Commentary: How some pesticide policies can harm food security

Commentary: How some pesticide policies can harm food security

Modern pesticides have provided safe and effective tools for California farmers. But restrictions that target whole classes of pesticides can threaten farmers’ ability to meet global food demands.

Commentary: How some pesticide policies can harm food security
Amrith Gunasekara



By Amrith Gunasekara


In 2022, the Breakthrough Institute global research center advanced a concept called “deregulating abundance.”

The idea is that we have an abundance of tools and technologies that for various reasons—namely due to excessive regulation—are no longer “abundant.”

This is concerning when it comes to ensuring our food security. For example, we have seen unneeded pesticide restrictions limiting valuable crop protection materials that have helped provide us with a safe, affordable, high-quality food supply.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulatory bodies are tasked with evaluating and protecting against environmental, animal and human health impacts of pesticides used in homes, gardens and agriculture. That involves testing of new and existing pesticides to understand potencies and safe use in controlling pests that either bother us, harm us or harm our food supply.

Yet some environmental mandates have pushed regulatory agencies to set unnecessary limits on technologies that help us in everyday life and in protecting our food supply. It is arguable that the environmental agenda has gone too far in restricting tools we need for food security, including our need to feed 10 billion people on Earth by 2057.

Modern science has given us the opportunity to deregulate abundance to ensure global food security and economic growth, even in the face of climate change.

Modern pesticide science can now mimic natural insecticides and their chemical structures to produce safe and useful materials for protecting crops. A good example is pyrethroids. Pyrethroids are derived from pyrethrins or pyrethrum, a naturally occurring chemical produced by the chrysanthemum plant and flower.

Pyrethroids are now a class of chemical pesticides that has gone on to become an important tool in controlling insect pests in agriculture and around the home. Controlling insect pests is critical for human health and protecting against insects that carry disease. Insect-damaged crops cannot be sold to consumers and must meet certain food quality standards to be sold at grocery stores.

These pesticides must be registered first with the EPA and state programs, including the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Pesticide Regulation. To be registered, the pesticide must be tested in a controlled laboratory or field setting for toxicity to microorganisms, animals and humans. If there are any toxicity issues other than for the targeted insects, the product does not get registered.

Yet, over time, regulations and restrictions on pesticide use have moved from targeting single products to whole classes of pesticides. In California, that is resulting in efforts to restrict further use of pyrethroid pesticides, which have provided a safe and important tool for farmers.

California leads the nation in crop production, including the production of many of the nutritious crops we use in our salads. Taking pesticides away from growers is akin to taking cars away from people when they have to get to work. How will the job—or in this case, our food production—meet the demands?

Of late, the EPA has focused on restricting rodenticide use. Rodenticides control rats and mice that spread diseases in urban settings and are significant nuisances in agricultural systems. The restrictions undercut efforts to save water in California agricultural systems because unmanaged rodents chew on drip lines that carefully deliver water and fertilizers to root zones.

Our abundance of tools to effectively control pests is significant. Yet, with a philosophical approach that targets the use and application of whole pesticide classes under a guise of protecting the environment, regulatory agencies appear to be invoking European-style precautionary principles over actual, evidence-based scientific data.

Those precautionary principles hold that certain policies can be made simply based on a “potential” harm, even though scientific data can be collected to support or unsubstantiate the policies.

In the U.S., evidence-based science has thankfully dominated policymaking even in liberal states such as California. But policies based on good science can be threatened by environmental agendas that wrongly target whole classes of pesticides.

As a result, deregulating abundance must be a critical piece of policymaking if we are to move forward with good science and technological tools that have allowed modern agriculture to thrive and that are key to their future.

Deregulating abundance to safeguard California farmers and ranchers responsible for America’s most productive agricultural sector should be accomplished through critical evaluation by federal and state agencies. It should be based on science and free of bias or political agendas.

These technological developments have had profound and positive impacts. They can protect and enhance the future of agriculture and the natural habitat we all need to survive.

(Amrith Gunasekara, Ph.D., is director of science and research for the California Bountiful Foundation, an affiliate 501(c)(3) of the California Farm Bureau. He may be reached at

Permission for use is granted. However, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation