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California unveils strictest pesticides rules

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Staff writer ▼ | January 16, 2015
California farmers now must abide by the nation's strictest rules for a widely used pesticide in a change designed to protect farmworkers and people who live and work near agricultural fields but is likely to raise prices on produce.
California farmers
California   Better than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The restrictions target chloropicrin, a pesticide injected into the ground before planting crops such as strawberries, tomatoes and almond orchards. In recent years, the chemical has caused hundreds of people to suffer from irritated eyes, coughing fits and headaches, state officials said.

The new regulations surpass standards required by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the new regulation, farmers are limited to applying the pesticide on up to 40 acres in one day, a reduction of 75 percent. It also expands the distance between fields and human activity — in some cases to double the distance.

The state has been talking with growers for more than a year about the new standards and will immediately begin implementing them, with full compliance required by 2016.

California farmers fear that tighter restrictions will increase the costs of their fruits and vegetables, potentially driving the market out of state or the country. Almond and grape growers use chloropicrin once every 20 to 30 years when they plant a new orchard or vineyard, but California's strawberry growers, who use it each season, may be hit hardest.

California produces 88 percent of the nation's strawberry crop, supporting a $2.3 billion industry, said Carolyn O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission. It will cost the state's strawberry growers an estimated $20 million to buy upgraded tarps to cover their crops and comply with the standards, she said.