Farming without Chlorpyrifos

Spraying strawberries

(By Ashley Chesser, Executive Director)

I signed in and grabbed a seat before the room filled and a crowd stood bunched up at the entry. For an action that should be pretty straightforward ­­– preventing brain damage and cancer in children and farmworkers – it remains a contentious issue. This was my second time testifying at the Oregon Capitol for a bill to ban the insecticide chlorpyrifos, and it wouldn’t be the last.

As I waited my turn to speak, I listened to farmers share doomsday scenarios, including a grass seed farmer whose field was invaded by armyworms. Devastation would have been imminent without chlorpyrifos.

But I also heard the stories of farmworkers and families whose devastation was very real, due to the use of that chemical. One woman shared how she was exposed to chlorpyrifos while tending crops. She became ill and lost her unborn baby. A couple, joined by their bald six-year-old son recovering from cancer, shared the horrors their child faced after chlorpyrifos drift landed on him while playing in the yard.

In my testimony, I explained that NCAP hosts educational workshops to connect farmers and share knowledge about effective growing methods that do not rely on synthetic pesticides. Many farmers in Oregon and beyond already utilize cost-effective, ecosystem-based alternatives that reduce insect pressure without the use of chlorpyrifos. 

These farmers choose ecological growing methods that focus on prevention, rather than using a chemical to kill a bug. I told legislators that in the case of the armyworm, farmers can use beneficial nematodes – tiny organisms that are mixed with water and sprayed into the soil – to eat the developing armyworm larva and prevent the worms from reaching maturity.

Fall armyworm

It’s clear that resources, education and outreach are vitally important to empower farmers to choose healthier ways to grow crops. This is what NCAP's Healthy Food and Farms program is all about.

In the end, legislators walked off the job in Salem to prevent a climate change bill from seeing a vote. The rest of the bills waiting for a vote died, too. But in Washington State, where NCAP provided written testimony and worked with a coalition of advocates, we had some success. Senate Bill 6518, now on its way to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee, requires the Washington State Department of Agriculture to make emergency rules that address “significant adverse health effects” of chlorpyrifos. 

We advocated for a ban, but NCAP is still happy to see forward movement and we believe a rule change will lead to less human exposure to chlorpyrifos. We will try again in Oregon in the 2021 legislative session to ban chlorpyrifos, and we will continue to seek a federal ban in the coming years.

Many thanks to our supporters who contacted their legislators this session! And many thanks to our partners in Oregon and Washington who advocated for a ban, including: PCUN, Beyond Toxics, Columbia Legal Services, Earthjustice, Toxic-Free Future, United Farm Workers, and Community to Community.

Read about chlorpyrifos and the many available alternatives in our new resource here.

Watch our short video about chlorpyrifos below.

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