Italy Questions Neonicotinoid Pesticides, California Department of Food and Agriculture Loves Them

Can I report the CDFA as a pest?

Responding to concerns about the safety of nicotine based pesticides, such as imidacloprid, the Italian government, last year, banned them as a seed treatment. According to the Institute of Science in Society, Researchers with the National Institute of Beekeeping in Bologna, Italy discovered that “pollen obtained from seeds dressed with imidacloprid contains significant levels of the insecticide, and suggested that the polluted pollen was one of the main causes of honeybee colony collapse.”[1] Since the Italian government’s ban last year bee colonies have sprung back. In some regions no hives have been lost at all with the exception of citrus groves in Southern Italy where neonicotinoids were sprayed.[2]

Which brings me to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, whose love for the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid I got to experience first hand. Last year our neighborhood was one of the first targeted by the CDFA for treatment in Los Angeles county after the appearance of the dreaded Asian Citrus Psyllid, a carrier of a fatal citrus disease called Huanglongbing (HLB)–see my early post about the psyllid and HLB. During a brief treatment period last fall CDFA agents and their contractors TruGreen attempted to spray every citrus tree with Bayer Crop Science’s version of imidacloprid, brand name Merit. During that spraying in my neighborhood CDFA agents and TruGreen:

1. Entered private property without warrants or permission.

2. Left misleading notices (click on image at right to enlarge) which failed to note that the treatment was voluntary.

3. Acted in an arrogant, condescending and rude manner. They also lied. When I declined treatment and noted that I was particularly concerned about the use of imidacloprid one agent offered what he called, “an alternative.” Upon further questioning he admitted that the “alternative” was a pellet version of imidacloprid–not an alternative at all, just the same insect neurotoxin in another form.

4. Ran out of pesticide. There are so many citrus trees in our neighborhood that the CDFA ran out of their precious imidacloprid tablets. They never returned to finish the job leading me to conclude that the operation was a kind of pesticide theater, a way to both justify their funding and please their friends at Sunkist.

European beekeepers would like to see all neonicotinoids banned for good. I’d like to see the same here. While imidacloprid is probably not hazardous to humans, all the oranges in the world are not worth killing our pollinating insects. And fighting invasive species this way is a losing game. I believe that HLB is inevitable. It’s just like Pierce’s disease in grapes, which is now an unavoidable part of viticulture in Southern California.

To my neighbors: I suggest we organize. Let’s resist CDFA’s attempt to spray more imidacloprid should they come around again. I’ve created a form where you can leave your email address here. I promise not to share the email addresses you provide or to send out spam. The list I create will only be used in the event we need to organize as concerned citizens. Hopefully I’ll never have to send out an email. But let’s not let CDFA treat us in a rude or condescending manner again. The next time CDFA pays a visit they may come with warrants and be even more surly. I’d love it if we had a crowd to greet them.

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  1. Waaaay back when in the late seventies, I was sunbathing with my older sister in the backyard when the doorbell rang. We were not dressed to answer the door so we ignored it. Then we heard the side yard gate open, so we sprang up from our towels and ran around to the side to find a couple of haz-suited guys spraying my mom’s grapes and fig tree. They were pretty surprised to see us, but they were even sorrier to have me chew them a new one as my older sister looked on. I was still in high school at the time, but I was pretty pissed off. Mom had told me prior that the whole spraying deal was because of the wineries’ pull with the local government.

    My feeling still is that the rights of individuals are supposed to be defended by our government- not the rights of business or the corporations. If you’re a citrus grower, you need to take an insect infestation in stride with the same attitude as the weather. Your business needs should not encroach on the individuals’ rights to treat or not treat their citrus. It’s a cost of being in the business you’re in.

    I sincerely hope that you will get a lot of support and rally a groundswell movement to protect yourselves from this kind of nonsense. It’s a classic case of the needs of the many being usurped by the needs of the few, the few who, I might add, should have no real representation in government. People first, business last.

  2. One of the things that bugs me about imidacloprid is that it is a systemic pesticide–it gets inside the cells of a plant and cannot be washed off. It has been approved for use on many fruit and vegetable crops, and there is no way of knowing whether what’s in the stores contains traces of the chemical.

    When I figured this out a few years ago, I switched to buying ALL organically-grown produce. I had been just buying the “ten most likely to be contaminated” (there are lists online).

    Imidacloprid is also the active ingredient in the Advantage flea killer that is used on cats. The chemical gets in their hair and does rub off onto the hands that pet the cat.

    The only mammalian health-effect that I have heard of so far is thyroid nodules (in rabbits, during short-term experiments). It is possible that this is the only effect there is, but I am not willing to bet my family’s health on it.

  3. Wow! They were deceptive! When they came to my house I really thought I had to let them in. I wish I had had this information earlier.I think you are right on the theatre aspect. I wonder if there is anything I could or should do for my trees now that they have been “treated”

  4. Anne and Bill,

    Sorry to say it’s too late to do anything–as agwh points out, imidicloprid is systemic–taken up by the body of the plant.

    I wish I could have got the word out about this before they started spraying. At the public meeting I went to CDFA was very cagey about whether the treatment was voluntary and admitted it only when pressured. The truth is that they can declare your yard a “nuisance” and come back with CHP officers to compel spraying if they feel like it and get a judge to sign off on it.

    The flipping sound you hear is Thomas Jefferson rolling over in his grave . . .


    The primary purpose of A.G. Kawamura, the secretary of the CDFA, and the other CDFA top management is to facilitate the maximum use of pesticides in the State of California. CDFA has successfully brought the use of pesticides in California to 200 million pounds per year, EVERY YEAR. That is about 6 pounds for each child, adult, infant, fetus and pregnant mother in the state.

    CDFA top management creates false bug emergencies in the state and then takes $100’s of millions of taxpayer dollars for nothing real, except the real effects on the places and people who are unfortunate to be in proximity to where CDFA applies the massive amounts of additional and unnecessary toxins.

    CDFA management can’t easily take the money out for themselves directly. But they give the money to large insider chemical corporations in the form of huge contracts for pesticides that are unnecessary. And then they have their means to get their share through all types of crony relationships, particularly after they leave the agency.

    CDFA is currently trying to initiate an eradication program for the entire state of California for a moth (Light Brown Apple Moth) that hasn’t done any damage for the near half century that it has been here. But CDFA is tired of small scale. They are going after about $100 million ADDITIONAL dollars per year of our money and if their other programs are any indication, they will attempt to milk it for 30 years or more.


    Kawamura, the secretary of the CDFA, actually sprayed pesticides directly onto children IN CITIES in Northern California even though they were category 3 toxins. CDFA told the parents that the products were non-toxic and perfectly safe. Can you imagine the hundreds of people and doctors who reported illness, when there was no procedure set up or place to accept illness reports. Can you imagine the tens of thousands that got ill and suffered without reporting or getting assistance for their injuries. Can you imagine the parents of the little 11-month-old perfectly healthy boy who went into respiratory arrest after the spray and his life was saved by an expert team of doctors at the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula. Can you even imagine!

    CDFA praises themselves claiming they have eradicated many pests and had hundreds of eradication programs. If you check the data closely, you will find that CDFA has implemented about 270 eradication programs for the Same Nine Insects, so about 30 times each. Rather than admit that they have never successfully eradicated any insect, they treat each application as a separate eradication. It is similar to someone claiming they have quit smoking 30 times and they are taking your money to quit again, after taking your money to quit the first 30.

    This article about the L.A. pesticide application (neonicotinoids) and the CDFA is so very accurate. Its refreshing to see the truth in print rather than the lies of the CDFA. Its good to alert people of the hazards from CDFA, a dishonest and despicably managed agency.

  6. One of the vivid memories of my childhood is of helping my mom and uncles denude a walnut tree in my uncle’s backyard in Palo Alto in the early 1980s. It was my cousin’s birthday, but you’d never have guessed that. We were removing as many green walnuts as we could because CA was in the middle of medfly hysteria, and was getting ready to carpet bomb everyone with malathion.

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