Commentary: Sensible pesticide policies needed for invasive pests

Commentary: Sensible pesticide policies needed for invasive pests

Food production relies on approval and availability of crop protection materials to manage destructive pests and diseases.

Commentary: Sensible pesticide policies needed for invasive pests
Renee Pinel


By Renee Pinel


California is the agricultural heart of our nation’s food supply chain. It produces more than 400 commodities, more than one-third of the nation’s vegetables and nearly three-quarters of its fruits and nuts.

Yet California agriculture is under constant attack from invasive pests and diseases. These nonnative plants and insects pose a significant threat to California ecosystems and our food supply. Some 84% of infestations result from insects that can attack crops, spread diseases from field to field and even sicken residents, according to the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California, Riverside.

Invasive pests, such as the varroa destructor mites from Asia, pose an ongoing threat. Then there’s the nonnative Mediterranean and oriental fruit fly and the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which have decimated crops and residential fruit trees. Dutch elm disease, spread by an invasive bark beetle, has led to the death of thousands of elms. These pests also endanger pollinators and habitat.

As we navigate challenges of environmental safety and community health, the conversation around pesticide use and regulation becomes increasingly relevant. Chemical formulas offer a solution. As with any tool, the key lies in its judicious use.

With losses exceeding $3 billion annually due to invasive species, California is at the forefront of this battle. Both federal and state regulatory agencies must fulfill their roles in shielding Californians from these threats. With much of it coming from invasive insects, registration of insecticides should be of special focus to California’s pest control authority, the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Globally, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in 2019 highlighted the economic impact of invasive species, with estimated damages of more than $423 billion annually. These species also play a major role in plant and animal extinctions, emphasizing the critical need for effective pest management strategies to protect our food sources and maintain biodiversity.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization notes that up to 40% of global crop production is lost to plant pests and diseases. Before insecticides were used, 50% of the artichoke crop was lost due to damage from worms. Without the use of pesticides, there would be a 78% loss of fruit production and a 54% loss of vegetable production.

Yet developing and approving new pesticides is time-consuming and expensive for registrants, often requiring more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars before a product can be brought to market. This includes a five- to seven-year review process by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with more than 300 health and environmental peer-reviewed studies, followed by duplicative California-specific evaluations, another set of studies and an extended timeline of another five or more years.

Proposals to transition agriculture to “softer chemistries” is another complicated aspect of pest control that must be evaluated when replacing effective registered products with newer versions. The process often requires multiple product applications, which can then lead to resistance and potentially increase the agricultural sector’s carbon footprint due to additional tractor passes and pesticide applications.

While the efficacy of softer chemistries is promising, they cannot be viewed as simple one-to-one replacements. Most must be used in combination with traditional tools or other new tools. As a result, California regulators must not restrict traditional crop protection tools until a proven combination of tools—not just one new product—is available.

There is a clear need to streamline the approval process of pesticides, particularly those designed to combat emerging pests and diseases. Legislative and regulatory efforts to impose bans on pesticides without thorough scientific evaluation and evidence must be rejected. Science, not political pressure, should guide our decisions.

The pandemic taught us the importance of being prepared and adaptable to unforeseen challenges. Banning pesticides or eliminating certain entire classes of pesticides could severely limit our ability to respond to new threats to agriculture. This could endanger our food supply and the well-being of our communities.

As we face challenges of climate change and invasive species, a balanced and scientifically informed approach to regulation is essential. This means keeping all options on the table, including pesticides, when scientifically justified and necessary for public health.

When used responsibly, pesticides are our best bet against these invasive threats for safeguarding our food supply and the precious biodiversity of regions such as California. If you take away tools to combat these harmful pests, we will see increased plant and tree diseases and dead vegetation worsening wildfire dangers.

Decisions on pesticide use must be based on scientific evidence, including careful consideration of our agricultural resilience, food security and environmental health. By promoting a regulatory environment rooted in scientific integrity, adaptability and sustainability, we can secure California’s agricultural future and protect our diverse ecological landscape, and the health and safety of all Californians.

(Renee Pinel is president and CEO of Western Plant Health, a Sacramento-based trade association representing fertilizer and crop protection companies. She may be contacted at

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