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Agronomy, Vol. 12, Pages 1865: 3DPhenoMVS: A Low-Cost 3D Tomato Phenotyping Pipeline Using 3D Reconstruction Point Cloud Based on Multiview Images

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Agronomy, Vol. 12, Pages 1865: 3DPhenoMVS: A Low-Cost 3D Tomato Phenotyping Pipeline Using 3D Reconstruction Point Cloud Based on Multiview Images

Agronomy doi: 10.3390/agronomy12081865

Authors: Yinghua Wang Songtao Hu He Ren Wanneng Yang Ruifang Zhai

Manual phenotyping of tomato plants is time consuming and labor intensive. Due to the lack of low-cost and open-access 3D phenotyping tools, the dynamic 3D growth of tomato plants during all growth stages has not been fully explored. In this study, based on the 3D structural data points generated by employing structures from motion algorithms on multiple-view images, we proposed a 3D phenotyping pipeline, 3DPhenoMVS, to calculate 17 phenotypic traits of tomato plants covering the whole life cycle. Among all the phenotypic traits, six of them were used for accuracy evaluation because the true values can be generated by manual measurements, and the results showed that the R2 values between the phenotypic traits and the manual ones ranged from 0.72 to 0.97. In addition, to investigate the environmental influence on tomato plant growth and yield in the greenhouse, eight tomato plants were chosen and phenotyped during seven growth stages according to different light intensities, temperatures, and humidities. The results showed that stronger light intensity and moderate temperature and humidity contribute to a higher biomass and higher yield. In conclusion, we developed a low-cost and open-access 3D phenotyping pipeline for tomato and other plants, and the generalization test was also complemented on other six species, which demonstrated that the proposed pipeline will benefit plant breeding, cultivation research, and functional genomics in the future.

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The carbon footprint of importing food could be up to 7.5x higher than previously thought: what this means for CEA.

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Carbon footprint of importing food could be 7.5x higher than thought


A new study in Nature Food has found that food’s transport emissions, once thought to be a negligibly small proportion of food systems emissions, are much higher than previously estimated - and that the carbon footprint estimates of imported fruits and vegetables will be particularly impacted. 

If you work in the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) sector, this is a very important piece of research to be aware of. However, we know that everyone is feeling a little bit stretched right now, with the impacts of the energy crisis already being felt across the industry and harvest season for seasonal greenhouse growers in full swing. So to save you getting bogged down in the details, we had our Food Systems Researcher, India Langley, summarise the study and its CEA implications for you. 

What are the research findings? 

The report estimates that emissions from global food-miles are about 3 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. This is 3.5 to 7.5 times higher than previously thought.  

The new higher figure equates to nearly 30% of food-system emissions, or 19% of total food-system emissions if you also include emissions associated with land-use change (which we think you should include!). The proportion is much higher than for other non-food commodities, where freight accounts for only around 7% of emissions.

When it comes to transport emissions, how the food is transported is crucial; so it’s not quite as simple as distance travelled. Airfreighting has the highest intensity, followed by road transport, with shipping having the lowest impact. The temperature matters too. Temperature-controlled transportation releases more than three times the amount of CO2 equivalent than ambient transport. Fruits and vegetables were singled out in the study as typically needing temperature controlled transportation, often internationally. Because of this, their food-mile emissions are higher than foods transported at ambient temperatures. The study highlighted that vegetable and fruit consumption makes up over a third of global food-miles emissions. This new significantly higher estimate of their transport emissions is nearly twice what is emitted during their production - though it should be noted that production emissions for fruits and vegetables are relatively low compared to other foods. The highest carbon emissions in the study were still attributed to beef. 

A hypothetical scenario where food imports were completely replaced with domestic supply was modelled in the study. While an intervention like this would be impossible in a real world setting, the model provided useful insights. A wholly domestic food consumption scenario would reduce food-miles emissions by 0.27 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent and food production emissions by 0.11 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Unsurprisingly, affluent counties have the highest global food transport emissions. Just by containing food chains within high-income countries, the model found it would reduce transport emissions by 0.24 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent and production emissions by 0.39 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. 

A summary of recommendations 

What do these new findings mean and what are the recommendations from the authors? This more detailed accounting of food’s transport emissions asks rich nations to reconsider the trade-off between localised food versus international food trade. 

More locally produced plants 

The study concludes with a recommendation that to address food system emissions, we must increase domestic food production in high-income countries and combine this with the current suggested strategy of reducing the consumption of animal products in favour of a more plant-oriented diet. Both the study and Nature’s recent press about it stress that this does not mean we should reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed. 

Investing in peri-urban agriculture

The study highlights that a strategy that both supports a more plant-oriented diet and local production could be supported by “tapping into the considerable potential of peri-urban agriculture in nourishing large numbers of urban residents.” 

So what does this mean for controlled environment agriculture? 

Well, first it means that if you’ve conducted an environmental impact assessment comparing your indoor grown produce with imported produce, your figures may not be wholly accurate. It is important to determine these parameters to aid decision making towards when a CEA system such as a greenhouse or vertical farm will have a preferable environmental advantage, and when it won’t. It’s imperative that, as an industry, we really understand the numbers and that we’re as transparent as possible about them. Over the past four years I’ve spoken to hundreds of people in the industry and the common thread that runs through every person is that they want to make a difference. Without a true understanding of environmental accounting, you won’t be able to differentiate where you can make positive change and where you could do more harm than good. 

At LettUs Grow, we’re already looking at going back to the drawing board for some of our data. For example, our current estimates say that a DROP & GROW running on wind power is preferable to fresh produce imported from further than 397 km by airfreight or 658 km by refrigerated lorry. However, in light of this new study, the distances food needs to travel before being replaced by produce from a DROP & GROW container may shorten significantly - opening up new areas where container farmed produce is a sustainable and viable alternative to imported fruits and vegetables. 

The research also indicates that if you’re looking to reduce the global warming potential of food miles, focusing on produce that needs temperature controlled transport will result in the most carbon savings. This information can help guide the types of plants you invest research and development into. That is to say, you’ll see a greater environmental benefit from growing berries than you would from growing, for example, grains. This is because such a large percentage of their total emissions from seed to spoon are associated with refrigerated transport. 

Fundamentally, if this research is listened to, it should hopefully act as a wake-up call and galvanise support for increasing domestic food production. In the UK, we import over three quarters of our fruits and vegetables (Source: Feeding Britain) and our horticulture sector has been woefully stripped back to just 3% of farm land use. The study’s authors specifically advocate utilising the potential within peri-urban agriculture. CEA facilities, from greenhouses to plant-factories, are well placed technical solutions for enabling year-round production in peri-urban environments. This research has the potential to generate increased interest in this type of horticulture as a viable alternative to importing certain produce. Rich nations need to reconsider the consequences of their food strategies - the impacts of importing fresh produce can no longer be written off as “negligible”. 

Did you find this article useful? If you’d like more breakdowns of industry research or any specific studies summarised, please feel free to forward them to communications@lettusgrow.com or join our mailing list for more updates. 


 

Written by India Langley
Food Systems Research & PR Lead

 

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22 Solutions-Focused Stories on the Food System in 2022

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Despite the stresses of an ongoing pandemic, extreme weather conditions, and an extreme news cycle, the team at Civil Eats continues to report on inspiring stories of success all along the food chain. We know that our readers are hungry for good news, and work hard to report on solutions to incredibly complex problems in the food system. As we take our annual summer hiatus this week, we share some of our recent reporting that shines a light on how communities are working to address the growing threat of climate change and corporate influence,  better access to healthy, affordable food, and creating a more inclusive food and farm system for all.

Rear view of a couple working in the field of a family owned farm. They are walking along the rows, separated by a row of vegetable plants, looking at each other and conversing. He is a mature man in his 40s. She is an Hispanic woman in her 30s.

Can Farmers Help Each Other Navigate Mental Health Crises?
The pandemic precipitated a new mental health crisis in ag. Programs have some federal funding—for now.

NYC Community Gardeners Might Have New Protection in the Fight Against Development
Designating community gardens as ‘Critical Environmental Areas’ could give neighborhoods a seat at the table when developers move in.

California Gives a Big Boost to Corner Stores that Sell Fresh Produce
The state’s Healthy Refrigeration Grant Program will invest $20 million to bring fresh produce to low-access communities in 2022.

Early morning packing of organic school food boxes at WCCUSD's central kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Conscious Kitchen)

Pandemic Disruptions Created an Opportunity for Organic School Meals in California
A large Bay Area school district that serves low-income families is on its way to offering 100 percent organic food. It’s not alone.

Is Michelle Wu America’s Food Justice Mayor?
The new leader of Boston is embarking on the most ambitious food policy agenda the city has ever seen, and one that could serve as an example for cities nationwide.

Soil Proof: The Plan to Quantify Regenerative Agriculture
With the 1,000 Farm Initiative, Jonathan Lundgren will spend the next 10 years studying the potential to draw carbon into the soil and bring life back to farm fields.

Lexa Meyer of Blue Evolution harvesting kelp in Alaska. (Photo credit: Alf Pryor)

Can Small Seaweed Farms Help Kelp Scale Up?
While some farms plan to grow massive quantities of kelp, Atlantic Sea Farms is counting on Maine’s small-scale fishermen to expand the industry and distribute ownership.

Vegan Fridays for All? More Schools Offer Plant-Based Meals
Despite many challenges, schools are focusing on equity and nutrition in an effort to feed kids more options.

Sustainable caught fish from Long Island’s Haskell's Seafood, a family run fishery, being delivered to the kosher Masbia pantry in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Photo Essay: How Nourish New York Is Still Feeding NYC
A program created to support farmers and feed New Yorkers amidst the pandemic’s food crisis is here to stay.

As Dollar Stores Proliferate, Some Communities Push Back
Dollar store parent companies say they’re feeding people in ‘food deserts,’ but critics say they’re making food inequity worse. Now, 25 municipalities have some form of moratorium on new stores.

Can Produce Prescription Programs Turn the Tide on Diet-Related Disease?
As the farm bill process ramps up and some hope to expand the use of Produce Rx programs, new research seeks to assess the impact of this “food as medicine” tactic.

Caroline Yelle holds a frame from her beehives while searching for a healthy queen bee.

Civil Eats TV: Let Them Bee
‘To save ourselves, we have to save the bees’: Caroline Yelle is breeding queen honey bees to survive the changing climate and multiple other threats.

How Mexican Public Health Advocates Fought Big Soda and Won
The new film ‘El Susto’ documents efforts to tax soda in Mexico at a time when Coca-Cola was more accessible than water and Type 2 diabetes was the leading cause of death.

In the Battle Over the Right to Repair, Open-Source Tractors Offer an Alternative
Proponents say an open-source farm equipment ecosystem is key to a future of more innovative, repairable, and environmentally adapted tools.

The community library at the MLK branch of the Oakland Public LibraryPublic Libraries Are Making It Easy to Check Out Seeds—and Plant a Garden
Across the country, libraries are giving away seeds to encourage neighbors to plant food, spend more time outside, and build a relationship with nature.

Farmers Trial Climate-Friendly Chickpeas in Upstate New York
Introducing a new crop to the Finger Lakes region could give farmers access to a ready-made market—if growers can perfect their techniques.

This Antioxidant May Provide a Key Link Between Regenerative Agriculture and Human Health
Recent studies have found that crops grown with regenerative practices contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Ergothioneine, a ‘longevity vitamin,’ stands out as one of the most important in the bunch.

The Estate vineyards. (Photo courtesy of the Heritage Grape Project)Will Climate Change Help Hybrid Grapes Take Root in the US Wine Industry?
Winemakers around the country are working to bring back indigenous and hybrid grape varieties that are better adapted to extreme weather and the new pests and diseases that come amid climate change.

‘Buy Nothing’ Groups Are Doubling as Food Distribution Networks
As inflation and grocery prices soar, a volunteer in San Francisco created a food pantry from scratch to feed neighbors in need. Now, she hopes the model catches on.

Eric Oransky, founding partner, Maine Ocean Farms, holding up two filled beechwood oyster harvest bags. Credit: Ocean Farms Supply

To Cut Ocean Plastic Pollution, Aquaculture Turns to Renewable Gear
Shellfish and kelp growers are exploring alternatives ranging from kelp-based ropes and lobster bait bags to oyster cages made solely from wood and metal.

This Pilot Program Is Supporting Tribal Food Sovereignty with Federal Dollars
Tribes are teaching the USDA about self-determination agreements in order to administer their own FDPIR food assistance programs. Will it be enough?

This San Francisco Supper Club Gives Youth a Chance to Reinvent Themselves
At Old Skool Café, young people whose lives have been impacted by violence, the foster care system, and incarceration are learning the ins and outs of the food business and forging new paths in the process.

 

The post 22 Solutions-Focused Stories on the Food System in 2022 appeared first on Civil Eats.

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Op-ed: Farmworkers Face Stress and Depression. The Pandemic Made It Worse.

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It’s a very hard time to be a farmworker. Across the nation, these essential workers have faced increased risk of COVID-19 infection and mortality. In California, farmworkers have been among the most impacted—2021 research found that they were four times more likely to test positive than the general population.

Yet, while COVID and other health impacts—including increasing the dangers of heat stress as the climate crisis ramps up—have received national attention, the mental health challenges faced by agricultural workers are less visible. This is particularly problematic because even before the pandemic, agricultural workers nation-wide were vulnerable to very high stress levels, as well as higher than average rates of depression and anxiety. All of that is also linked to poor physical health, substance abuse, and high injury rates.

“Adding to the stresses for agricultural workers, temperatures often average well above 100 degrees during the summer and the air quality is some of the poorest in the state.”

According to our recent study, 40 percent of agricultural workers in Imperial County, a farming community along California’s southern border, experience high enough levels of stress to pose significant mental health risks. Imperial County is home to massive farms that produce more than half the nation’s winter vegetables, and many workers commute daily from Mexico to work in the fields. Despite the successes of the agricultural industry, Imperial County ranks highest in the state for income inequality, unemployment, and children living in poverty and has the highest proportion of non-white residents in California. There are well-documented housing shortages in the county and access to healthcare is limited. Adding to the stresses for agricultural workers, temperatures often average well above 100 degrees during the summer and the air quality is some of the poorest in the state.

As a joint effort between San Diego State University and the Imperial Valley Equity and Justice Coalition, our findings point to the intersections between workplace conditions, access to healthcare, and mental well-being among agricultural workers. We conducted 199 surveys and 12 interviews with Latinx agricultural workers who are employed in Imperial County and reside on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. We found similarly high levels of stress in both groups, despite the fact that workers who cross the border daily often start their commutes at 2am. Instead, we found that foreign-born and older agricultural workers were more likely to report elevated stress than their younger and U.S.-born co-workers. This means that regardless of residing on the Mexican or U.S. side of the border, those born outside the U.S. reported higher stress levels.

Summary of agricultural worker stress study results

Summary of agricultural worker stress study results

Many workers reported stresses endemic to agricultural labor, but other stressors may be directly connected to COVID. For example, workers reported high stress from English-language communication and lack of access to clean restrooms and medical care.

Language-related stress was often seen as a barrier to accessing COVID relief, testing, and vaccines; these often required not only English proficiency but also computer literacy. Lack of access to clean restrooms made hand washing difficult on the job. Meanwhile, lack of accessible medical care could mean the difference between life and death.

Essential to harvesting the nation’s food supply, agricultural workers in California have been targeted with an influx of federal, state, and local resources meant to mitigate the impact of COVID over the last two years. These included mobile testing sites, priority for vaccinations, eviction protections, health and sanitation guidelines and resources, and state-sponsored programs such as Governor Gavin Newsom’s Housing for the Harvest program and paid sick leave.

But it’s not clear that these programs helped reduce levels among farmworkers or improved their access to health resources. While many employers in Imperial County followed health and safety guidelines, several larger agricultural processing companies have been fined for negligence in protecting workers. The Housing for the Harvest program was marred with underutilization, and in Imperial County alone, $900,000 of available funding went unspent. Workers in our study were quick to mention poor bathroom quality and how hard it is to maintain a distance from co-workers in the field, in crowded housing, and while commuting to and from work.

In addition to the factors we’ve mentioned, inequity in the location of COVID testing and vaccine sites often leads many agricultural workers to seek health care in Mexico from more accessible and trusted—though pricier—sites. One agricultural worker we spoke to said, “Going to Mexicali was easier for me, since I don’t know how to read or write. They gave my test results to me in six hours.”

While government programs had mixed success, community-based approaches from trusted, local, Spanish-speaking organizations have been shown to be critical to connecting farmworkers with needed resources.

Workers told us that these organizations linked them with resources while also mitigating stressors having to do with work hours, literacy, and a lack of familiarity with U.S. healthcare services. For example, one local health center hosted Spanish-language, 2 a.m. vaccination clinics near the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. Those hours were accessible for agricultural workers who cross early in the morning to U.S.-based transit sites, but do not return from work until after the close of most other clinics. One agricultural worker praised these community-based approaches as, “always being attentive, always calling us, always being aware of when there are going to be vaccines, notifying us. So, in that moment I feel less stressed.”

“Medical and mental health provision must meet farmworkers in their places of residence, at daily transit points, and at the workplace.”

For many migrant farmworkers, COVID-19 housing, testing, and vaccine programs were among their first experiences with affordable healthcare in the United States. But our research suggests that free services are not enough to make care accessible. Stressors from workplace conditions, English-language communication, and long work hours means that healthcare must travel to farmworkers. Medical and mental health provision must meet farmworkers in their places of residence, at daily transit points, and at the workplace.

This means that trusted, Spanish-speaking community organizations are not ancillary, but  central to what a truly accessible system of farmworker healthcare must look like. Yet while local governments across California have largely used American Recovery Plan Act funds for public safety and bonuses for government staff, community-based organizations struggle to find financial support and often rely on volunteers and underpaid staff members.

Survey collection in downtown Calexico (Photo credit: Luis Flores)

Survey collection in downtown Calexico (Photo credit: Luis Flores)

If we want to ensure a continued workforce for our farms and prevent a massive ongoing mental health crisis among farmworkers, funding programs must recognize the critical role of trusted community-based organizations in providing critical resources to our burdened agricultural workers. Nationally, these types of resources and efforts can address inequities in access to mental health services, as well as other vital services such as education. Federal, state, and local governments must see community organizations as key providers of localized care and invest to bring more mental health care workers to these communities.

The post Op-ed: Farmworkers Face Stress and Depression. The Pandemic Made It Worse. appeared first on Civil Eats.

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How To Implement a Strong Food Safety Culture

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Creating a company culture that embraces food safety is paramount to protecting your business and end users. But, developing a strong food safety culture takes time, effort and a buy-in from leadership.

We spoke with Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D., director of the Alliance to STOP Foodborne Illness, to discuss what it takes to create a company culture committed to food safety and what is holding companies and employees back from speaking up and taking action when safety concerns are identified.

Food Safety Tech (FST): How do companies get started in implementing a strong food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: I think it’s really important to remember that every company in the food space already has a food safety culture. They may just not know it. So, a good first step is to assess your current food safety culture. What’s going right? What’s going wrong? From there, outline where you would like to go.

FST: How do you assess your current food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: Talking with your employees and asking questions is a good start. There are some questionnaires available online to help you assess your current culture. It’s hard, though, because a lot of them are not scientifically validated, largely because food safety culture is amorphous and it’s also new.

We have a number of resources available on our website, including a Food Safety Culture Toolkit for businesses.

FST: How do company leaders motivate employees to play an active role in ensuring safe food processing and handling?

Dr. Coffman: That is really, really important. You can incentivize people through a rewards and recognition program, which is what a lot of our Alliance member-companies are doing.

I also think that getting into the heart and not just the mind of the employee is important. We have a lot of video resources and stories from foodborne illness survivors and people who have lost loved ones to foodborne illness. These are good motivators to help your team understand what can happen and how important every single person’s role is in the the production of safe food.

FST: How are companies incentivizing their employees to embrace food safety practices?

Dr. Coffman: It can be as simple as recognizing an employee of the month—a food safety culture employee of the month—and having a parking spot dedicated to that person or putting their name in the company newsletter.

Sometimes those big outward shows of recognition aren’t the best for every employee, and maybe somebody would rather get a little monetary bonus. Some businesses have taken employees or teams that have done really well out to lunch with the executives or someone who is well respected in the company. Getting an hour off from work may be a really great reward.

There are a lot of example of ways you can incentivize folks to do the right thing, but ultimately you want a culture of people wanting to do the right thing. That’s the most important aspect of a good food safety culture. You’re not doing it because you’re going to win a prize, but because it’s the right thing to do.

FST: Who, ultimately, is responsible for spearheading and developing a company’s food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: That’s a really complicated question. Everybody needs to be a part of it and everybody needs to buy in to building a positive food safety culture at a company. That includes frontline workers, maintenance workers and the top executives.

We have been doing a webinar series in partnership with the FDA, and we have gotten a lot of questions about who should be leading these efforts. While it is the front-line workers that have the ability to stop the line, note a problem or report a safety issue, if you do not have buy in from your executives, there is no motivation for the people on the front line to do the right thing. So, getting the company leaders—the C-suite and the middle management people—involved is critical.

FST: Do you have any tips or recommendations on how to speak to the people in the C-suite to help them understand the importance of food safety?

Dr. Coffman: A lot of times people who are not involved in food safety day-to-day are incentivized by different things or see things a little bit differently. Some of things we have found that people who are in the C-suite respond to or are concerned with include the cost of a recall, the cost of getting sued and the cost of brand damage. Those things are really, really important for business leaders to understand. But, as with other employees, you also need reach their hearts.

Join us at the Food Safety Consortium in Parsippany, NJ, October 19-21 and take part in our panel discussion, “Communicating to the C-Suite.”

Everybody has a family, everybody has friends, everybody has people they love and they would never want to see those people get hurt by something that they fed them or by something that their company created. So, really tapping into the hearts is important in addition to presenting those cold, hard numbers, which you do sometimes need.

FST: What prevents employees from being proactive about food safety or raising safety concerns?

Dr. Coffman: Termination. Getting in trouble. A lot of the companies within the Alliance have said that every single employee in their organization is allowed to stop the line. Their employees know that you will never get in trouble for stopping something if you see a problem. Unfortunately, that is not as commonplace as it should be. People who are whistleblowers get in trouble. People who bring up problems to their bosses get in trouble. And when we’re talking about food safety, if you let things slip you are putting people in danger

FST: What is the biggest misconception about food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: That this is a linear task. That this is something that you can just do and then it’s fixed and in place. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of energy and a lot of time.

Food safety culture is not something you have to do to meet an auditing requirement. The components are not going to be black and white, yes or no. This might seem frustrating at first to those who are used to following detailed checklists and written procedures, but once a positive, mature food safety culture is established, problem areas on your checklist will likely diminish.

The post How To Implement a Strong Food Safety Culture appeared first on FoodSafetyTech.

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California Takes a Step Toward Restricting Bee-Killing Pesticides

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Widely used insecticides that harm bees and songbirds would face far-reaching restrictions in California under regulations proposed by the state’s pesticide agency.

The new limits would be among the nation’s most extensive for agricultural use of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides used to kill plant-damaging pests like aphids. The highly potent pesticides have been shown to harm bees, birds, and other creatures.

Aimed at protecting bees that pollinate crops, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s proposed rules would restrict four closely-related neonicotinoid chemicals: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and dinotefuran.

Unveiled in February, the rules would limit when and how much can be applied, depending on the specific chemical, the crop and, in some cases, the presence of honeybees or other pollinators. California’s pesticide regulators are still evaluating public feedback and there is no specific timeframe for finalizing the proposal.

Neonicotinoids are the most popular insecticides in the world—although not in California, according to the state pesticide agency.

“Pollinators play a very important role in the ecosystem at large as well as for crops and being able to produce food in the state.”

More than a decade in the making, California’s reevaluation of neonicotinoids began in 2009, after the agency received a report from pesticide manufacturer Bayer CropScience that “showed potentially harmful effects of imidacloprid to pollinators.” A 2014 law set a series of deadlines for reevaluating their risks and adopting “any control measures necessary to protect pollinator health.”

In addition, a bill in the Legislature would ban use of neonicotinoids in homes, yards, and other outdoor non-agricultural settings, starting in 2024. A variety of consumer products are registered for use in California, such as BioAdvanced All-in-One Rose and Flower Care Liquid Concentrate, which contains imidacloprid.

The bill trails other states, including New Jersey and Maine, that have already banned outdoor uses in gardens and residential areas. New Jersey’s ban extends to commercial landscapes, like golf courses, too.

The European Union banned several neonicotinoids for all outdoor uses because of the risks to bees. And other states already have some restrictions on agricultural use, largely by allowing the chemicals to be bought or used only by those with specific training. Rhode Island has also barred neonicotinoids when crops are blooming.

If finalized, California’s proposal to restrict agricultural use could “significantly impact when and how” neonicotinoid products can be used in the nation’s No. 1 agricultural state, according to an analysis by the California Department of Food and Agriculture

“This is critical,” said Karen Morrison, acting chief deputy director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation. “Pollinators play a very important role in the ecosystem at large as well as for crops and being able to produce food in the state.”

Neonicotinoids are used on crops statewide

California regulators anticipate the rule would reduce neonicotinoids applied to plants and soil by 45 percent. Seeds coated in neonicotinoids—a major use of the chemicals—would not be restricted.

California growers say the restrictions could hamstring their power to protect crops and could ultimately lead to worse outcomes for pollinators.

Limiting the use of neonicotinoids could force the citrus industry, for instance, to use other pesticides that are “not necessarily what the state of California wants” and could require “multiple sprays, something that may pose more risk to bees,” said Casey Creamer, president and CEO of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association of citrus growers.

Almonds, cherries, citrus, cotton, grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, and walnuts are major crops expected to be highly affected by the restrictions. These crops make up about half of the state’s agricultural exports and two-thirds of the acreage treated with neonicotinoids from 2017 to 2019. Fresno, Kern, Tulare, Monterey, and San Joaquin top the list of counties where the most neonicotinoids were applied.

Neonicotinoids rank 14th in pesticide use in California

Some replacement chemicals may be more toxic to pests’ natural enemies—worsening infestations, the California agriculture department warned in its analysis.

Such alternatives like pyrethroids, for instance, are also “very toxic to bees, in that they hit the bee, the bee dies. If they’re in the spray, they all die,” said Robert Van Steenwyk, a cooperative extension specialist emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the authors of the report. “So, that isn’t a great alternative.”

The regulation contains some exceptions to allow neonicotinoids for invasive pests like the Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads citrus greening disease.

Though the California agriculture department does not anticipate any crop losses, its experts do expect an increase in costs because of the price of replacement pesticides.

The eight highly affected crops collectively earned nearly $19 billion in revenue in 2019, according to the assessment by the California agriculture department. Had the regulations been in place, costs to the growers would have ranged between $13.3 million in 2017 to $12.1 million in 2019.

Representatives of pesticide manufacturer Bayer CropScience raised several concerns about the proposal in a letter to the pesticide agency, including that it “is not grounded in science.” In addition, the proposed pesticide application rates “are not efficacious and therefore will not provide control of target pests” on some crops, the company said.

Birds, Bees, and Aquatic Life

Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of pesticides that hit the market in the 1990s, billed as being less harmful to mammals and other vertebrates.

Inspired by the toxicity of nicotine, neonicotinoids coat crop seeds, are sprayed on plants and drench the soil in fields. The chemicals suffuse the plant and its pollen and nectar, attacking the central nervous systems of insects.

As their use has climbed, so too have studies revealing that they threaten birds, bees, and aquatic creatures. Potential human health risks remain under investigation.

Wild bees living and foraging near crops grown from neonicotinoid-treated seeds showed large population die-offs in a study funded by pesticide manufacturers.

Honey bees are reared and managed for their honey production and ability to pollinate crops, among other services. Research shows the insecticides kill worker bees, reduce immunity of the hive and leave colonies without their queens.

The insecticides also decimate zooplankton and therefore the fish that feed on them. Birds stop eating, and delay migration. In an assessment of three of the chemicals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found they are likely to harm between 67 percent and 79 percent of federally endangered or threatened species and between 56 percent and 83 percent of their critical habitats.

Part of the problem is that the chemicals don’t stay put. They “can move from treated plants to pollinators and from plants to pests to natural enemies,” wrote entomology professors Steve Frank at North Carolina State University and John Tooker of Pennsylvania State University in the journal PNAS in 2020. “We believe that neonicotinoids pose broader risks to biodiversity and food webs than previously recognized.”

The chemicals are turning up in groundwater and surface water, including 93 percent of water samples pulled from creeks, rivers, and runoff in Southern California and 97 percent of samples drawn from agricultural stretches of the Central Coast and Southern California.

Jacob Cecala learned that neonicotinoids are far more toxic to bees than he anticipated during his graduate research at the University of California, Riverside.

A month after he treated native plants from a California nursery with the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, following the label instructions exactly, Cecala discovered that all his bees were dying—their little bodies still on the flowers.

His goal had been to study the non-fatal effects of the pesticide on a species of bee used for pollinating alfalfa crops. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do? How am I going to complete my dissertation?’” Cecala said.

It took him another year—and cutting down the amount of pesticide by two-thirds—to find out that although more bees survived, the survivors still stopped foraging for food as much and their reproduction dropped drastically.

“Bees are insects—they’re just as susceptible to these compounds as an aphid or some other insect pest would be,” said Cecala, who is now a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California, Davis. “That’s where the problem lies.”

‘Some Very Concerning Gaps Remain’

Though environmental advocates applaud state pesticide regulators for the proposed restrictions, they say they’re too limited in scope to address the risks that neonicotinoids pose.

“As is often the case, California is leading the way with the first state regulatory system for neonics in the nation,” said Daniel Raichel, acting director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s pollinator initiative. “It’s an important first step—especially in regards to pollinator protection—but some very concerning gaps remain.”

California does not address, for instance, crop seeds coated with neonicotinoids, which permeate the plant as it grows but also seep into water, soil, and other plants. Coated seeds “may introduce a significant contribution of pesticide mass that remains unreported” in California, state officials said in a November workshop.

But the state doesn’t regulate treated seeds as pesticides and found that the seeds don’t pose a significant risk to pollinators, Morrison said, although she added, “this is an area that we’re actively looking at.”

Environmentalists also raised concerns that the proposal is primarily aimed at reducing risk to carefully tended hives of honeybees—not its native bee species and other pollinators.

But state officials said even though their assessment analyzed the risks to honeybees, the rules would protect wild bees, too.

“Bees are insects—they’re just as susceptible to these compounds as an aphid or some other insect pest would be. That’s where the problem lies.”

The proposal bars spraying plants and drenching soil with neonicotinoids when crops that are attractive to bees are blooming, and sets a cap for seasonal application. It also establishes crop-specific restrictions on application rates and timing that, for crops moderately attractive to bees, only apply when hives of honey bees or other managed pollinators are on the field.

“Honey bees are actually pretty odd as far as bees go,” Cecala said. They make honey, for one thing, and live in hives. The consequences of pesticide exposure can be much more drastic for California’s solitary bees. If a solitary mother bee “gets exposed to a pesticide and she is not able to reproduce, that essentially ends her entire genetic line,” Cecala said.

Legislators are considering closing one gap environmental groups have identified in California’s draft regulation: non-agricultural use of the pesticides, including in gardens and commercial landscapes like golf courses. These account for 15 to 20 percent of known neonicotinoid use in California, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

The bill, which contains exceptions for veterinary use and indoor pest control, is set to be triaged by the Senate Appropriations Committee in August, when it decides which bills will survive and which will die.

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from San Ramon and author of the bill, said other states have already taken the lead on banning the use of these chemicals in households and neighborhoods.

“We’re not leading the way,” she said. “We’ve got to get our act together!”

This article originally appeared in CalMatters, and is reprinted with permission.

The post California Takes a Step Toward Restricting Bee-Killing Pesticides appeared first on Civil Eats.

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