September 8, 2020

The Importance of a Risk Management Approach to Pesticide Regulation

Our daily life routines consist of many activities including work, school, recreation, and travel. Hopefully, we go about engaging in these activities with a focus on the opportunities and benefits that they will bring to our lives and livelihood. Engaging in life’s opportunities brings both rewards and risks. As a society, we have studied many of those risks and have developed tried and true mitigations to minimize them to a realistic and practical level. Realistic and practical are key components to developing a successful risk management strategy that identifies a risk, mitigates that risk to a practical level, and does so in a way that allows productivity to continue.

People identify and make risk management decisions every day. We wear a seatbelt and follow driving regulations to best safeguard ourselves, our passengers, and other drivers on the roadway. This is done to reduce the opportunities for an accident to occur and if one does, that the results of that accident will not be as severe. Furthermore, these risk management strategies were developed based upon science and physics. What if we were to decide that we cannot have any risk with driving? The impracticality of that decision would lead to enormous social and economic consequences. Weighing risks and mitigating them is something that we do almost subconsciously whether it involves making diet choices or taking medications. The list goes on.

The discussion above is meant to provide some real-world examples of how important risk management decisions are and how we take them for granted. However, there is a strong and vocal anti-pesticide lobby that believes that risk management is not appropriate since it doesn’t eliminate the potential risk to zero. Talk about an impossible standard to meet. That is precisely their strategy. Since risk can never be zero; then a crop protection chemistry must be banned from use.

This concept of ignoring the importance of risk management completely discounts the millions of dollars of scientific research and countless studies that are conducted to bring a new crop protection chemistry to market. These active ingredients face such scrutiny at both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation that it often takes a decade or more to get them registered for sale and use in California. These studies specifically look at human health and the environment, as well as how effective the product is in controlling the intended pest or disease. By and large, these chemistries have been very beneficial in helping to limit pests and disease while increasing crop yields. Indeed, crop yields are a critical consideration for growers as they determine the economic viability of planting and harvesting a crop. And good crop yields are equally important to consumers since that plays a critical role in keeping food costs reasonable.

This article is not about conventional agriculture or organic agriculture. It is about the unfortunate success that the anti-pesticide lobby has had on building the public’s fear around pesticides and then using that messaging to call into question pesticide risk management decisions that have been based on science and real-world, per the label, use of a compound. As one of many advocates who operate within this space, it is truly frustrating and appalling to witness the attempt to dismantle the risk management model.

WG continues to highlight the necessity of risk management at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the negative consequences that a strict adherence to a zero risk policy as advocated by anti-pesticide groups would have on the entire agricultural output from farm to store. Our food supply is the safest on the planet because of risk management and the fact that growers follow precise guidance and regulations on integrated pest management and label requirements. WG will continue to advocate for both conventional and organic crop protection tools for growers to have in their toolbox.