Proposed Spraying of California Rice Threatens Food Chain

State moves to approve first use of harmful pesticide despite harm to honeybees, aquatic ecosystems, and waterfowl


Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000

In a move that could inflict widespread harm on wildlife and agriculture, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has proposed to allow aerial and ground spraying of a controversial pesticide on rice fields throughout the Sacramento Valley. The pesticide at issue, marketed under the brand name Belay, contains a “neonicotinoid” called clothianidin, which is highly toxic to animals at the foundation of the aquatic food chain and has also been linked in numerous scientific studies to the collapse of honeybee colonies across the state and the nation. The long-lasting toxic chemical is absorbed by plants and spreads throughout their leaves, flowers, pollen, and nectar.

Butte Sink Wildlife Management Area in northern California. Aquatic invertebrates provide sustenance for waterfowl that travel the Pacific flyway.  (Mike Peters / USFWS)

DPR is proposing to allow use of clothianidin on rice despite acknowledging in an internal memorandum that the pesticide poses a threat to aquatic organisms and water quality in downstream and adjacent waterways.

If DPR finalizes its proposed decision, Belay would become the first neonicotinoid approved for direct applications on rice in California. California is the second largest rice-producing state in the nation, with more than a half a million acres planted in the Sacramento Valley, often in close proximity to orchards of almonds and plums that rely on honeybees for pollination. The collapse of bee populations would jeopardize these and other crops.

Aquatic invertebrates like shrimp, crustaceans, and beneficial insects that live in California’s flooded rice fields would also be poisoned by the pesticide spray. Aquatic invertebrates provide sustenance for more than half of the approximately five million ducks and other waterfowl that travel the Pacific flyway each winter.

The pesticide has been linked to
the collapse of honeybee colonies.  (PDPhoto)

On Thursday, a coalition of advocacy groups including Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), American Bird Conservancy, Center for Food Safety and, represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, submitted a comment letter to DPR, urging the agency to withdraw its proposal. The coalition’s comments come on the heels of a lawsuit filed last week by Center for Food Safety, PANNA and several beekeeping groups urging the U.S. EPA to ban clothianidin due to impacts to pollinators.

Notably, DPR has acknowledged that if clothianidin is not approved for use on rice, there would be “no significant adverse environmental impact anticipated from the lack of additional pest control options.”

“DPR is all too often a rubber stamp for the chemical industry, routinely approving dangerous pesticides that we don’t need,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie. “With honeybees already dying off in record numbers, aerial spraying of rice fields with neonicotinoids could just be the last straw.”

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