Pesticides are some of the most studied and regulated chemistries we humans use after human medicines. Pesticides are used to maintain the health of the plant, the wholesomeness of the food, and in the case of almonds, even help to ensure food safety. These compounds help to control weeds, plant pathogens, and insects and are used by all growers (organic growers use pesticides that meet the organic definition). For more details on the range of pests almond growers need to contend with see Pest Management.
At the federal level the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs has the responsibility for assessing the risks and benefits from the use of a pesticide and determining under what conditions a pesticide may be used. In California, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) also reviews the risks from pesticides for California conditions. In addition to pesticide regulations, water quality and air quality regulations can regulate some aspects of pesticide use.
Federal Pesticide Registration Process
Pesticides at the federal level are regulated under two federal legislations:
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) provides for federal regulation of pesticide distribution, sale, and use. All pesticides distributed or sold in the United States must be registered (licensed) by EPA.
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires the EPA to set maximum residue limits (aka “tolerance”) or exemptions from a tolerance for any food item that is treated with a pesticide. It also provides that FDA has the authority to enforce the maximum residue limits.
The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) by fundamentally changing the way EPA assesses the risks from pesticides.
Before pesticides can be marketed and used in the United States, the EPA evaluates them thoroughly to ensure that they meet federal safety standards to protect human health and the environment. Pesticides that meet the requirements are granted a license, or “registration”, that permits their sale and use according to specific directions and requirements which are stated on the pesticide label. During the rigorous registration process, registrants are required to submit results from more than 100 different scientific studies that demonstrate the safe use of the product. A risk assessment looks for possible impacts through dietary, drinking water and home uses combined, at worker exposure as well as possible impacts in the environment. Maximum residue limits (MRLs or tolerances) are established for each pesticide, and for the crops on which they may be used.
The entire content of a pesticide label must be approved by EPA before the pesticide can be sold or distributed in the United States. The label provides clear directions for effective use while minimizing risks to human health and the environment. It is a violation of federal law to use a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling. EPA recently completed a 10 year review of all older compounds to ensure they met current safety standards. Now EPA is in Registration Review where each compound is reviewed at least once every 15 years so that any newer data or changes in needs can be assessed. In conducting these reassessments, EPA places special consideration on potential exposure to children, who may be more vulnerable to risks from pesticides and with registration review a focus will be on environmental impacts.
California Pesticide Regulations
In California, pesticides are regulated under the Food and Agriculture Code, Sections 6, 7 & 8. Before pesticides can be used on crops in California, they must also be registered by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which provides strict oversight of product evaluation, product registration, environmental monitoring, residue testing, and local use enforcement. Pesticide manufacturers who want to distribute their products in California must first submit results from tests and studies to DPR for evaluation. DPR confirms that the chemicals can be safely used under the specific and sometimes unique growing conditions found in California. While similar to EPA, the DPR review occasionally requires additional specific data, for example, on worker exposure and environmental effects. Once registered and approved for use, pesticides are subject to periodic reevaluation to determine if there have been any changes in the conditions of use or in risks.
Licensing & Monitoring
To assure the safe, environmentally sound and effective use of pesticides in California, regulations require that (1) licensed professionals recommend and apply pesticides, or (2) growers and/or their employees who apply pesticides are properly trained and certified. In addition, every California pesticide applicator must register with their local County Agricultural Commissioner’s office for an annual permit, and some pesticides require a specific permit from the Commissioner’s office prior to application. This provides local oversight over pesticide applications in California and is unique in the United States.
Since 1990, California DPR instituted a program of “100 percent use reporting.” This means that every grower must report to the county in which he farms every pesticide application he or she makes. The report must include the name of the product, the amount applied, the acreage, and the date and location of the application. The DPR compiles these pesticide use reports on an annual basis, and the results are available online, circa a year after the close of the calendar year.
County Agricultural Commissioners’ offices provide both education and oversight of pesticide applications. These offices have inspectors that go out into the field to inspect applications at any time and can issue fines for failures to follow pesticide labels. DPR oversees licensing and certification of dealers, pest control advisers (PCAs), pest control businesses, and applicators. California regulators administer the nation’s largest state pesticide residue monitoring program, among other enforcement duties. Altogether, the use of pesticides by California growers is highly regulated and monitored to assure the health and welfare of growers, workers, the public, the environment, and the consumer.
View list of U.S. as well as international maximum pesticide residue limits on almonds
For information on pesticide residues on almonds visit USDA-AMS’s Pesticide Data Program 2007 report.