies is its meaning as “the USDA Organic Label” because it is working to help consumers support the farmers who have moved away from chemical input-based farming. From a farmer’s perspective organic 

The term “regenerative agriculture” also has varied meanings. “Regenerative” is an important term, because it is becoming increasingly recognized to have greater potential for carbon farming and carbon credits that are not as strong a focus in practices required for organic certification. The U. S. House Agriculture Committee recently held a hearing on “Soil Health Practices and Programs that Support Regenerative Agriculture”. “Regenerative organic” was the term they used to describe farming systems that sequester more carbon. There was agreement during the hearing that ‘standards’ for regenerative beyond those developed for the Regenerative Organic Certification label are not necessary. There are many ways to achieve the performance and economic outcomes beyond being organic that are recognizable and highly meaningful for farmers. The consensus advice among those farmers and their consultants walking this road is to just get started and to keep the metrics focused on what soil, leaf and sap analysis shows the crop needs to build soil microbiology and optimum plant health. The baseline is little or no toxic chemical or artificial nitrogen inputs.

“Biodiversity-based” is another useful term to describe a farming system that is getting off of disruptive pesticides. It is used by the preeminent French agricultural research team at INRA, because it is a descriptive rounding out of the concept of a continuum framework for change. The INRA framework and terms are descriptive without making value judgments, with chemical input-based farming systems at one end of the continuum and biodiversity-based at the other end. Biological input-based systems are the ones in-between.

The INRA farming system framework is useful for those reasons, but we also still need to refer to organic and regenerative agriculture if we are serious about getting off of chemical pesticides because organic is how the market supports farmers, and it is measurable and growing, despite red tape, costs, and sometimes frustrating arbitrary standards in the National Organic Program. Regenerative is the term farmers are using to describe the systems changes that are working well for them to transition away from chemical inputs. Finally, a movement is emerging that is being called “regenerative organic” where the economics are favorable and the resilience value is vital. 

Camarillo organic farmer Phil McGrath of McGrath Family of Farmers and his biodiverse habitat border planting.

Transition to organic must be incentivized to scale pesticide use reduction. Public kitchens should be required to spend a gradually increasing part of their budgets on products labeled organic that are grown locally. It is smart to make the most of the developed infrastructure for certifying and inspecting and continuous review of the standards for eliminating use of synthetic pesticides. California’s newly enacted goal of net carbon neutrality by 2045 is going to prioritize investment in organic farms to make more farms sequester more carbon faster. Such farms experience fewer pest problems. The future is bright for achieving ambitious goals, because it is more profitable when farmers learn to grow healthy soils that grow healthy plants that minimize pests.  In a future article we will share more of the science behind that.

The state should incentivize farmers to transition including paying organic fees. Subsidizing the costs to be certified organic is a no-brainer. County jurisdictions can also support local organic farmers. A 2016 survey showed that in counties characterized as an “organic hotspot” the median household income was $2,000 higher and the poverty rate was 1.35% lower (Jaenicke, 2016). Counties may offer favored tax treatment, help with Land Conservation Act contracts, and earn income from carbon farming accreditation. 

Some organic farmers can meet the minimum standards, but are not building the healthiest soil or producing the healthiest plants that resist pests. The standards and inspections do not go deep enough to ensure systemic changes that are considered regenerative or biodiversity-based. The biological inputs allowed in organic can be costly and disruptive to biodiversity and biological control. Yet, organic certification of acreage is a ready benchmark, because it says that the farmer is moving toward a farming system that serves the state’s goals.  Not only should we use the metric of “percent of farm acreage in organic” to measure progress, we should also incentivize farmers to become certified in ANY comparable label, e.g.  Real Organic Project, Regenerative Organic Certification, and the Demeter Biodynamic Certification. Consumers keep learning how and why to support the more resilient biodiversity-based farms that protect people and biodiversity. 

Our goal can be that organic acreage reaches 30% of all California farmland by 2030 from 4% last year, and to 80% by 2040. 

Meanwhile, what do we do with all these toxic pesticides? First, we should develop and promulgate real SPM alternatives and enforce laws that require the consideration of alternatives. Agriculture Commissions provide limited transparency and consistency about compliance with state law to consider alternatives before permitting use of Danger and Warning signal word registered materials. 

Create a Community Support Fund to provide direct protections from Danger and Warning signal word registered pesticides. This includes buffer zones, indoor home air purifiers/filters, tarping of all fumigations, personal protective equipment and other actions that minimize synthetic pesticide exposure for people nearby. There is additionally an urgent need for cancer cluster studies and other exposure programs to identify and help communities burdened with chronic health impacts. Decisions on how the fund is spent are the prerogative of those most impacted by pesticide use. 

Notify interested people of intent to use pesticides via texts or emails at least 72 hours before site-specific intent to use all Danger and Warning signal word pesticides (not just Restricted Materials). A notification program should be done for all products with potential acute or chronic risk to people on and near the site. Access must be available to those not living nearby, e.g. consultants and migrant laborers who need to know when toxic chemicals are planned before traveling to a farm.

Ban neonics. They were supposedly proven to have very low mammalian toxicity, but with time we’ve found that neonics are associated with damage to nerve cells and developmental and reproductive problems, including congenital heart and brain defects in which a large part of the skull is absent along with the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. There are also associations with autism and a disorder involving both memory loss and finger tremor. It is ironic that the macho act of spraying pesticides to kill and dominate pests results in effeminized male offspring. Touted as low-risk because users didn’t die immediately and the disastrous effects on pollinators were buried and suppressed through the influence of manufacturers. The EPA has been captured. Harm to reproductive organs was not studied and the other findings have not been taken seriously. [Omidashk 2022]

Ban glyphosate. FDA scientists determined in 1984 that this active ingredient in herbicides like Roundup is a human carcinogen, but there were internal EPA disagreements about the significance of the finding.  A 2001 study again showed malignant lymphoma in mice exposed to glyphosate. A follow-up study concluded glyphosate exposure can result in liver and kidney damage. A literature review in 2015 showed birth defects, tumors and liver damage at doses below the dose that industry tests deemed safe.  Other animal studies show endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental damage, including damage to sperm, damage to DNA, and neurotoxicity. [Robinson, 2018] 

Diagram of different negative effects of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. Formulated herbicides with glyphosate are 10 to 100 times more toxic than glyphosate,
depending on target species.

Ban pesticides whose toxicity tests have been determined to have been falsified. The toxicity studies on glyphosate and Roundup have been shown in public records requests from EPA to have been falsified, likewise the studies of Chlorpyrifos effects on pollinators that finally led to California banning it. What other tests were manipulated to pass safety tests? The harmful physiological effects of paraquat and rotenone are undisputed, but the epidemiological studies for relationship to Parkinson’s Disease and cardiac disease are mixed. Is the data from necessary two-year animal studies trustworthy? At least 85 pesticides have been banned in China, Brazil, or the European Union that were still used in the U.S. in 2016 and that number has almost certainly increased. 

Ban pesticide formulations that have not been the subject of long-term safety studies. There is strong evidence that adjuvants contained in pesticide formulations can be highly toxic compared to the active ingredient alone. The formulation of  herbicides containing glyphosate have never been the subject of long-term safety studies.The actual product that we are exposed to must be tested, otherwise all safety claims are bogus. [Cox and Zeiss 2022]

Ban all pesticides that make people sick. Consider people who don’t have significant input into the decision about whether to register the pesticide. Farmers put toxins into the environment, the commons, that cause their neighbors harm, using a license from the state.  Financial considerations have been more important to DPR than protecting public health. Or as Will Rogers, Cherokee and cowboy humorist, said, “we have the best government that money can buy.”

Decrease use of and phase out pesticides that may contribute to cumulative effects, gut microbiome disruption, and Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) in which the nervous system reacts in a wide array of symptoms after low-level chemical exposures. Dr. Claudia Miller professor emerita at the University of Texas San Antonio raises connections to a wide range of public health diseases in numerous peer-reviewed publications, and the professionally acclaimed book, Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes reporting on the failure of the regulatory system to fully evaluate and control for the range of adverse effects of pesticides and complexity of their interactions. 

Eliminate all toxic chemical pesticides by 2040 leaving only OMRI-approved products with no exceptions for emergency use for longer than three years. It took decades to finally get rid of methyl bromide after it was banned. 

In conclusion, banning toxic pesticides is easy when we are achieving the economic and resilience benefits of transition to regenerative organic agriculture and biodiversity-based farming systems.  Citizens of California are asking the state for relief from harm. Do not register toxic, hazardous, pesticides that make people sick and cause reproductive harm. Include actions to protect communities, particularly when we are just beginning to meet long-range reduction targets. Our system of evaluating toxicity and negative effects of pesticides is flawed. Particularly if we know these pesticides are causing harm, then the time to ban them is immediately. If the Roadmap aims for a 90% reduction in residues in soil, we need to start now, as the pesticide half-life must be taken into account, with some more persistent than others.  


Cox, Caroline and Michael Zeiss. “Health, Pesticide Adjuvants, and Inert Ingredients: California Case Study Illustrates Need for Data Access”. Environmental Health Perspectives, 130:8, Aug 2022.

Delta Institute and Earth Economics (2017). “Valuing the Ecosystem Service Benefits from Regenerative Agriculture Practices–Farmland LP 2017 Impact Report”.

Jaenicke, E. Penn State Ag Economist. (2016) U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies prepared for Organic Trade Association

Omidakhsh, Negar, Julia E. Heck, Myles Cockburn, Chenxiao Ling, Jerome M. Hershman, and Avital Harari, “Thyroid Cancer and Pesticide Use in a Central California Agricultural Area: A Case Control Study”, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2022, XX, 1–9

Robinson, C., Antoniou, M., and Fagan, J. GMO Myths and Truths, 2018. Pp 149-162.



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