Berkeley challenges pesticide program violating environmental law

Photo of a man standing in a field spraying herbicide
Zefe Wu/Creative Commons
Several organizations and the city of Berkeley challenged a pesticide program from the California Department of Food and Agriculture due to its lack of environmental risk analysis and violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. Photo by Zefe Wu under Pixabay License.

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The city of Berkeley and 11 public health, conservation and food-safety organizations have won a lawsuit challenging a state-run pest control program’s approach to pesticide sprayings.

In a press release, the Center for Biological Diversity alleged that the California Department of Food and Agriculture, or CDFA, statewide pesticide-spraying program proposed the use of 75 pesticides statewide without meeting the responsibility to analyze the health and environmental impacts. The proposal also went without public notice, and communities were not given the opportunity to opt out of the pesticide sprayings.

Although the city of Berkeley, along with other plaintiffs, received a ruling from California’s Third District Court of Appeal on Oct. 15 affirming the CDFA violated state environmental law, they will have to wait for the lower court to issue final orders in the case according to Nan Wishner, board member of the California Environmental Health Initiative.

While there is no timeline for the orders, Wishner said she expects them to be issued within a few months.

“Winning this case sends a signal to the California Department of Food & Agriculture that its chemical methods of pest management are outdated and pose too great a risk to the health of Californians and to our shared environment,” Wishner said in an email. “It is time for the department to join the transition to safe, sustainable pest management approaches that are happening in other state agencies.”

According to the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, all proposed activities from state agencies that could possibly be harmful are required to provide a scientific analysis of their health and environmental effects.

This analysis is used in an environmental impact report which needs to meet CEQA standards. However, Wishner said the appeals court ruling said the CDFA’s environmental impact reports violated the CEQA.

The press release alleged that in this case, the department’s program would have the ability to apply pesticides without informing the public, did not account for the danger pesticides pose to pollinators and bodies of water and did not consider geographical conditions.

According to Wishner, as one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the city of Berkeley challenged the CDFA’s ability to spray pesticides in public areas of the city, including school grounds, parks and private yards.

Wishner said the lawsuit will help Berkeley residents to be protected from exposure to pesticides from state pest management programs.

Steve Lyle, CDFA spokesperson, said in an email that they are evaluating the ruling.

“This ruling sends an important message to the Department of Food and Agriculture to make protecting the health of our communities and food supply the top priority by joining the transition to sustainable pest management practices,” Wishner stated in the press release.

Lauren Cho is a general assignment reporter. Contact them at [email protected].

A previous version of this article incorrectly implied the lawsuit had not been won. In fact, it had been won.
A previous photo caption for this article incorrectly stated the pesticide program was proposed by the California Food and Drug Administration. In fact, it was proposed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.