Instead of the Centers for Disease Control, imagine for a minute that Washington’s political pundits or even U.S. Senators and Representatives had been the ones in charge of setting our national health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obviously, this would amount to a complete abandonment of science in favor of politics. 

In California, fortunately, Governor Gavin Newsom has made it a priority to let science guide his major policy decisions. Whether it’s climate change or instituting public health restrictions during the pandemic, his mantra has always been to “trust the science.” 

Unfortunately, this has not stopped California lawmakers from seeking to create new laws that disregard science. At the close of this past session, the legislature sent Gov. Newsom a bill that blatantly ignores the scientific process and findings of both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which includes hundreds of health studies, and decades of reviews. 

The measure, Assembly Bill 2146, is asking Gov. Newsom to adopt restrictions on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are used to combat a variety of pests, including mosquitos, bed bugs, fleas, cockroaches and a range of invasive species. Neonicotinoids are also vital for protecting backyard fruit and citrus trees that help provide important nutrition to families around the state. 

While there may be political reasons for AB 2146, there certainly is no scientific justification; the measure is misguided and unnecessary for a number of reasons:

  • Pesticide regulations should be decided by scientific bodies like DPR and not the legislature. This is why DPR has an entire army of scientists and why this department was created in the first place.
  • If concerned about chemicals, the state legislature should direct DPR to either undertake additional evaluation or provide more supporting information for its regulations. 
  • California’s regulatory structure is grounded in science and is more restrictive than any other state and perhaps the entire world.
  • Neonicotinoids were developed in large part because they are both effective and a safer alternative to previously used insecticides. 
  • DPR is currently preparing new neonicotinoid regulations that will be the most restrictive in the nation. 
  • As part of this process, DPR has already reviewed the current regulatory requirements for neonicotinoids in urban or home settings and found that additional action is not necessary. This echoes the findings of the EPA and its scientific advisory panels. 
  • Both EPA and DPR have aggressive regulations and commitment to pollinator protection as appropriate. More anti-science mandates are unnecessary. 

As if all of these scientific reasons aren’t enough for Gov. Newsom to veto AB 2146, how about the consequences if the bill were to become law?

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Widlfires, for example. If you take away the tool to combat invasive species and other harmful pests, there will be more dead plants and trees to fuel the state’s wildfires. AB 2146 creates more tinder for our dry state.

And while it would eliminate a critical tool for protecting a wide range of crops, the biggest threat would be to California’s $2-billion citrus industry. AB 2146 dismisses the fact neonicotinoids prevent the spread of the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) from residential trees to agriculture. 

An estimated 8 in 10 citrus trees in California are grown in urban areas. If our urban communities lose the ability to use neonicotinoids because they don’t have the resources to hire private professional applicators, there would be a high potential for a domino effect devastating an entire industry and urban gardens. If you don’t believe it, just look at what has happened to Florida, Texas, and northern Mexico because they could not control ACP.

Is an overreaching, feel-good and non-scientific law worth jeopardizing the health of Californians? Expanding the threat of wildfires? Compromising California’s agricultural commodities that help feed the nation and world? Of course not. 

We trust that Gov. Newsom, with a simple veto, will keep neonicotinoid regulations where they belong – in the hands of regulatory experts and scientists. Because “Trusting the Science” should not just be for public health and climate change – but also for agricultural policy decisions. California can and should lead the nation in setting this example.

Renee Pinel is President & CEO of Western Plant Health Association. The Western Plant Health Association supports the safe use of pesticides that protect the environment and human health.

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