Discussing pesticide use in agriculture with 2 California organizations

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- On this Earth Day, we're diving deep into the use of pesticides and spoke with two organizations: Western Plant Health and United Farm Workers.

While both agree improvements can be made, they each have very different views.

"May 1, 2018, a group of women were harvesting cabbages out in Bakersfield," says Eriberto Fernandez with United Farm Workers. "Fifty of them began to feel a numbness in their tongue. They began to feel nauseous, have eye irritation and one of them fainted right there in the field."

Fernandez describes a time when farmworkers were caught in the middle of a pesticide drift.

"The biggest issue is pesticide exposure, pesticide drift, being exposed to toxic chemicals that have long-term consequences to people's health," he said.

Rene Pinel with Western Plant Health says California has strict laws in place for the use of pesticides and that each product label comes with specific directions on proper use.

On average, it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years for a chemical product to be approved and the process includes over 300 scientific studies on the product itself.

But Fernandez says more needs to be done.

"Solution would be stronger enforcement of current pesticides regulation rules that protect farmworkers and to reduce our reliance on the use of highly toxic chemicals," he said.

Currently, there are dozens of new and improved pesticides waiting to hit the market.

"Until we get them registered, then that's the challenge," Pinel said. "Pests aren't going to wait until we have these new products."

If pesticides are not safely applied, farmers risk being fined by ag commissioners and can face civil penalties.

"The same agricultural agency that is in charge of promoting agriculture and agricultural business is the same industry that is ensuring that pesticides regulations and rules are enforced," Fernandez said.

Just this year, the California attorney general, the Department of Pesticides Regulation and the San Joaquin County DA's office found Alpine Helicopter Services failed to safely apply pesticides across five incidents.

Part of the issue, Eriberto says, is that increasingly, corporations are taking over agriculture and family farms -- making farms more impersonal.

But the fight towards improved safety regulations and chemicals continues.

"We are certainly not advocating that it's good enough," Pinel said. "Everybody wants to do better, our members spend hundreds of millions of dollars on research every year."

Regardless, both parties say their goal is to find the safest and healthiest way to produce the 400-plus commodities in the state of California.
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