Common sense says Senate Bill 6529 is destructive to Washington’s farms and food

Jan 26, 2018

Should farmers spend days watching insects and disease destroy crops before acting? New legislation would have exactly that effect.

On Thursday, January 25, the Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 6529 - “an act relating to protecting agricultural workers and community members from pesticides.”

Supporters of this bill call it “common sense” but those who will deal with the consequences call it “destructive.”

Which side is correct?

Despite being touted as a worker protection bill and supported by the Washington Labor Council and Washington Education Association, this bill does nothing to protect workers. Instead it capitalizes on misunderstandings about agriculture to push fear-based legislation.

Senate Bill 6529 will require:

  • Pesticide users to notify the Department of Health (DOH) four business days before an intended application
  • Pesticide users to submit pesticide monthly records to the DOH
  • The DOH must develop a list of individuals who wish to be notified regarding pesticide applications on adjacent property
  • The DOH to make the data accessible to the public in a searchable, aggregated form without identifying the submitting applicators
  • DOH to investigate violations and assess a civil fine up to $7,500

In Thursday’s committee hearing three farmers were asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10 how destructive would this legislation be to your farm?” They answered, “10.” Citing a number of reasons, the farmers made it clear this legislation could allow insects to destroy large portions of their crop before controlling the outbreak.

Farmers do not dismiss the concerns regarding pesticides, pointing to intense regulations already in place. Federal and state laws already regulate pesticides, and at the state level three agencies are involved in oversight: WA Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), WA State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), and Washington Department of Health (DOH).

Unfortunately, SB 6529 looks past the existing protections and adds more bureaucracy without improving public or worker safety. Most of SB 6529’s objectives are duplicative of an existing process:

  • Schools must already be notified in order to notify interested parties at least 48 hours before a nearby pesticide application.
  • Pesticide users already maintain detailed records under the Pesticide Application Act and the Right to Know Act. These records must be available to the regulating agencies upon request.
  • WSDA already administers a sensitive persons list, consisting of those who apply to be included on the pesticide notification list.
  • DOH is already required to investigate pesticide-related illnesses.

For the objectives of SB 6529 that go beyond existing law two other points must be made:

  1. Farming is an unpredictable business requiring short turnarounds for pesticide applications – predicting pesticide applications hours, let alone days, before their need is difficult.

Farmers choose to apply pesticides based on plant needs and economics, making timing a critical component. Imagine that the farmer makes a diagnosis like your doctor. The farmer determines that there is a critical insect or disease pressure, they choose a pesticide to control the insect or disease pressure, and finally make the application. SB 6529 requires the farmer to wait four days between diagnosis and application. Potentially allowing the disease or insect to devastate the crop.

The unanticipated side effects of such a regulation could potentially increase pesticide use as farmers begin making preventative instead of prescriptive applications. Preventative sprays would also increase the risk of resistance.

  1. Other states have attempted similar notification lists and searchable databases only to find high costs and chaotic administration. For those states who have disclosed costs, the annual amount is usually around $1 million, not including start up costs.

Oregon Department of Agriculture was required by the state legislature to administer the Pesticide Use Report System (PURS) to mandate electronic reporting. The system lasted 2 years after implementation but due to costs and challenges the program was discontinued in 2009.

Is this a common-sense bill or is it destructive? How would we answer if we were required to duplicate our work, delay taking our medicine, and were forced to log information into a system that doesn’t work but still costs us money?

That is exactly what SB 6529 will force Washington farmers to do with no benefit to workers or the food system.