Reducing Pesticides on Local Apple Orchards
Reducing Pesticides on Local Apple Orchards: The Necessity, The Challenges, The Successes
By Patricia Dines
Sonoma County Environmental Impact Reporter, Oct. 1993, pp. 6-7, 26-27
(c) Patricia Dines, 1993. All rights reserved.
Many of us live in Sonoma County because we feel that the beautiful natural environment is more healthy for us and our families than more urbanized areas. The scenic vistas and rolling hills decorated with apple orchards and vineyards -- as well as the wide range of delicious fresh foods available -- contribute to our sense of this area's natural beauty.
Unfortunately we are learning that, while we don't have belching smokestacks or miles of concrete, our health and environment are being compromised daily by a perhaps more insidious danger, the many toxins of modern life. Including the pesticides used in the local agriculture that we value in so many other ways.
For some, the threat of pesticides is quite present in their life, as they observe the headaches, nausea, or breathing difficulties that occur whenever area farmers spray their orchards, forcing them to stay inside or leave the area. Or the physical reactions when they drink water from their well, necessitating regular purchases of bottled water. Or when they notice that the route their children take to the school bus stop goes by a farm where the farmer sprays near the road, and they worry about the effect on the growth and development of their children.
Others have health problems that they don't realize are caused by pesticides, because many pesticide poisoning symptoms mimic other problems. Pesticide reactions such as headaches, light-headedness, nausea, diarrhea, breathing difficulty, and stomach cramps, can be mistakenly attributed to colds, hayfever, asthma, or stress. Even doctors frequently misdiagnose these reactions, as they are rarely trained in pesticide diagnosis.
And as we begin to observe that these physical symptoms may be related to pesticides, we may wonder if they are more than a nuisance and actually a matter of serious concern. All across the nation, people are wondering if our national health epidemics such as cancer and disorders of the immune, reproductive, and neurological systems could be related to the over one billion pounds of pesticides that we put into our ecosystem each year -- pesticides which are known to harm humans in these ways. Evidence is steadily accumulating to substantiate those concerns. And while pesticides in food are an issue of serious concern, the direct local exposure in agricultural areas such as ours can be even more of a toxic threat.
In our quest to protect our health, we get many conflicting views about the safety of pesticides. On the one hand, proponents of pesticides will tell us that the government ensures that all pesticides are tested thoroughly before being put on the market, for both health and environmental effects. That farmers and farmworkers are trained and wear safety gear to protect them. That farmers use amounts that are not harmful to others. And they tell us that the environmentalists are extremists that don't understand the realities of economics and making a living farming.
On the other hand, there is a growing body of evidence that the threat of pesticides is much more serious than this, and that the government is not adequately protecting us, the farmers, or the environment at anything near the level that we're led to believe. And increasingly, established mainstream institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences are joining long-time pesticide activists in calling for dramatic changes in the system.
For contrary to claims that EPA tests protect us, there are many shockingly large holes in the EPA testing system. For instance, many pesticides on the market have not been tested for their health and environmental effects; up to 99.5% of a formula can be toxic yet unknown, hidden by trade secret laws; and any evidence of a product's health or environmental harm can be overridden by claims of economic necessity for crop protection.
In addition to the risk of exposure through food, those in farm areas are also vulnerable to more direct pesticide exposure. Not only does the wind carry pesticides when they are sprayed, but they also settle into the local ecosystem, where they can remain toxic for weeks and even months. They can get into the groundwater, and be activated by heat, rain, fog, and dew. Through the processes of evaporation, wind, and condensation, they can often travel far from their original location and generally permeate the area. In this way, the effect of a farmer's choice to spray toxins can go far beyond the property line. [See sidebar 1 for more information]
With all this evidence accumulating on the limits of the EPA processes intended to protect us, the EPA recently made a dramatic change in its warnings about pesticide use. Acknowledging that even the use of legal pesticides may cause health and environmental problems, they now recommend the minimal use of pesticides, and only if non-chemical approaches don't work.
So why do farmers still use pesticides? Because they feel they help protect their crop, and thus their income, from the ravages of insects and disease. They offer increased safety in a high-risk often low-margin occupation. When each year weather and insects can dramatically damage the crop of even the most competent farmer, pesticides are viewed as ways to reduce risk and maximize yield and quality, in order to get the best income possible from their year-long efforts.
Pesticides are familiar, something they know they can count on to produce certain results - such as a high percentage of the unblemished fruit that consumers have come to expect. And they have become dependent on them, for once they have disrupted the natural balance of predators, pesticides must continue to be used to keep any insects at bay.
To reduce or remove pesticides is to change a dominant farming practice -- with all the economic, creative, and psychological challenges that change entails. For farmers working on a thin margin, the risks of this change are not trivial. Like all of us, they have bills to pay and want to maintain their income. Even those who see the necessity of pesticide reduction and are invigorated by the challenge and opportunity it presents, take seriously the practical and economic challenges such change entails.
So then, in the middle of this apparent conflict between environmental and economic needs, the real issue emerges -- "Can we reduce or eliminate the agricultural use of pesticides in an economic and feasible manner?" Thus, we can see economics not as a barrier, preventing all action to reduce the toxic effects of pesticides, but rather as a challenge to overcome, using our nation's creativity, resources, and commitment to both economic and physical health.
Luckily, we are blessed by pioneers asking this question. And, although funds are short and much work remains to be done, they've been creating some very solid and feasible answers.
To better understand the realities of this issue, we talked to local apple farmers about their approaches to farming and pesticides. From this we formed a more precise picture of the realities of the pesticide reduction process, both in one prominent local crop and in general.
In 1992, Sonoma County farmers sold almost 56,000 tons of apples, both fresh and for processing, and brought in over $10 million. This made apples the county's sixth highest crop -- and probably the west county's first or second crop.
In order to produce these apples, farmers put over 160,000 pounds of pesticides onto their orchards and into the local ecosystem. These pesticides were used primarily to battle the codling moth (the proverbial worm in the apple), scab, mildew, aphids, and mites. (Note that the official government definition of pesticides includes insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc. and this is how we use the term in this story.)
Farmers start spraying pesticides in the spring, using fungicides such as Captan, Benlate, Rally, and sulfur to suppress the effects of diseases like apple scab and powdery mildew. The number of fungicide sprays depends on how wet the weather is; a wet spring like this year's will greatly increase the number of necessary sprays. Even organic farmers will often use organic fungicides such as sulfur to keep these diseases at bay, although sulfur does not last as long and thus requires more frequent applications than other fungicides.
The next challenge facing the local apple farmer is the codling moth. To combat this, those farmers using the so-called "calendar" method will spray pesticides such as Guthion, Diazinon, Lorsban, and Imidan once a month from May to August. These pesticides are usually strong enough to eradicate other insects such as aphids at the same time (not to mention beneficial insects and natural predators), although targeted sprays for aphids and mites are also sometimes necessary.
Some area farmers find great comfort in the traditional calendar method, offering them simplicity, lower risk, and easy scheduling. Yet, as [Sidebar 2] indicates, many of the pesticides used on local apples can cause serious health and environmental damage, and thus their use is a matter of concern.
There is good news. Over recent years, many local farmers have become concerned about pesticides and have been examining and adopting methods of farming that use less or no pesticides.
Local experts estimate that, of the approximately 7,000 apple acres in Sonoma County, about 2,600 are pesticide free, while another 1,000 to 2,000 are being farmed by farmers taking some measures to reduce their pesticide use.
As a result, apple pesticide usage levels are dropping. Although some farmers still use the traditional calendar method and current pesticide levels are still a matter of concern, the results to date are encouraging and show that significant reduction is a viable possibility.
Understanding why a farmer might consider reducing their pesticide use is vital if we wish to support them in doing so. Local farmers gave five key reasons for considering reducing pesticides.
• First is a desire to reduce the costs and hassles of using pesticides. Alternative methods such as monitoring insect populations before spraying can allow farmers to get the same results with fewer sprays, saving them time, effort, and money.
• Second is seeing a market opportunity, either in selling organic fruit (such as Perry Kozlowski) or in maintaining orchards for those homeowners who don't want pesticides near their homes (such as Angelo Giusti).
• Third are health and environmental concerns -- a desire to reduce or eliminate the pesticide levels to which they expose themselves, their workers, their families, their neighbors, and their customers.
This is the first reason that Ted Richardson of Gabriel Farms gives for farming organically. And it was a key reason that Michael Martin converted his family orchard to organic 5 years ago -- an orchard farmed chemically for 45 years. After noticing headaches whenever he went into the orchard, he "felt [that] chemicals weren't contributing to our health" and decided to farm without them.
Dan O'Connell, a conventional farmer committed to reducing his pesticide use, states safety as a key motivation -- especially safety at the time of application, "because that's when the pesticide is most toxic." He feels that farmers should always use the safest option possible, when it's economically feasible.
Organic apple farmer Perry Kozlowski states the more long-term form of this view when he says, "I'm not going to be one of the people that add to the problem. It might be 3 or 4 generations from now that will really know [the effect of using these pesticides] -- why take a chance? You know it can't be good."
• A fourth reason farmers examine reducing pesticides is the damage pesticides can do to their farming efforts, both by killing off natural predators and pollinators, and by breeding resistant pests and diseases.
A recent article in Bioscience names these as the primary reasons that U.S. crop losses from insect damage nearly doubled between 1945 to 1989, from 7 to 13%, even though pesticide use increased tenfold during that time.
Bioscience estimates that the destruction by pesticides of natural enemies costs the U.S. $520 million in additional pesticide applications and increased crop losses, and that at least 10% of the pesticides used in the U.S. are applied just to combat increased pest resistance. The article also estimates that honeybee and pollination losses from pesticides cost the U.S. $320 million a year.
Some local apple farmers, such as Dan O'Connell, avoid using certain pesticides, such as Sevin, a carbamate, because they kill the bees so important to apple pollination.
• The fifth reason that farmers consider pesticide reduction -- usually for those farmers more reluctant to change -- is a need for alternatives, because their usual pesticide has been removed from the market, or because processors, the government, consumers, and even some supermarkets insist on reduced residues in food products.
Whatever the reason, all farmers exploring reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides need one key thing -- realistic options. Logistically and economically feasible alternatives for handling the insects and diseases that can harm their crop and their income.
And, as [Sidebar 3] shows, they can learn about these options from a variety of books, stores, and experts. They may look at resources in a wide range of categories, including organic, sustainable agriculture, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), or general agriculture. (Note: IPM originally meant using biological and other nontoxic methods first, with pesticides being used only as a last resort; it now is sometimes also used to mean pesticide reductions in traditional pesticide farming.) Some people even find useful information by looking at pre-pesticide farming books or remembering what was done on their farm when they were young.
And some learn about their options by talking to the U.C. Cooperative Extension farm advisors, for in this area we are lucky that this mainstream agricultural resource is well-acquainted with non-pesticide options. In fact, many options are being developed and refined at our local U.C. Extension, in efforts led by local experts such as farm advisors Paul Vossen and Lucia Varela.
Vossen has done extensive experimentation in apple farming in this area, coordinated with other researchers in the U.C. system. He feels that one of the main objectives of his job is "to try to get growers to reduce the amount of toxic materials that they use and put in the environment.... to try and get people to move towards as organic as possible a situation as they possibly can....Pesticides, as far as I'm concerned, are something that our society is going have to get away from, for a number of reasons, and most of those reasons center around their overall effects on the environment." He is proud of the fact that in his tenure of 12 years, farm advisors have gone from offering one option for common problems -- pesticides -- to being able to offer a range of solutions, many of which are non-toxic.
So, after examining information on their options, many farmers decide to try pesticide reduction.
In general, there are four different approaches that local apple farmers choose, depending on their goals, the specifics of their site, and -- most importantly -- their willingness and ability to take risks.
I -- LOW RISK: A farmer seeking a less-risky approach can start by building his soil and monitoring conditions before spraying.
For instance, 10 years ago Dan O'Connell started a soil-building programs for his 16 acre orchard, and found that within a few years this allowed him to reduce his pesticide use by a third, across the board. He also has not had to use a miticide for years, which he attributes primarily to the nutrient program strengthening his trees, as well as to his avoiding chemicals that kill the mites' natural predators.
Organic farmer Ted Richardson uses a variety of organic techniques to build his soil, including cover cropping and fertilizing with compost. He feels that soil health is vital to long-term results in farming. "If [the soil] is not biologically active, you're [just] going year to year and force-feeding it. It's like you're making it a fertilizer junkie -- as opposed to long-term soil health, that takes care of itself by its own processes."
Monitoring before spraying can also reduce pesticide use. Stan DeVoto used to spray for codling moths every 21 to 28 days like clockwork, and had been since he started apple farming in 1976. Then four years ago, at a "cost of pennies," he started putting codling moth traps in his orchards and checking them regularly to actually confirm that he had moths before spraying. In this way, he can often wait another week or two before spraying, perhaps even cutting out one spray in a season. Although the traps entail some effort, his results have been promising -- he's finding that his codling moth damage level is generally at about the same as those using calendar-based spraying.
Phil Bertoli, a Pest Control Advisor (PCA) and long-time apple farmer, feels that determining the most appropriate time to spray before spraying allows farmers to "use their [pesticide] dollar at the most critical time" and can prevent the cost of wasted applications. He feels that being aware of timing will become even more important in the future, as farmers switch to less toxic materials that leave less residue but often don't last as long.
Paul Vossen indicates that increased monitoring before spraying has been a major cause of reduced pesticide use on area apples.
II - MODERATE RISK: Other farmers are willing to take a larger risk in reducing their pesticide use. In place of some or all of their monthly codling moth sprays, they entrust some or all of their acres to pheromone mating disruptors. These disruptors saturate the orchard with the female codling moth scent, making it hard for a male codling moth to find a real female and thus disrupting their mating.
Paul Vossen of UC Extension estimates that pheromone disruption, if done properly and with a fairly low original population, can give "control in about 4-5% damage range, which is an acceptable control for an organic grower who might otherwise suffer with anywhere from 40-90% damage."
Phil Bertoli, whose family has farmed apples in this area since 1940, first used pheromone disruption 7 or 8 years ago, when he offered Paul Vossen acreage on his farm for experiments. Bertoli was impressed by the results. After many years of testing, pheromone disruptors have now moved from the experimental to the product stage. Bertoli, now a PCA and consultant, recently helped conduct a test of one of these products and found that with this tool alone -- no codling moth sprays were used -- the apples in the 5 acre test plot got less than 1% codling moth damage, which he considers a notable success.
And Bertoli is impressed not only by the results of these tools but also by their relative cost. He calculates that when all costs are included, pheromone disruptors cost the same as the equivalent number of sprays, while saving the farmer the hassle of spraying. Instead, one person walks around the orchard, hooking disruptors on the trees, usually covering an acre an hour and providing coverage from 2 to 3 months, depending on the product. And he likes the fact that reduced spraying allows farmers to offer consumers "a healthier fruit."
In fact, Vossen and Varela are so satisfied with the results now being achieved with alternative codling moth controls such as pheromone disruption that they plan to shift more of their research attention next year to other projects, such as refining the options for apple scab.
It's important to mention that, although these results are impressive, experts indicate that pheromone disruption is most successful in certain situations and that results can vary. But the successes show what's possible when researchers look beyond pesticides for solutions to insect problems.
LEVEL III - HIGH RISK: The third group of farmers take the largest risk, by converting some or all of their acreage to organic and leaving all synthetic pesticides behind. This path is often a high gamble, although the payoff can be worth the risk for those who are successful. Although it takes a number of years for farmers to re-establish the natural balance in their orchards and become certified, this choice then allows them to enter the growing organic field - with it's higher product prices. Sales in the overall organic market increased 23% in 1992, reaching $1.5 billion. Organic produce sales increased 30%, reaching $243 million in 1992.
However, the challenges of growing for this market are not trivial. Even the most devoted organic people will tell you that apples are about the toughest crop one could choose to grow organically.
New tools, especially for codling moth control, have greatly increased the odds for organic farmers. Using the pheromone disruptors discussed earlier as well as experimental tools such as the granulosis virus and Trichogramma parasitic wasps, local organic farmers such as Kate Burroughs, Ted Richardson, Michael Martin, and Perry Kozlowski have achieved significant codling moth control. For instance, Kozlowski has found that disruptors and the virus on his 26 apple acres have kept his moth population in check and contributed to a reduction in their levels; they damaged his crop only 6-7% this year, a good level for organic farming.
Nevertheless, says Paul Vossen, growing organically "takes a tremendous commitment by the operator -- a philosophical and economic commitment -- because of the greater risk and the potential for loss" and increased work at every stage of the process. This work is necessary if the grower is going to get a high yield of good-sized attractive organic fruit.
A farmer must have a commitment strong enough to endure many things. Three years of reduced production and increased damage while waiting for organic certification. A transition period with outbreaks of what had been minor insects, no longer being controlled by broad-spectrum pesticides, but not yet controlled by their naturally-occuring predators. And they must battle these problems using organic solutions which are often more expensive, more labor-intensive, and less potent.
For instance, conventional farmers use a chemical to thin apples (NAA), while organic farmers pay for this to be done by hand. Fungicide sulfur sprays last only five days, meaning that, in a wet spring such as this one, a farmer begins to feel that he is living on his tractor. And even with sulfur, the organic farmer is much more vulnerable to negative weather conditions -- and thus more at risk for the negative scenario, where he invests additional money in inputs yet finds his crop decimated by the weather.
But one of the most important commitments needed for an organic farmer to succeed is one to learning -- about the different techniques organic farmers use for common farm problems -- and about the natural cycles and balances that the calendar method often ignores. Only by learning nature's rhythms can he effectively time his use of the expensive organic inputs.
Perry Kozlowski had farmed family orchards for years, but when he started farming organically about 6 years ago, he realized how much his past work had been controlled by the calendar, rather than an understanding and response to actual conditions in the orchard. This opportunity to learn made farming more exciting and interesting for him, and his successes gave him great personal satisfaction. In general, those farmers that are most successful are those that they are excited by the challenge of learning about nature's cycles and processes.
Still, even with a commitment to invest, learn, and experiment, the transition years can be, as Perry's were, "really tough, very discouraging." Although he didn't lose any money the first three years, he didn't make any either. In fact, "there was one point, after the second year, I was teetering on whether or not I was going to do it again, and I said 'God-darn it' -- I was already certified by that time, so I'm not going to go through this again -- I'm going to even try harder, because I was bound-and-determined. I knew that if I could grow good fruit, I could get good money for it. The trick was to grow the good fruit. I just learned as much as I could learn from whoever I could find to learn it from and now I'm getting to the point where I'm growing good fruit."
For those that can pass through this obstacle course, the results are rewarding. Perry Kozlowski feels that his trees are healthier than they looked when they were grown with pesticides, and his apples look "as nice or nicer" and are increasing in quality each year, with more and more at the quality needed to sell in the higher-priced fresh market. He gets offered top prices for his apples and, after many years of investing and surviving "the hard knocks," earns a good living growing organic apples. Moreover, all year he and his workers can tend their orchards without experiencing the effects of the synthetic toxins.
Although organic farmers might not get the 30 tons per acre and 90% fresh-pack that a good conventional orchard might get, committed and skilled organic farmers can often get close, with up to 20 to 25 tons an acre and 75% fresh. Successful farmers find that this difference in yield is at least made up for by the difference in price. Organic farmers easily get from 25-30% more than conventional apples. This year's shortages increased prices; Perry Kozlowski expects that he'll get 35-40% more a ton than a conventional farmer would, and up to double and triple for some varieties.
Another reward of growing organically is that some common farming challenges can actually diminish over time, as nature regains its balance. For instance, problems with "secondary" or "induced" insects such as aphids and mites begin to disappear, as the predator populations regain their strength in keeping populations in check.
Of all the learning that Perry Kozlowski has had to do on his conversion journey, he says, "What I think was my biggest learning thing -- the difference between me now and me before -- is I'm able to tolerate things better, that [I accept that there's going to be a little damage] in the orchard, that it's not going to be perfect, no matter what you do. ... You get some of these guys who've farmed a certain way their whole life and they see some worm damage in an orchard, they can't handle it."
Kate Burroughs, Pest Control Advisor and co-owner of Harmony Farm Supply, agrees: "It's not so much that you have reduced yields but that you have higher damage, and most people can't tolerate that."
But by learning new tools and new ways of thinking, local organic apple farmers and researchers are the pioneers for agriculture free of pesticides.
IV -- NO PESTICIDE/LOW MAINTENANCE: Because of the high-cost, high-risk, and labor-intensive nature of high-input organic farming, another type of no-pesticide care has emerged. In this type of farming, the farmer does not use pesticides but also typically does not invest a great deal in building the soil or using alternative means for handling insect and disease threats. He often is responsible for a great many acres in various areas of the county, a situation where the labor-intensive and time-sensitive nature of organic maintenance methods often become unrealistic. Instead, he largely gambles on positive weather conditions and expects to sell most or all of his crop to the processing market, where standards for blemishes on fruit don't tend to be as strict. Although his damage is more and his yields are significantly less than other farmers -- perhaps 2 or 3, at most 5 tons to the acre -- he finds that this is balanced by his reduced maintenance costs.
Estimates indicate about 2,600 acres, or approximately 35% of Sonoma County's apple acreage, are farmed in this manner (as opposed to a few hundred farmed using the high-maintenance organic methods).
There are a range of opinions about this type of farming. Some homeowners appreciate having no-pesticide care and find the level of quality and income sufficient for their needs. Paul Vossen points out that these farmers are "doing a service, because [otherwise] many of those orchards wouldn't be farmed -- nobody would get anything out of them." Other farmers understand the challenge of caring for so much small and scattered acreage. Says Kate Burroughs of Harmony Farm Supply, " I think that the reason that nobody wants to come and do the little mini-ranchettes is that it's not worth it to them, for the amount of yield that they get and the hassle factor of moving equipment around."
However, Vossen and others see also several downsides to this type of farming. For one, the low level of maintenance does nothing to ensure the long-term viability of these orchards. Says Vossen, "It's not a sustainable system -- they're just gleaning some fruit off for a few years until there's no longer any profit in it whatsoever." They also are concerned that farmers and consumers seeing the produce can get a falsely negative view of the level of quality possible with organic farming.
At this point, however, this debate is somewhat academic, as most high-maintenance organic apple farming is being done by committed pioneers on their small to moderately-sized contiguous orchards and there is currently no service available for homeowners to get high-care organic farming on their small plots. A number of homeowners, however, have expressed an interest in such care, and perhaps the future will find some farmer finding a way to take advantage of this market opportunity.
And so these are the four main approaches that Sonoma County apple farmers are using to reduce or eliminate their pesticide use. And these efforts are a key reason that pesticide usage on Sonoma County apples, though still high, is dropping.
And the efforts of these farmers in reducing pesticides benefit not only themselves, but also the community and society at large. Not only because we have access to healthier produce -- these apples are bought not only fresh, but as juice, cider, sauce, vinegar, and baby food. But also because our daily exposure to environmental toxins -- and the health threats they bring -- is reduced.
And these threats are not minor. A recent article in Bioscience attempted to quantify the environmental and economic costs of pesticide use. Through systematic and conservative analysis of concrete data, they concluded that pesticides easily cost the U.S. society over $8 billion a year, including costs for illness, loss of natural enemies, pesticide resistance, fishery and bird losses, and groundwater contamination.
So, as the world wrestles with the health, economic, and environmental issues of pesticides, seeking alternatives that allow sustained productivity and economic viability, Sonoma County farmers, researchers, and suppliers are among those paving the way toward the new solutions.
From looking at their stories, we can glean a number of key conclusions about both this specific topic and the general topic of pesticides and agriculture.
1) WE DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TOXINS OF URBANIZATION AND THE TOXINS OF AGRICULTURE. Many farmers and environmentalists see a realistic third choice, where agriculture successfully reduces and eliminates pesticide use while maintaining adequate production and economic viability. Thus the community gets both health and beauty from their environment.
A vital component of farmers' willingness to reduce their pesticide use has been the development of options. The few options currently available, while valuable, have been developed on shoestring research budgets; experts believe that a significant increase in research dollars could increase not only the number of tools, but also their range of applicability, success rates, and economic feasibility.
This increased funding can occur in three ways. First, by shifting government farm research funding more substantially into organic alternatives (estimates indicate that of the $1.4 billion spent annually by the Federal government on farm research, less than $1 million is spent on organic research.) Second, by supporting private organizations that are pioneering organic research, such as the Organic Farming Research Foundation. And third, by buying organic and "pesticide free" produce. Only when farmers have a market for their produce do they take the risks to change their ways. Supporting organic food is an investment in the health of ourselves, our families, our community, and our environment. This is when our vote is most direct and most visible.
3) WE MUST SUPPORT LAWS AND ACTIONS THAT CLEAN UP OUR PESTICIDE REGULATION SYSTEM, SO THAT IT TRULY OFFERS THE PROTECTION IT WAS INTENDED TO. We must stop accepting excuses instead of test results for pesticides already on the market. EPA testing procedures should reflect the physiology and diets of all members of our community, as well as the fact that we daily get multiple pesticide exposures. The FDA must have the authority and the commitment to act in a timely manner about food with dangerous pesticide levels. We must insist, as the courts recently did, that the Delaney clause apply to processed food as well; claims that the law is "outdated" because "modern" residue testing is so much more precise are clearly contradicted by the facts.
But, while government restrictions are important, we must not depend on them to protect us. Only when farmers have options will they willingly give up their pesticide tools.
4) AND WE SHOULD APPRECIATE THE PIONEERS WHO ARE CREATING OUR LESS TOXIC FUTURE. It is only because of those farmers and researchers who are developing (and recovering) new solutions to age-old farming problems that we will find our new way through, to a county and a country healthy both physically and economically.
Patricia Dines has been a journalist for many years covering a variety of topics. She'd like to express her gratitude to those who so generously gave their time and energy providing information for this article, including those mentioned in the article as well as: Joan Clayburgh of Pesticide Watch, The County Agricultural Commissioner's office, and John Kolling. For further information and resources on the topics discussed here, you may contact her at (707) 829-2999.


• Contrary to commonly-heard claims, a large number of the pesticides on the market have not been tested for their health and environmental risks. This is because they were on the market before legislation was passed in 1972 requiring health and environmental testing. Manufacturers were allowed to continue selling their products while they got them tested. Deadlines were set for this -- deadlines which are largely unmet. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco, "EPA's record on reregistering pesticides ... has been abysmal. To date, EPA has reregistered 27 or 7% of the 400 pesticides lacking acceptable data." Yet these products continue to be sold, and people assume they are safe because they bear EPA registration numbers.
• Up to 99.5% of any pesticide formula can be hidden from examination, by being called an "inert" ingredient. Although some of these "inert" ingredients are as or more toxic than the "active" ingredient, their identity -- and thus their health effects -- is a secret, protected by trade secrets laws.
• Even EPA testing does not assure that pesticides that cause significant harm will not be allowed to be sold and used. This is because any and all data on a pesticide's heath and environmental effects can be (and frequently are) overridden by economic arguments that a pesticide is necessary for production of a certain crop -- in an analysis that does not consider non-pesticide options.
• Workers are often not sufficiently protected, even when they wear the required protective clothing. Tests have found toxins in the bodies of workers who were wearing such clothing, indicating that the procedures are not sufficient. There are an estimated 300,000 pesticide-related illnesses each year among farmworkers. Pesticide-related illnesses are the most frequent work-related illnesses in California, although farmworkers do not get the OSHA protection that other U.S. workers enjoy. Certainly, training and protective gear improve the situation, but significant risk still remains for the worker.
• Neighbors and passerbys wear no protective equipment and are otherwise poorly protected. Current law only protects neighbors if they can prove that "substantial" amounts of material drifted onto their property -- substantial meaning droplets on objects that can be measured. However, many pesticides can cause physical symptoms and harm from lesser amounts, including inhaled vapors, and thus there are many unhealthy circumstances where area citizens are not protected by the law.
• Many pesticides persist in their environment weeks or months after they are sprayed. That is what they are designed to do. Therefore, they can continue to effect anyone working on or living near a farm that uses pesticides, including the farmer, farm workers, their families, neighbors -- and indeed the entire community. For it has been shown that pesticides can travel quite far from their original target site, by a variety of means -- wind (10-35% of ground-sprayed pesticides usually miss the target area), water (including groundwater), heat volatilization, dew, and evaporation. Bees and other animals, if not immediately harmed by the toxins, can go into a sprayed area and bring the toxin on their body to other areas. For instance, there is evidence that bees can bring pesticides from sprayed flowers into their hive's food supply and thus poison their whole hive.

EPA Carcinogens
Twelve of the pesticides used locally on apples in 1992 are considered by the EPA to be probable or possible carcinogens. Over 12,000 pounds of these pesticides were used on apples, including 7,600 pounds of the most frequently-applied pesticide, phosmet (Imidan). Other commonly-used pesticides in this category are captan, thiophanate-methyl (Topsin), benomyl (Benlate), and triadimefon (Bayleton).
Organophosphates and Carbamates
Additionally, over 7,500 pounds of the pesticides used on local apples were organophosphates -- including malathion, diazinon, azinphos-methyl (Guthion), and chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) -- and carbamates -- including carbaryl (Sevin) and methomyl.
According to the book Pesticides: Health Aspects of Exposure, published in 1988 by California's Department of Health Services, "The organophosphate and carbamate insecticides include some of the most acutely toxic and potentially lethal pesticides." Yet, in spite of well-documented acute systemic effects resulting from exposure, their use nationally is expanding, often replacing the chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, in the control of insects.
Approximately 40% of the pesticides used in the U.S. are organophosphates. [According to the Journal of Pesticide Reform,] the EPA estimates that the use of one organophosphate, chlorpyrifos, is so extensive that Americans could ingest 313% of the Acceptable Daily Intake from food alone. Another organophosphate, Guthion, is one of the most commonly-detected pesticides on apples.
Health Effects
Organophosphates and carbamates work by disrupting the nervous system of insects. Unfortunately, they affect human nervous systems in similar ways. After an acute poisoning of these pesticides, nerve damage occurs within hours and paralysis may be evident within 24 to 96 hrs. Lesser acute symptoms include restlessness, dizziness, confusion, tension, anxiety, slurred speech, decreased reflexes, breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, emotional instability, diarrhea, and nausea. Some of these symptoms can erroneously be assessed as the flu, or alcohol or drug intoxication. Highly toxic poisoning symptoms include vomiting, convulsions, central respiratory paralysis, coma, and sometimes death.
More long-term exposure effects include damage to nervous system and brain function, such as reduced flexibility of thought, motor skills, memory skills, and concentration. In tests, those exposed to these neurotoxins did less well than matched controls on tests of auditory (listening) attention, visual memory, problem solving, reaction time, dexterity and other neurophysiological measures, and reported other symptoms typical of central nervous system impairment.
According to Raymond Singer, an expert in neurotoxology, "the symptoms of neurotoxicity can mimic many diseases that effect the nervous system, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression [etc.] well as neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS)." The Lancet reports that even one episode of organophosphate intoxication may cause a lasting deficiency in neurological functioning.
The majority of pesticide-related illness among farmworkers (thought to be as high as 300,000 incidents a year) involve exposure to neurotoxic pesticides such as these. There have been cases where entire crews of farmworkers have been poisoned.
Organophosphates and carbamates have also been shown to effect the immune and reproductive systems of experimental animals.
Environmental Effects
Organophosphates and carbamates tend to be highly toxic to bees, birds, and fish. Even sublethal doses can effect their ability to survive; for instance, sublethal doses of Diazinon can adversely effect bees' division of labor and foraging ability, especially in younger bees.
Al Gore, in his book Earth in the Balance, notes that some pesticides can cause behavioral changes in animals in extremely low concentrations. As an example, he quotes the Russian environmentalist Alexei Yablokov describing the carbamate Sevin as so potent that "even in an infinitesimal concentration of one-billionth, [it] can change the behavior of a school of fish; their movement becomes uncoordinated." As our nervous systems are similarly effected by these toxins, this shows not only the harm we are doing to animals but the harm we are doing to ourselves.
Because of the toxicity of pesticides to bees, local beekeepers are supposed to be informed before insecticide applications so they can move their hives. Unfortunately, they are not always informed and can return to find their bee populations destroyed.
Additionally, wild bee populations can be neither informed nor moved. A number of area farmers and beekeepers have noticed a dramatic decrease in local wild bee populations. Although many pesticides are toxic to bees, no study has been done to determine if pesticides are causing this local decrease. Another potential cause is a number of mite infestations in hives, although this might be indirectly caused by broad-spectrum pesticides which kill the natural predators of some mites.
A Local Farmer's Experience
Local organic apple farmer Perry Kozlowski [of Kozlowski Farms] used to use pesticides on the farm when he grew up. He remembers that he, like many farmers, ignored the rules and didn't wear a mask while spraying, because " I figured if I was spraying it on the apples, and people were going to eat the apples, how bad could it be?" And he laughs.
Then one day, when he was spraying the organophosphate Lorsban, he turned around and noticed that the spray was killing everything in the area. He says, "the ground was covered with dead stuff -- bugs, insects -- whatever was out there was all laying down on the ground....I was amazed." After seeing that, he decided to start wearing his mask, and now is glad to be able to farm his apples successfully without having such pesticides around.

RESOURCES LIST [As published in the original article; not updated]
San Francisco Bay Area Regional Poison Control
(800) 523-2222 24 hour emergency number.


Office of the Agricultural Commissioner

2604 Ventura Ave., Room 101, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707) 527-2371

Responsible for regulating farmers' use of pesticides. Call regarding specific farming incidents, including spray drift.


Harmony Farm Supply
3244 Highway 116, North, Sebastopol, CA 95472 (707) 823-9125

Organic books and supplies. Co-owner Kate Burroughs is a Pesticide Control Advisor and knowledgeable about both organic farming and Integrated Pest Management.

U.C. Cooperative Extension

2604 Ventura Ave. Rm 100P, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Main number: (707) 527-2621 Master Gardeners (707) 527-2608

Farming and gardening advice and publications. Catalog available.


Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA)

P. O. Box 3657, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72702 (501) 442-9824

Detailed free information packages on commercial sustainable agriculture, including excellent summary of low-spray and organic apple farming. List of publications available.


P. O. Box 2008, 603 4th St., Davis, CA 95616 (916) 756-7177

Distributor of a wide range of agricultural books, including hard-to-find books on low-pesticide, IPM, and organic. Catalog available.

Rodale Press/Organic Gardening

33 E. Minor St., Emmaus, PA 18098-0099 (215) 967-5171

Publisher of Organic Gardening magazine and a variety of organic books.

CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers)

303 Potrero St. #51, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, (408) 423-2263

A leading organization for certifying organic farmers.



Organic Farming Research Foundation
P. O. Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, (408) 426-6606

Non-profit organization supporting organic farming research projects and funded by community contributions. The executive director was head of the CCOF for five years.


The Sierra Club - Toxics Committee

P. O. Box 466, Santa Rosa, CA 95492

SIERRA CLUB: (707) 544-7651 CHAIR: Larry Hanson (707) 887-7433

Local group working on area toxics issues.

Pesticide Watch

116 New Montgomery #530, San Francisco, CA 94105 (415) 543-2627

Membership organization. Offers pesticide information and supports local action on pesticide issues.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

MAIN OFFICE: 40 West 20th St., New York, NY 10011 (212) 727-2700

AREA OFFICE: 71 Stevenson St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (415) 777-0220

Membership organization. Offers pesticide information and acts for greater controls on their use. Various publications, including an excellent summary of the current pesticide situation in After Silent Spring: The Unsolved Problems of Pesticide Use in the US.

National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides

701 E St. SE, Suite 200, Washington DC 20003 (202) 543-5450

National network committed to pesticide safety and the adoption of alternative pest management strategies.



Environmental Health Network HC-63 Box 7187, Snowflake, AZ 85937 (415) 331-9804
Membership organization for those affected by environmental toxins. Bi-monthly newsletter full of useful information.


This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 04/05/07