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California Pesticide Spray Ban Could Hamper Effort To Curb Citrus Pest

Agricultural Research Service / Wikimedia Commons

An adult Asian citrus psyllid on a young citrus leaf.

Agricultural Research Service / Wikimedia Commons

A Sacramento County Superior Court ruling says the California Department of Food and Agriculture must stop using nearly 80 pesticides on public and private property throughout California.

Jonathan Evans with the Center for Biological Diversity is one of the plaintiffs in the case. He says last week's decision still allows the CDFA to use a variety of other methods to address pests.

"But [the state] can't use pesticides until [it] addresses how those pesticides are going to impact communities affected and the sensitive wildlife species and watersheds that will be sprayed," Evans said.

The pests in question vary from the glassy-winged sharpshooter of northern vineyards to the Asian citrus psyllid, which lives in residential fruit trees in Southern California.

The Asian citrus psyllid causes Huanglongbing, an incurable disease that decimated Florida's citrus industry.

Dr. Elizabeth Grafton-Cardwell is a UC Riverside entomologist who studies the efficacy of pesticides at limiting the spread of Asian citrus psyllid. She argues this ruling is a huge setback because it removes the state's best tools in this fight.

Cardwell says the pest first appeared in Southern California in 2008 and then Huanglongbing disease showed up in 2012.

Since, "the state has managed to contain it to three counties in California — for the moment," Cardwell said. "But it's starting to spread very rapidly and so it's the most critical point in time to limit the psyllid spread."

Cardwell says staving off the spread of this pest is crucial to buy time for scientists working on gene editing and other potential long-term cures.

The CDFA issued the following statement in response to the court ruling: "Protecting agriculture and the natural landscape from invasive pests is a core mandate and an essential function of our agency. CDFA will comply with the judge’s decision and conduct any future program activities in compliance with CEQA as necessary. The Department is considering an appeal."


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