Posts Tagged 'pesticides'

Our Vision for Successful SPM: Part 8 Pest Management Myths and Truths

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

MYTH: “Chemical farming is based on sound science.”

TRUTH: The science that backs chemical fertilizer and pesticide use is largely “tobacco science”. It took 50 years from the time that tobacco was shown to cause cancer to get a label on a pack of cigarettes that said that smoking was linked to cancer. The tobacco industry paid scientists to do studies that “showed” that using tobacco did not cause health problems. Pesticide companies pay scientists to do studies that “show” that pesticides work and are needed.

Beware of the public-private partnership! Our tax dollars build public universities; but since we, as a society, support little pure research inquiring about biological control entomology, professors are forced to secure private money from pesticide companies to do research and trials on pesticides. Furthermore, peer review is not the sole measure of sound science. Unsound and biased study designs are often hard to detect. Peer reviewers can be, knowingly and unknowingly, compromised by not wanting to act against vested interests that could damage their careers. 

A common distortion resulting from study designs is the choice of the type of farming system used for trial plots. Chemical pesticides are trialed on farms where the plants attract pests that have been or are out of control. If the pesticide was trialed on farms with healthy plants where pests and beneficials were in balance, reduction in the pest density would not be statistically significant, and there would be no benefit over the untreated check, and no point in doing that study. It is easy to design a study to prove that a pesticide treatment killed significant numbers of pests compared to plots which received no treatment. This is beyond unsound–it is manipulated science. And yet there are peers who do not question this type of study design.

Peer reviewers can be, knowingly and unknowingly, compromised by not wanting to act against vested interests that could damage their careers. 

MYTH: “There is no evidence that healthy plants do not attract pests and disease.” 

TRUTH: There is an abundance of repeated observations that healthy plants are not subject to pests and diseases. Repeated observations are at least as valid scientifically as controlled variable peer-reviewed comparison studies. Those who make such repeated observations discuss them widely on webinars, but their observations will not be found in peer-reviewed journals and they are rarely invited to present at academic conferences. 

Scientists who want to study biological input-based agriculture, biological control and agroecology are excluded from funding and staff and can’t get their work published due to difficulty finding peers willing to review their papers. Everything they have done or want to do is effectively censored. They try to find funding from NGOs and unlikely sources. They may collaborate with a nearby hospital for the privilege of using their lab equipment. They may establish their own labs and sell services and possibly field trial contracts with pesticide companies and/or the EPA to support their own research. The funding pipeline from pesticide companies can even distort office relationships to the extent that those who refuse chemical pesticide and fertilizer funding are marginalized socially. Manipulated science is suspected in much chemical farming research while truth-seeking science regarding biological-input and biodiversity-based alternatives is suppressed. Sadly, the careers of those interested in honest research are negatively affected, or they are driven out of research institutions to be free to pursue such study and tell the truth. [Verhaaq, 2009]

MYTH: “Better living through chemistry; we can improve on how nature works.”

TRUTH: We live in a world of relationships. We are not disinterested, un-affected bystanders observing technology and marketing. Science tries to be objective as a means to a socially-accepted basis of truth. Adding toxins to our environment harms those beings with which we are in relationship: microbes that provide fertility in our soil, essential microbes in our gut, insects that pollinate our fruit, birds that eat pest caterpillars, lizards that eat ants, our children that fill us with joy, grandparents that share their wisdom.

“Technology” supporting nature is essential, but what most people understand as proprietary technology is not what it is cracked up to be. There are other ways of knowing and being in relationships. We must listen when those other ways contradict what “chemistry and technology” are saying. New federal policy requires that Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) and internal methods of validating knowledge must be respected and plan programs that work with, not against, nature.

Adding toxins to our environment harms those beings with which we are in relationship…

MYTH: “A small amount of toxin in a large volume or area is diluted to have negligible negative effects, aka dilution is the solution to pollution.”

TRUTH: Fat soluble pesticides are biomagnified so that small amounts of toxin in an area can bio-accumulate. Insects feed on the toxin, and then it builds to toxic levels in the bodies of birds, bats and amphibians. Through the phenomenon of biomagnification, whale blubber and human breasts and prostate glands all become destinations for fat-soluble organochlorine pesticides in the food web. 

MYTH: “Ingenuity and innovation will yield new technological solutions to overcome problems of pesticide resistance, risks and residues.”

TRUTH: The only way to perpetuate funding for research is to manifest this myth that more study will yield a better patented product input solution. Because natural enemies and agroecological knowledge are not patentable, no vested interest has any incentive to spend money to fund such research. 

MYTH: “Farm Advisors help farmers consider alternatives to toxic inputs.”

TRUTH: The studies and trials paid for by pesticide companies become the basis for the recommendations included in the Guidelines by the UCIPM program and by the University of California Cooperative Extension. If a Farm Advisor wants to help a farmer consider alternatives, he or she must reach outside of what is found in University publications. There have been individual Farm Advisors over the decades who have made and disseminated their own useful observations about non-toxic alternatives, but that has not been the rule and some actively push toxic methods and marginalize biological methods at farmer meetings. For example, at a presentation about using Trichogramma to help control navel orangeworm, a UC Farm Advisor closed the meeting telling over 200 farmers that the pest would develop resistance to the Trichogramma wasps. 

The University of California and UC Cooperative Extension have long largely functioned as marketing arms of the pesticide and fertilizer industry with some wonderful exceptions. Test this yourself. Ask an Extension agent how to control a particular pest and observe. Chances are quite high that he/she will go to the UC-IPM Guideline and relay to you the chemical pesticides effective for that pest. Most agents need to be prompted to list the other IPM approaches for controlling the pest. 

Ask an Extension agent how to control a particular pest and observe. Chances are quite high that he/she will go to the UC-IPM Guideline and relay to you the chemical pesticides effective for that pest. 

MYTH: “Pesticides approved for use in California go through the most thorough, scientifically-based analysis and review in the world.”

TRUTH: Europe has much more strict hazard-based vs risk-based evaluation. Europe employs the precautionary principle. Evidence suggests and some Public Records Requests have revealed clearly that the US-EPA registration process is capable of and has perpetrated well-practiced blind acceptance of manipulated study designs and data (i.e. cutting off an animal toxicity study before tumors develop, selective inclusion of data, and/or excluding data showing harm by questioning the health of the control animals, etc.) to enable/legitimize pesticide manufacturers to pollute our shared public commons.

Additionally, because of their smaller size and accelerated metabolism, children are about 10 times more sensitive to pesticides than adults. But the intent of the registration process prioritizes getting toxic products on the market rather than protecting public health. Claiming that pesticides currently on the market are extensively tested is a false statement. 

MYTH: “Pesticide products are thoroughly tested for safety.”

TRUTH: Manufacturers submit required safety test data on the active ingredient in the product, but not on the adjuvants or on the formulated product as it is sold. The toxicity of the product on the shelf was not tested for the regulatory process. However, formulated pesticides are 10 to 100 times more toxic depending on the particular target organism. To accommodate this fact, toxic levels should be 1/100th of the published level. 

The current “safety” regime is not working. IF the intent is to prevent harm from proper use of pesticides, neighbors of farmers using toxic pesticides (according to label instructions) shouldn’t get sick, have a degraded experience of life, get cancer, and/or die. But the experience is that farmers that use toxic pesticides and their neighbors get sick. Globally, an estimated 44 percent of farmers, farmworkers, and pesticide applicators experience at least one incident of acute pesticide poisoning on the job every year, and 11,000 die annually from accidental pesticide poisoning. [Boedeker, 2020]

If the intent is to allow a certain percentage of citizens to get sick to enable pesticide companies to make a profit, that is neither acceptable nor ethical. Again, evidence shows that the registration process is merely a tangle of mental gymnastics designed to enable/legitimize pesticide manufacturers to pollute our shared public commons with impunity.

The toxicity of the product on the shelf was not tested for the regulatory process. However, formulated pesticides are 10 to 100 times more toxic depending on the particular target organism. 

MYTH: “These ingredients that are evaluated and registered by US-EPA go through over three hundred required human health and environmental safety studies.”

TRUTH: Let’s look at the case of Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories (IBT Labs) faking data for the toxicity of Roundup. The studies were never replicated, so Roundup has remained on the market for 45 years without valid toxicity studies [GMO Myths and Truths, 2014]. The much touted “science” is done by or for the pesticide registrant, muddied by a conflict of interest. This is science in service of the profit motive. If the study design is biased or lacking and stringent data handling procedures are not ensured, no amount of peer review of a fraudulent study can transform the results into sound science. 

Instead, the risk analysis amounts to an “acceptable” number of cancers or birth defects per 100,000 from using the product in a certain way. The individuals that put their bodies on the line with exposure to the pesticide, most often unknowingly because they trust that the government regulations protect them, do not have significant input into that decision. What is an “acceptable” number of cancers? In contrast to what? And to whom?

All the crops in CA can be grown organically without synthetic toxic pesticides, using natural pesticides which have zero risk of causing cancer. That is one of a number of reasons why the organic label must be utilized as the metric for setting transition goals away from toxic pesticides.

MYTH: “In a standard risk vs benefit analysis, any hazard from using a pesticide is mitigated (made OK) by restrictions on the label.”

TRUTH: A risk/benefit analysis assumes that there is a valued benefit to some entities from using the pesticide. Who benefits? The prevailing narrative is that the farmer benefits from using the pesticide to protect the crop; however, there are non-toxic alternatives for that pesticide. Additionally, using strong chemical pesticides disrupts biological control on organic and regenerative farms where pests are managed using cultural or mechanical methods and (soft) bio-pesticides where necessary.  Introducing a toxin therefore provides no benefit to the people involved, whether they be farmers, farm workers, or the neighbors living and working nearby. There are likewise negative impacts from introducing a toxin into their surrounding environment. 

There are financial benefits for the pesticide manufacturer, distributor, and salesperson from selling the pesticide, which are often justified as beneficial to the economy. So the farm worker is required to risk cancer for the benefit of the “economy”, meaning the pesticide industry sector. Is this a trade off that you would accept?

MYTH: “Despite the US-EPA registration process, products entering California undergo an independent second comprehensive evaluation by DPR scientists before being registered for use. DPR also requires additional “California only” studies before registration reviews are complete. This process is very painstaking and slow (taking 5-7 years) because DPR wants to be sure the new product has some level of efficacy and can be safely brought to market in California.”

TRUTH: Based on what has been reported by retired EPA scientists and discovered in Public Record requests, most of the studies submitted to the US-EPA for review could be flawed. There is enough evidence to conclude that none can be trusted without a fresh review looking for flaws, biases, and/or high-level US-EPA administrative intercession on behalf of pesticide manufacturers overruling the recommendations of rank and file scientists. The same studies are sent from the US EPA to the CA EPA. The conflict of interest resulting in flaws and biases in required toxicity studies moves unchanged from the federal to the state regulators. 

The slowness of CA EPA to review such new products is apparently not because of the extra care taken in the review. There is at least an appearance that the review process is being overseen by individuals who are influenced by powerful pesticide companies. In a typical “good ol’ boy ” culture, decisions are based on the belief that pesticides are necessary “tools” to grow our food. Meanwhile DPR accepts the risks associated with registering new pesticides, and farms continue to be sacrifice zones, and farmworkers disposable pawns in the registration game. 

CA EPA could streamline the process for review of new and biorational pesticides, but assessments need to be based on hazard and not risk. 

The conflict of interest resulting in flaws and biases in required toxicity studies moves unchanged from the federal to the state regulators. 

MYTH: “Additional label restrictions on products protect public safety, like Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP), and Agricultural Commissioners have discretion to require even more restrictions when conditions in their counties may require them. In addition, Agricultural Commissions must be given a Notice of Intent (NOI) prior to an application of a RUP based on risk parameters established through the product’s registered label and DPR’s registration requirements.”

TRUTH: No amount of pseudo religious legal ceremony or certified papers will change the fact that using toxic pesticides is an aggressive act. The non-aggression principle is a good approach to interacting with others. Putting a toxin into the commons (my space) that has the potential to make one sick, poison livestock, poison wildlife (food for some), and pollute resources is an aggressive act. This is done without the consent of those affected. 

MYTH: “Pesticides are safe when used according to label directions.”

TRUTH: We hear continuing reports from farmworkers who are sickened by exposure to pesticides in the fields where they work. Farmworkers who are sickened by exposure to pesticides in the fields have many reasons for hesitating to ask questions or express a grievance. Scientific reports show low sperm counts, birth defects, fertility problems, from neonics (endocrine disruptors) which are considered low risk pesticides. There are also reports that safety training is superficial and does not adequately explain the risks if someone does not follow the label instructions. There is no information on the label about cumulative risks and synergistic effects and whether the formulation is more risky than the active ingredient.

Public health professionals around the world talk about One Health, the combination of ecological, human, social health, and others talk a bit more broadly about Planetary Health.[Garnier, et. al. 2020]

“Farmworkers who are sickened by exposure to pesticides in the fields have many reasons for hesitating to ask questions or express a grievance.”

MYTH: “American farmers need to feed the world.”

TRUTH: It is true that the climate crisis, supply line disruption, and political unrest point to food shortages and famine. Someone in the world is dying of hunger every four seconds. As a parent I empathize with parents watching a child die for lack of food. But the solution is not shiploads of devitalized GMO corn and dairy milk powders from cows living on GMO feed. Solution: pay for the loss and damage to countries suffering climate impacts who did nothing to cause it, ensuring that it goes into capacity-building for small-holder agroecosystem restoration.

Industrial agriculture to feed 30% of the world’s population is using 80% of the world’s land, water, and fertilizer. Smallholder farmers with less than five hectares of land feed 70% of the world with resources that they regenerate. 

There are effective ways to help these small farmers be successful, such as appropriate trade agreements and political alignments so that farmers in poor nations can compete with internal and external corporate agriculture interests, make land-grabbing and water-grabbing by US-based entities illegal, and invest in restoration of land and small water cycles for resilience to climate impacts. America needs to overhaul every US AID program from food aid that destroys markets for local farmers to Farmer to Farmer that arrogantly exports myths about industrial agriculture efficiency. The world would benefit if American farmers focused on their own soil conservation and crop diversification, including increased perennial cropping and cover cropping for climate and economic resilience. They could even consider welcoming immigrants seeking asylum as neighbors and co-learners in rural resilience strategies.

MYTH: “It will take a long time to turn around a chemical input-based farm.”

Truth: Soil Food Web trained consultants and regenerative agriculture consultants have successfully reversed degraded fields in one season with experienced help. The knowledge and experience in soil and sap analysis works to dramatically reduce fertilizer and pesticide use and tillage. The duration depends on soil type, compaction, weather or climate, and the level of soil degradation.

John Kempf of Advancing Eco Agriculture uses primarily sap analysis to plan foliar nutrient sprays and soil inoculants to ensure healthy plants and a healthy plant microbiome to produce a good crop. Soil Food Web technicians ensure high quality compost is used for side dressing, teas and extracts, determine what functional groups of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes are missing, and suggest appropriate practices and inputs to build life in the soil. 

It often used to take three to five years to repair degraded soil and it still can in some soils, but with skilled, experienced help it now takes less time. It is an existential imperative to start now. We need to sequester carbon in soil and we can reduce pesticide use when plants are healthy and don’t have pests. 

When we get it right we can transform a desolate, degraded landscape into a lush, productive, veritable paradise in a couple years. What do you want for your legacy?

“It is an existential imperative to start now because of the potential for biological carbon sequestration.”

MYTH: PCAs are well trained and licensed to protect the public health.

TRUTH: The words of Robert van den Bosch in 1978 could have been written today:

“The examination and licensing law has been a severe setback to the development of a rational pest-control system in California, because it drapes the pesticide salesman with a mantle of professional respectability and thereby enhances the myth that he offers competent and objective advice on pest-control problems. Now when the salesman flashes his business card to a prospective customer, it bears the impressive title licensed pest control adviser, and this title is backed by a document bearing the seal of the great state of California. The salesmen are so proud of their newly achieved respectability that they have formed an organization, the Council of California Agricultural Pest Control Advisers, to advertise their transition from peddlers to “professionals.” But despite their instant professionalization, they remain salesmen, and rational pest control suffers because of their legally sanctioned camouflage. California’s Agricultural Pest Control Advisory Committee, with its inclusion of chemical company employees and a pest-control operator (spray applicator), fortifies the misconception that pest control and chemical control are essentially synonymous….Thanks to the politics of pest control, the pest-management advisory profession seems destined to decades of mediocrity, and the environment to a continuing biocidal blight.” Van den Bosch (p.96-7) 

“Integrated control is simply rational pest control: the fitting together of information, decision-making criteria, methods, and materials with naturally occurring pest mortality into effective and redeeming pest-management systems.” Van den Bosch (p.151) 

Thanks to the politics of pest control, the pest-management advisory profession seems destined to decades of mediocrity, and the environment to a continuing biocidal blight.” Van den Bosch (p.96-7) 

MYTH: Access to a suite of effective and feasible ‘alternatives’ to high-risk pesticides” is what is most needed to reduce economic risk.

TRUTH: This is the “efficiency/substitution” attempt to stay within a chemical input-based farming system. In chemical farming systems “alternatives” generally refer to chemical pesticides.  However, every crop can be grown in a biodiversity-based farming system that best mitigates every risk. For resiliency we need to move to biodiversity-based or regenerative farming systems. The reduction of risk is primarily in whether the farmer is open to increasing biodiversification. Reliance on cheap pesticides is a major economic risk growers bring on themselves. Greater profitability is achieved when healthy soils yield healthy plants that need few inputs.

MYTH: PCA certification is working, we don’t need to fix it.

TRUTH: Martin Guerena, Sustainable AGriculture Program Specialist, with private non-profit National Center for Appropriate Technology–ATTRA, made these observations about the challenges for Pest Control Advisors: 

Especially with annual vegetable and strawberry growers, Martin Guerena observes that a lot of them would spray regardless of a need.”It was like insurance. And a lot of times it was not needed, yet they sleep better knowing the product has been sprayed, especially about two weeks before harvest, maybe even a week before harvest, just so when they get to harvest there won’t be an issue. It’s twisted. But that’s how it is. And I’m sure just those two factors alone would reduce useless use of pesticides tremendously.”

“The structural issue of PCA sales incentives must be fixed. Incentives to sell chemicals trump good sense.  Scouting needs to become a serious trained occupation, paid for unbiased, high quality information.  Chemical sales consultants should stop masquerading as knowledgeable agronomists.  Making this happen seems both essential and very difficult….The fact that PCAs working for chemical companies work on commission, so the more they sell, they are stimulated or incentivized to sell more chemicals than are actually needed. That is a big political issue.” 

No matter how much training and additional certifications are added, unless the conflict of interest occurring when people receive commissions on pesticide sales is addressed, this critical role in pest management advising for farmers will bias farming toward synthetic pesticide use. Pay PCAs a good flat rate with no commission, and then have them recommend whatever they need to recommend. But with a commission on how many pesticides they sell, of course, the more they sell the more money they are going to make.   

California Code for Pest Control Advisor Regulations must be amended to require (a) Each licensed agricultural pest control adviser and grower, when determining if and when to use a pesticide that requires a permit, shall write up a biological and/or organic treatment methodology for consideration, which would substantially lessen any significant adverse impact on the environment.

Amend Code 6556 to read:  Each recommendation shall include: (e) Certification that written methodology of biological and/or organic treatment measures that would substantially lessen any significant adverse impact on the environment have been shared with the grower (or written by the grower who is also a PCA).  The code must delete “if feasible” because every crop in California can be grown organically.

A standing advisory committee is needed to guide the development and continual improvement of SPM educational curricula, composed primarily of entomology and agroecology instructors at state and community colleges.

Pay PCAs a good flat rate with no commission, and then have them recommend whatever they need to recommend.

MYTH: Transforming agriculture to regenerative will not reverse climate change. The models forecast uncertain capacity to sequester carbon.

TRUTH: This negative prognosis is the result of reductionist framing, that the whole is the sum of the parts. It is ignorant of the emergent properties of complex systems that are more than the sum of their parts. 

We are looking at horribly degraded landscapes. When people colonized California they killed the beavers, cut the trees, overgrazed with cattle, plowed, fertilized and poisoned with pesticides that reduce the capacity of living soil to sequester carbon. Glyphosate herbicides are ubiquitous even in government programs for soil conservation. Never mind that they chelate minerals so they are unavailable to the plants, compromising plant health, reducing their defenses against pests. The landscape we now see will not pull carbon dioxide from the air in any great quantities. We can realize a better future, by transforming our agriculture to intensive horticulture, creating food forests, providing meaningful work, food, clothing, supply medicine, restore small water cycles, buffer weather extremes, and move our economy of scarcity to one of abundance. With directed work we can recreate a paradise on Earth.[Kravcik, 2012]

Cautious estimates of carbon sequestration look at increasing organic matter in the top six inches of soil, the plow share. With perennial agriculture, we can look at increasing organic matter in the top 2 meters of soil, with no practical limit on how much carbon it can hold. Of course we are not looking at a static situation, we are talking about increasing the cycling of carbon, through a living system.

Our landscape has been de-watered. We are causing warming and drought by the way we manage the land. If we increase the latent heat of evaporation by covering the soil and moving to perennial crops, rain will sink into the ground and be available to grow trees which cool the earth, recreating small water cycles.This is the same process as when you get out of the pool and the wind blows and you feel cold as the water evaporates from your skin. When we plant a 100 km2 area (about 40 square miles) with trees, we change the weather. 

The California Air Resources Board unfortunately appears to believe that the available models are all they have on which to base incentivizes for carbon farming. We suggest that time is wasting given that there are people who have the necessary knowledge and experience to speed up the transition to biodiversity-based farming systems characterized by deep roots, high microbial and carbon levels, and reduced pests and pesticides. We need to charge in with ambitious goals within a plan of adaptive management and on-going evaluation.

REFERENCES:

Boedeker, W., Watts, M., Clausing, P. et al. The global distribution of acute unintentional pesticide poisoning: estimations based on a systematic review. BMC Public Health 20, 1875 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09939-0

California Code of Regulations (Title 3. Food and Agriculture) Division 6. Pesticides and Pest Control Operations, Chapter 2. Pesticides, Subchapter 4. Restricted Materials,  Article 3. Permit System

Fagan, J., Antoniou, M., Robinson, C. GMO Myths and Truths–An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods. 2014, EarthOpenSource, 2nd Ed.

Garnier, J., Savic, S., Boriani, E. et al. Helping to heal nature and ourselves through human-rights-based and gender-responsive One Health. One Health Outlook 2, 22 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42522-020-00029-0

Kravcik, M. Water for the Recovery of the Climate – A New Water Paradigm, 2012.

Van den Bosch, R. The Pesticide Conspiracy, 1978. Reprint University of California Press.

Verhaag, Bertram and Verena Schonauer (Directors), Arpad Pusztai, Ignacio Chapela, Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money, 2009 Documentary film 88 min.

Our Vision for Successful SPM – Part 6: New knowledge for pest prevention

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

Our vision for successful Sustainable Pest Management is that UCCE Farm Advisors, farmers, PCAs, CCAs, and field scouts – all farm personnel – effectively monitor pests and biological control in a landscape approach for predicting populations and evaluating interventions appropriate to the farming system. They enhance biological control and eliminate or decrease pest problems below economic injury levels. 

We imagine future training and extension of biological control practices and tools available to everyone who is interested. They learn preventive cultural practices, habitat enhancement, and determination of biological action levels for colonization and/or augmentative release of natural enemies and/or application of biological and National Organic Program (NOP) approved pesticides.

PCAs and farmers can reduce pest problems and be more profitable. PCAs will guide farmers to build biodiversity-based systems, i.e. build soil, grow healthy plants that do not attract pests, build reservoirs of natural enemies and anticipate that pest population densities will stay below pesticide action levels resulting in no need for any pesticides because they do not want to disrupt the biological control. .

SPM EDUCATORS AT THE CENTER OF REGIONAL PLANNING:  All of our entomology professor friends who teach Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) cite the need for better support and communication with the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. PCA’s must get Continuing Education Credits for learning from experts (now largely from the biocontrol industry) what they must know about the centrality of biological control and how it is achieved. 

Ruben Alarcon at CSU Channel Islands said entomology professors at CSUs and community colleges are sometimes brought in as an after-thought. It is usually Farm Advisors and product representatives offering Continuing Education Units (CEUs), not the professors teaching IPM or biological control. The knowledge needed is currently not approved for CEU course content.This must change immediately. 

If entomology professors would be consulted at the start of SPM curriculum development their advice would be to:

  • Include landscape level insect monitoring with a focus on natural enemies of key pests in the farmscape, invertebrate species identification, understanding pests and natural enemies as populations, insect movement (population dynamics), and then the more advanced training on determining pest to beneficial ratios and habitat enhancement for particular beneficials. To reiterate because this is so important, effective monitoring is at the landscape level and includes natural enemies as a prerequisite to biological, cultural and physical interventions.
  • Include protection of non-target animal species, including insectivorous birds, birds of prey, amphibians, fish and predatory mammals.  
  • Include understanding of naturally-occurring biological control and its importance for a healthy ecological system that doesn’t require the use of pesticides. 

RESEARCH AND EXTENSION IS IN DECLINE AND MUST BE ALMOST ENTIRELY REBUILT. While we are seeing a constant influx and threat of invasive species, warmer temperatures and extremes affecting pests and their natural enemies, biological control research is more needed than ever. There is an exponential need to train new biocontrol entomological scientists paid to study what farmers need to know. This is difficult when they depend on pesticide manufacturers for their research funding. 

Dr. Lynn LeBeck, the Executive Director of the Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers observes: 

“Our UC and CDFA biocontrol workforce are currently overextended just providing expertise for ongoing pest problems, but both are involved in “proactive” research initiatives for serious insect pests that are either being intercepted routinely or will be in the near future.  Positions vacant due to recent and pending retirements that are, and have had, biological control duties are not being refilled.”

With the very last few biocontrol entomology professors retiring and not being replaced, a huge priority must be put to rebuild the robust infrastructure for research to support SPM that is California’s legacy from before the influence of chemical pesticides. 

The history of our industry since the 1950’s has been in stark contrast to how it has developed in Europe and British Columbia where Dutch, British, Belgian and Canadian governments and agricultural universities helped their insectaries grow internationally. Most beneficial insects sold in the US are grown in those countries. The small amount of research done is by foreign insectaries in collaboration with their universities. Their business model sometimes puts a higher priority on sales over the multi-pronged approach to help farmers transition away from biological inputs. There can be similar conflicts of interest for biological and chemical input sales people. No Pest Control Advisors should be paid commission for their sales. Inputs of any kind are not in the farmer’s best interest if they don’t need them. There should be incentives for PCAs who sell advice to achieve successful programs with the least amount of products.  

Classical or “introduction” biological control is not given importance commensurate with what it achieved in the last century. It alone can quickly turn new pest invasions into non-pests as California’s state entomologists did effectively from 1907 until 1947 before the well-organized influence of the chemical pesticide industry. When plant-feeding insects arrive without their natural enemies, the most effective first strategy is to go to the native home of the pest and research to effectively reunite the natural enemies with their host insect. Most invasive pests are forgotten within one to four seasons as their natural enemies spread and come into balance.  

Biological input-based systems must be understood as the in-between part of the path from conventional chemicals towards biodiversity-based farming systems. They need help when colonization biocontrol or natural biocontrol is a little slow to build up. Augmentative biological control helps fill gaps apparent when monitoring development and maintenance of a biodiversity-based system. 

The California biocontrol industry has been largely either ignored, actively opposed or faced external competition. Rather than be supported to fill this role in transition away from chemical pesticides, it has survived by overcoming one regulatory, ignorant or corrupt UCCE advice, or market barrier after another. US insectaries have developed our knowledge base with the quiet help of a very few researchers, all of them now retired. Yet, we provide the products and services that work for people who do not want to use toxic pesticides. Worst of all, we must compete with some foreign insectary companies that have questionable sales tactics and product quality.

Our industry’s top product quality leaders and expert trainers have been mostly women developing their businesses in spite of the host of barriers too pervasive too describe here.

In the words of Dr. Lynn LeBeck, our industry association executive director:

“The commercial biocontrol producers and distributors in California (and nationwide) receive inquiries daily about how to use beneficial species in a myriad of cropping systems and sometimes all the data is just not extant for each detailed pest/crop/natural enemy. In addition organic production continues to increase in California, along with sustainable practices in general, but the skyrocketing acreage of a few crops in particular, one crop in particular, will overload resources.” 

Tight regulation and intensive testing of cannabis has resulted in some cannabis growers knowing more about non-toxic pest control than in any other crop. Similarly the horticulturists in zoos, arboreta and casinos who can’t or don’t want to use pesticides indoors have been highly observant and insightful biocontrol practitioners. When chemicals are not an option, because of regulations, risky exposures to people or captive wildlife, or personal preference of a manager, these people acquire the knowledge base to be successful. When chemicals are banned and not an option for anybody, then people in all sectors of agriculture and horticulture can learn and teach others to manage pests in biological input-based systems.

Research is needed in how much of what kind of biodiversity works best. Dr. Annemiek Schilder, Director of the Ventura County University of California Cooperative Extension stresses the importance of biological control for SPM and the need for an entirely new category for continuing education (CE) courses. She explains,

“Within this, there needs to be a focus on understanding ecological principles, interactions and population dynamics of beneficial and pest species, as well as the role of and how to measure farm biodiversity. We need to ask, is all biodiversity good or do we need specific components for a pest/disease-suppressive system?” 

Dr. Headrick has the same questions about how to know how much diversity is advisable. The most appropriate biodiversity may just be adding one new plant species to a system (doubling the number of species). He gives the example in sweet alyssum interplantings in Salinas valley lettuce to attract syrphid flies for aphid control that eliminated use of the worst pesticides in that chemical input-based farming system.

As we wean off from chemicals, Dr. Schilder asks: “There may be a temporary increase in pest pressure before a new balance is reached – how long does that take and how do you know you are going in the right direction? Understanding new action thresholds in all crops and varieties will require a substantial amount of research.” Who will do that?

Dr. Schilder has these additional thoughts about research needs:

“Much more testing and monitoring is needed to accurately assess pesticide burden in food and environment. Also, educating the public on relative pesticide exposure risk in the home or living environment vs. food.”

“There should be more funding for research efficacy trials. For many biological fungicides, data on efficacy on many crops and diseases are limited or lacking. More years of trials may be needed due to  variability due to variable weather conditions. We need additional efforts in finding ways to increase efficacy and reliability of existing materials, for instance with additives or blending products. For instance, from our research, we realized adding Nu-Film P (sticker-extender) helps protect bacteria-based products like Serenade, likely by reducing desiccation and UV-degradation.”

“Research is especially important for soilborne and vector-borne diseases where the vector is widespread and difficult to control. Clean (virus-tested) plants also can play a huge role in preventing diseases, especially viruses and virus-like pathogens. If viruses are absent, some insect vectors may not need the level of control that is required in the presence of viruses (National Clean Plant Network https://www.nationalcleanplantnetwork.org/)”. This will also relate to parasitic plants such as witch’s broom.

“We need research about spray technology–ways to improve coverage and efficacy as well as reduce pesticide burden and drift. Demonstrations are needed for already known technology.”

Biopesticide research, registration and extension is needed to meet rising demand. The EPA recognizes three major classes of biopesticides: Microbial Pesticides, Biochemical Pesticides, and Plant-Incorporated-Protectants (PIPs). Efficacy compares well with chemical pesticides and is safer for farmworkers and neighbors. Being biodegradable and with low volatiles, they do not pollute land, air or water and generally are low risk for beneficial insects and higher organisms and many are approved for use in organic farming. Just like with natural enemies for biological control, education is needed that they exist, that they work, that they do not pose risks as do chemical pesticides, where to get qualified advice, and where to buy them. 

As explained on the Marrone Bio Innovations website,

“Growers will try a new biopesticide product and compare it with their existing pest management programs in demonstration trials. Conducting demonstrations is the best, if not only way to gain adoption. In addition, University Extension researchers will also test pesticide products and provide their recommendations. Therefore, adoption can be faster as more field trials are conducted….In one California survey, growers and PCAs indicated that biopesticide companies should place a heavy emphasis on education in order to establish sustainable use of the product. They indicated that the companies should target specific markets, either by crop, pest or disease. In turn, companies should be very clear about the protection and value being provided to the grower.”

Biopesticides may support biological control but they are NOT biological control. The latter provides potentially more lasting benefits through classical (exploration and colonization) and augmentative biological control (releasing natural enemies to directly reduce pest populations). Biopesticides are important in the middle of the transition continuum–for biological input-based farming systems. There is a great need for proper education to build capacity for more comprehensive monitoring, integration of cultural practices, habitat enhancement, and the use of biocontrol agents and biopesticides that don’t disrupt natural biocontrol. All five of these features of biological input-based and biodiversity-based farming systems require an entirely different knowledge and skill set compared to planting pesticide-coated seeds and spraying or drenching chemicals. Biopesticides are very valuable tools, but biological control is the endgame.

Molecular biology and electromagnetic signals can help explain why biodiversity- based farming systems have few pests. After over 30 scientific papers explaining insect communication, Dr. Phillip Callahan’s discoveries remain outside of the knowledge base for pest management. Dr. Tom Dykstra founder of Dykstra Laboratories Inc. is continuing research showing how bioelectromagnetics explains the influence of electrical signaling on cell communication, growth and plant and animal health. Dr. Dykstra has a specialization in the complex physiological reasons why insects are attracted to dead, dying, or nutritionally poor, i.e. “sick” plants. He has shown measurable results with plant sap or leaf Brix readings reflecting plant nutrient composition, health and pest and disease decline in less than one season to improve soil, crop longevity, nutrient density and flavor, and profitability for producers. 

Illustration by Jan Dietrick inspired by image from Sharma, E., Anand G., & Kapoor, R. (2017). Terpenoids in plant and arbuscular mycorrhiza-reinforced defence against herbivorous insects.

Swiss scientists have also explained the electrical signals stimulated by insects chewing on plants. Wounds increase systemic plant hormone responses that can attract beneficial insects to attack the plant-chewing insect.  (Farmer, et. al. 2020) Another phenomenon in biodiversity-based systems is plant defensive strategies against herbivorous insects from terpenoids and symbiotic associations with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in healthy plants. Fungal hyphal networks in soil serve as electrical conduits facilitating the transfer of defense signals and terpenoids between conspecific and heterospecific plants. Terpenoids increase calcium ions and membrane depolarization causing a protective “priming memory” response lasting up to five days.(Sharma et. al. 2017). This is probably the tip of the iceberg in understanding why it is common that biodiversity-based farming systems are often pest-free and disease-free. We don’t have to have any more data than this to see how to design a Roadmap to achieve SPM goals.

Respect must be paid to all ways of knowing and learning for all SPM farm personnel. How can PCAs trained and experienced in determining chemical action levels learn new knowledge and skills to consider more and different variables when determining biological action levels? Then, also, how do PCAs help farmer clients see new options after they have been inundated by decades of pesticide propaganda? 

INRAE, the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, is the number two agricultural institute in the world. It has evaluated various learning support tools including games that link principles and actions toward biodiversity-based farming to teach decision-making in situations of uncertainty associated with biodiversity-based farming systems. DPR and CDFA should welcome INRAE’s ideas and consultants in the development of curricula to support SPM.

A group training board game for learning decision-making about conservation ecology land management.

Research will help most current farmers to be more efficient and less polluting with agricultural chemicals being used at the chemical input-based part of the transition continuum. However, as learning and change take place, the need will shift to user-friendly decision-support systems which integrate up-to-date scientific knowledge for more biological inputs and biodiversity-based systems. 

Researchers at INRAE see the need for new teaching methodologies including game-based learning tools. The sociological factors are also critical. The Community Alliance for Family Farmers had an outstanding model in the 1990’s called “Lighthouse Farmer Network” that created a lively space for a monthly breakfast or lunch with a short presentation and give and take discussion with successful practitioners trying new sustainable practices. The participative discussion is much more important than the field day observations. Farmers can see what their neighbors are doing. They need to hear how it was approached and what happened. Certainly university experts giving talks is the least transformative pedagogy; more so when most of the research is in product trials where biological control is not one of the comparisons and the goal is resistance management comparing chemical, biopesticide, and genetically engineered plants. 

Duru, et. al. address the training needs:

“Developing biodiversity-based farming systems and multiservice landscapes raises questions about how to manage the “transformational” transition from specialized systems and simplified landscapes to well-established diversified ones. During this transition, variability in ecosystem services may increase greatly until slow variables reach states which provide ecosystem services at expected levels and degrees of biophysical resilience and stability. Uncertainties…may increase during this transition.” 

The transformation to increasingly biodiversity-based farming systems, where pest prevention is achieved through cultural management and habitat diversification to enhance natural biological control, requires a massive transformation in the educational and research infrastructure. Farmers and SPM educators are at the center of the work. Investment in farmer-led research must replace a research infrastructure that has been a marketing arm of the pesticide industry. This revival of the knowledge of biological control entomology with research and teaching personnel is vital. Diverse ways of knowing and learning and internal methods of validating knowledge must be respected along with the mainstream science of conservation and protection of biodiversity. 

References:

Callahan, Phillip S. (1965-1975). 36 published papers summarized on Free Library “Electromagnetic communication and olfaction in insects”.

Callahan, Phillip S., 1975. Insect antennae with special reference to the mechanism of scent detection and the evolution of the sensilla. International Journal of Insect Morphology and Embryology, Vol 4, Issue 5,(381-430).

Duru et. al. (2015) How to implement biodiversity-based agriculture to enhance ecosystem services: a review, INRA Science & Impact, Agron, Sustain. Dev. 

Farmer, Edward E, Yong-Qiang Gao, Gioia Lenzoni, Jean-Luc Wolfender and Qian Wu, 2020. Wound- and mechanostimulated electrical signals control hormone responses, New Phytologist: 227(1037-1050)

Sharma, E., Anand G., & Kapoor, R. (2017). Terpenoids in plant and arbuscular mycorrhiza-reinforced defence against herbivorous insects. Annals of Botany, ncw 263.

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 et.al. 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, et.al. 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.  

References

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 https://ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/OTA-HotSpotsWhitePaper-OnlineVersion.pdf

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.

Ron Speaks Truth about Pesticides

It started when we joined with Adam Vega for the founding of the Ventura County Coalition Advocating Pesticide Safety (VC-CAPS) in 2018. Adam introduced us to Californians for Pesticide Reform and we started sitting in on the “Alternatives Call”.  A big opportunity came up when Governor Newsom formed a new group under the Department of Pesticide Regulation called the Sustainable Pest Management Work Group with an assignment for a multi-stakeholder group to develop a framework for moving away from toxic pesticide use.  The group got more acquainted in July during its first field trip to farms in Watsonville.

CA Sustainable Pest Management Work Group visits the Driscoll's Research Farm in Watsonville on July 21, 2021.
SPM Work Group at Driscoll’s Research Farm July 21, 2021.

Ron is challenging the compromises society has made with polluting industries. He is calling for honest science to support rational pest management decisions. There is broad representation in the work group from commodity groups, pesticide manufacturers, and environmental justice leaders fighting to protect farm workers.  Ron is an ally of farm workers, a scientist and licensed professional Pest Control Adviser, whose outlook is that our life support system is failing and we have an existential imperative to change or write off our species.

While some around the table in such discussions believe it’s about ensuring that people follow the pesticide label to be safe, Ron cites the long-standing corruption at the US Environmental Protection Agency that registers products and decides how safe they are. They do that by simply asking pesticide manufacturers to supply the results of their trials to measure effectiveness and toxicity. The companies do the trials or they contract with specialized labs.

It’s becoming apparent that he who pays the piper calls the tune. A number of labs have been caught faking the data. The registration of Roundup (glyphosate) is a good example. Monsanto admitted that the toxicity study was flawed and agreed to repeat it, but never did. Monsanto made a science of how to do bad science. What is the extent of this misrepresentation? How many pesticides should have been put into higher toxicity classes—danger instead of warning or caution? Or should it have never been registered because it is just too toxic?  The evidence is mounting that no pesticide is safe when used according to label directions.  As Ron says, “The EPA needs a sticker or a rubber stamp that says ‘Incompatible with Life’ to stamp on applications based on questionable science.  Major industries that pollute and harm living things with impunity need to be shut down.”

The pesticide labels are one problem. The process of permitting at the field level is also in question. There is no way for farm workers and people on or near farms to know when there will be a spray and what the pesticide is. Farm workers have a right to know even if the label is based on fake safety studies.  VC-CAPS new leader Teresa Gomez organized a meeting with the Ventura County Agriculture Commissioner and deputies last week .  It was a positive discussion about how to protect farm workers and their families in the area around local farms. We were encouraged to propose a pilot project for text notification of sprays.

Source: Amadeo Sumano Sept 24 Oxnard 🌍🌍Essentials (🙌💯💯🍓🍓. Saludo de parte de nuestra comunidad campesinas locales 😊💯.
Source: Amadeo Sumano, Oxnard, CA Sept 24, 2021

We believe that if those who want to use chemicals that could poison people, wildlife, soil microbes, bees, beneficials, bats, butterflies–if they were required to notify workers and neighbors in advance, there would be a lot less unnecessary use of toxic pesticides.  The users of toxic pesticides would be motivated to learn agroecological systems that prevent pests and disease, i.e. cultural practices to grow healthy plants that resist pests, habitat enhancements for natural biological control and beneficial releases when nature is a little too little and a little too late.

All this talk may not get us too far, but it’s good to be at the table.

We Don’t Need GMO Corn

When tiny corn earworm caterpillars start hatching and munching and the farmer sprays with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the little worms ingest some of the Bt bacterial spores. Bt reacts in their guts to make a toxin that eats holes in the gut walls, so they get sick and die, but the risk to animals and people is low. Bt in this form is a natural biological pesticide spray approved for organic crops. It washes off and degrades rapidly. Rincon-Vitova sells dry granular Bt for a backup control against caterpillar pests that get past the predators and parasites.

Corn Pests Can Be Managed Cost Effectively Using Biological Methods

Corn earworm and European cornborer are key pests of corn in different regions. Before big corporate agribusiness and bad farm policies put so many small to medium sized farmers out of business, they used crop rotations and early planting as part of integrated pest management. Much more can be done than has been with using adult suppression and habitat enhancement for predators to set the stage for good biological control. Coleomegila maculata and other predatory beetles and bugs can eat many egg masses before they even hatch. Likewise, green lacewing larvae and other predators contribute to biocontrol of caterpillars.

Patenting Seeds Creates Profit Motive Favoring Unnatural Methods

Big corporations are unlikely to ever own these farming tools. US patent law has not yet been perverted to allow the likes of Monsanto to mess with the genes of beneficial insects and mites, engineering little M’s on their dorsal thoraces. (Some entomologists have undoubtedly dabbled with the genes of predators and parasites, but it’s been easier to persuade farmers to pay the big bucks for GMO seed than GMO beneficials.) Monsanto that owns the seed and the Roundup herbicide figured it was losing potential Roundup profits, so it is now stacking the “Roundup gene” with the “Bt gene” onto the corn genome.

Now, whether they grow corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, or alfalfa hay, farmers can sign a technology use agreement (a contract) to buy a lot more Roundup from their seed company and make their weeds into superweeds (resistant to glyphosate) a lot faster. These are the trends leading to big monocultures of GM crops and superweeds replacing natural cultural and biocontrol strategies, with a loss of the knowledge and skills for biological farming.

Rincon-Vitova Promoting Biocontrol in Corn for Fifty Years

Trichogramma, a micro-wasp that lives on moth eggs, is the foundation of biological systems for growing corn and cotton. It is relatively inexpensive to produce in adequate numbers to prevent most of the moth eggs from becoming caterpillars. My father Everett J. “Deke” Dietrick began mass rearing this egg parasitoid in 1960. “Trichos” can give 70-95% control when used in a biological farming system. That means no repeated blanketing of the farm with Roundup that reduces soil ecology and fertility, and harms the diversity of biocontrol hosts and sources of pollen and nectar for resident natural enemies. Habrobracon hebetor is produced as a second line of defense against caterpillars in Central Asian cotton and the same could be done in corn here. See page 23 of Sacha Greenberg’s resume where he describes leading such a project.

The best way for farmers to have Trichogramma when they need it is to cooperate to support a regional insectary to grow Trichogramma, as well as something like the Bracon wasp or another larval parasitoid to be ready in case Trichogramma and naturally occuring predators don’t clean up the moth eggs and small worms fast enough. The insectary will grow enough so all supporting farms in the region to get the recommended amount, but it is released in the hotspots wherever the moths are laying eggs and the larval parasites where larvae are not coming under biological control. A third line of defense is Bt and other virus based insecticides can be developed or sourced as a last resort on problem areas, like Gemstar or isolates of polyhedrosis virus

Such natural methods have been proven safe and effective for decades. Our customers grow sweet corn with few or no worms and rarely or never even resort to Bt sprays. Bottom line: pests can be cost-effectively managed in corn without genetically engineering the corn plant to be a pesticide and tolerate repeated applications of Roundup to the whole field.

Benefits to Farmers from GE Crops Unsupported

Charles Benbrook’s recent analysis shows more use of herbicide in GM crops. So why are farmers opting for Bt/Roundup Ready corn instead of using safe and effective biological pest control? Why aren’t farmers organizing to have predators and parasitoids and biological materials? Why do many farmers only know about the Bt option promoted with billions of annual profits of Big Biotech? The Union of Concerned Scientists corrected a wrong impression about GM crops offering better yields. The potential for an increase in yield is only 5%.  There are reports of GM crops needing more water and being less drought resistant. This report requires a subscription to ISIS to see comparative photos. There is no yield advantage if that season’s corn borer pressure is so low that the farmer would not have treated for it anyway. Biotech funded research touts higher yields, but common sense says they may be more clever at manipulating study designs than genomes!

You will see negative reports and comments about the papers in the above paragraph. The biotech industry is threatened by this data that shows that biotech crops fail in providing any value to farmers. The biotech cheerleaders are all heaping derision on the studies and ad hominum attacks against the researchers. But these  independent research studies are peer-reviewed and the way science works, these data stand until another peer reviewed study is published that challenges the data questioning the economic viability of GMOs for farmers. All of the people dissing these studies are not peers and their comments in no way negate the facts – GMO crops have failed, are failing, and offer no improvement/benefits for the future. GMO Myths and Truths:  An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops done by top world experts explains the findings of all relevant peer reviewed studies in 123 pages.

Meanwhile On the Farm

Still farmers are gambling on a mixed hand dealt by Casino Monsanto. “Next year might be a bad worm year. I figure even though Bt seed costs a lot more, it might pay off. What if I’m the only field with nonGMO and the moths know it! Besides, the guy said he’d give me some discount on Roundup if I sign up. Hey, they have a stacked version so I don’t have to weed the field. I’ll spend less on the Roundup than I MIGHT have to spend if there turns out to be cornborer pressure this year.”

Everyone else the farmer talks with favors playing the GMO corn card: Farm Advisors, the banker, the insurance broker, the incentives and subsidies from the USDA, and, most of all, the folks at the coffee shop. Channels carrying independent information for wise long-range economic decisions are drowned out by a culture driven by a lot of money and peer pressure and sometimes by threats from the seed monopoly to go along or face the possibility of not being able to source nonGMO seed. It takes courage for a farmer to buck such forces. Critical thinking is required to weigh the longer term costs and benefits related to resistance and social and economic benefits for the farmer, the environment and consumers.

Eating GMO Corn

AND meanwhile American families have been kept in the dark for the past decade eating increasing amounts of Bt corn—sugar flakes and KIX, pancake syrup, snack bars, chips, tortillas and tamales, cornbread, soft drinks, ice cream and starting this year, fresh, frozen and canned corn. Bio Ag Biotech and the FDA say Bt gene in the corn we eat is destroyed during digestion and it’s never made anybody sick, but no safety tests have been done. Steven Druker’s Altered Genes, Twisted TruthHow the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public documents the suppression of GMO food safety concerns of scientists within the FDA.

So, how DID Bt toxin end up in the the blood of over 90% of pregnant women and over 80% of fetal cord blood in that study in Canada? What IF the Bt gene that makes the toxin that eats holes in caterpillar guts transfers to human gut bacteria, engineered moreover into the corn genome so the “on switch” to make the toxin is always turned on? What HAPPENS if Bt toxin is being continuously produced in our guts by our own bacteria? There is no barrier between the mother’s blood and the fetal brain. Bt toxin could be eating holes in the developing brain matter of the unborn.

We Aren’t Keeling Over in Large Numbers, But…

The Biotech industry says the food is safe because there has not been one person drop dead yet from eating it.  One question that comes to my mind however is the reported steady rise in gut problems in the US.  Dr. Robyn Bernhoft, M.D. recently spoke at an educational forum at Ventura College. He said, “The reason people get autoimmunity, or allergies, or asthma, frequently, is gut problems. The animals fed GMO corn and soy all have problems with their gut. They have breakdown in gut integrity, they have food leaking into their bloodstream, they have thickening of the lining of their gut that looks to some pathologists like precancerous lesions. When humans get breakdown of the gut integrity they start absorbing partially digested food into their bloodstream. The immune system has to deal with that… This is where the tremendous rise in allergies comes from.”

One expert in bowel problems observed a direct relationship between escalating digestive symptoms and increasing test loads of fructose. It was not in the report, but the fructose was probably made from GMO corn. I wonder how closely the consumption of high fructose corn syrup relates to digestive problems on the rise, like Celiac disease, acid reflux, GERD, colitis and Crohn’s? Soy allergies are also increasing associated with digestive issues (not to speak here of the other varied reproductive problems, infertility, and implications for SIDS). Over 90% of the soy in food is engineered to be Roundup Ready and contains unsafe levels of Roundup that has recently been linked to mammary tumors, kidney and liver problems, and premature death in the first ever long-term peer reviewed study. Autistic spectrum disorder parallels the rise in GMOs in the US diet. The gastrointestinal lining of children with autism has abnormal appearing villi similar to those in rats fed genetically engineered feed.  See what Jeffrey Smith has compiled about the connections between autism and GM foods.

The cost of Bt corn to public health needs to be examined. A recent study suggests that Bt toxin probably has the ability to eat holes in animal and human intestinal lining as it does in the insect gut. It was shown that Bt toxin in a dish with human cells pokes holes in them, causing leakage of cell contents, the same mode of action that kills the caterpillars. See Dr. Galland’s post about types and causes of leaky gut where undigested food particles go into the blood and lymph systems?

Doctors are saying patients get better when they stop eating GMOs. Leaky gut syndrome is associated with allergies, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and autism. When the Bt gene is engineered into every cell of every kernel of corn and then it is eaten by animals and humans throughout every day, Monsanto has taken Bt to a very scary level. There have been no safety studies, BUT doctors are just starting to talk about GMOs, and especially corn products. While Americans are blindly eating Bt and Roundup Ready corn and having more digestive problems that underlie related diseases that are on the rise, the producers of GMO corn-based food products are spending over $44 million to try to defeat a California ballot initiative to require labeling of the food. In the European Union where GMOs have been labeled for years, seven countries – Austria, Hungary, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Germany and Bulgaria have banned Bt corn.

DNA and mRNA in the Food Chain Affects the Consuming Organism

There was no economic or practical reason for agriculture to go down this dangerous path. The pests that evolved with natural corn can be managed with the natural enemy complex that evolved with those pests. Organisms that eat corn, from caterpillar to human, have evolved in physiological systems involving thousands of metabolites in a corn plant and in what eats the corn plant. As it turns out, new research about micro RNA suggests that the human body is affected by the genes of the plants we eat. We want to apply the precautionary principle to halt genetic manipulation of food and animal feed until the implications are known. It is well within the farmer’s means to grow corn that respects the elaborate relationships in the biochemical and physiological makeup of the corn and organisms that eat corn.

Vote for Labeling and Vote with Your Food Dollars (Ways to Avoid GMO Corn)

We have been fighting for over a year to achieve regulations that honor our right to know if the Bt gene was engineered into corn and corn-based foods. Until labeling happens, we encourage you to do your best to stop eating Bt corn. It’s easy to avoid high fructose corn syrup with many alternative sweeteners. There are other delicious and inexpensive grains and starches, like rice, oats, barley, millet, amaranth, tapioca, pumpkin, winter squash and root vegetables. As time passes that you don’t eat GMO foods and your gut lining starts to heal, it should be safe to eat more wheat again without the risk of undigested gluten protein passing into the bloodstream causing allergic responses.

We love corn, so we buy from local farmers who protect their corn from contamination by Bt gene. Since we don’t eat meat, we don’t think about the increasing amount of GMO fed to livestock, and we do invest in only organic dairy and eggs. We are OK with the limit for organic food being .9% GMO contamination. It’s easy to find reasonably priced organic corn chips, but organic or NonGMO Project Verified corn tortillas are hard to find.  La Guera Tamalera-White Girl Tamale Maker sells everything on-line out of LA to make organic non-GMO tamales!  Trader Joe’s has organic polenta that isn’t expensive. It is a bit of a challenge, but not really difficult to avoid GMOs and it does not have to raise your food budget. Moms for Safe Food is a resource. Just plan to prepare more whole foods, less processed foods, and make room for a few organic versions of corn and soy foods you really like by reducing meat, junk food, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages that aren’t that healthy anyway!

Buying organic and nonGMO corn products supports those farmers using the proven safe natural biological farming methods. Vote with your food dollar for nonGMO biological corn production.


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