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Town Hall Coalition in the News
Public deserves a say in battling pest

Lynn Hamilton and Tara Treasurefield
(Press Democrat, 8/15/00)

Our friends in the wine industry are living in fear of an insect. The glassy-winged sharpshooter is one of the bugs that carries Pierce's disease, which can be deadly to wine grapes.

Unfortunately, in its rush to protect the wine industry, the state has given the rest of us cause for alarm. County agricultural commissioners have the authority to keep the sharpshooter out of vineyards by spraying pesticides on other properties, whether the owners like it or not.
This threatens the health and welfare of the community as a whole, particularly children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and organic and biodynamic farmers.

The state Legislature and the federal government each have allocated $15 million of taxpayer funds to fight Pierce's disease.

Because investing in sound agricultural practices is good for the economy, good for the environment and good for the people, this money should be used to develop non-chemical and least-toxic methods of pest control.

But so far, the opposite is occurring.

A citrus grove in Temecula that's less than a mile from a housing development has been aerial sprayed twice with the nerve toxin Lorsban, and in Tulare, Fresno and Sacramento counties, another nerve toxin, Sevin, is being ground-sprayed in residential areas.

Sevin is highly toxic to honeybees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. For humans, it can cause nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, sweating, blurred vision, loss of motor control and convulsions. Children's developing nervous systems are particularly vulnerable.

Industrial agriculture is well-represented in decision-making around Pierce's disease control.

The rest of us are not.

Whose interests are being served? Who's protecting the children, the sick, the elderly and our natural resources?

We're at risk of direct exposure to highly toxic pesticides without our consent, and we're paying for this with our tax dollars. This amounts to taxation without representation.

There's a critical need for immediate actions that focus on non-chemical and least-toxic means of Pierce's disease control, including:

* Quarantining shipments of nursery stock and produce from infested areas.

* Using kaolin clay, soap, neem, cinaminic acid,native predatory insects, and other organic/biodynamic alternatives.

* Eliminating agricultural practices that encourage disease, such as overwatering, monocropping, habituating crops to chemicals and pesticides, and planting near areas that are Pierce's disease hotspots.

With the understanding that protecting the public health and the environment must come first, the Town Hall Coalition offers 10 recommendations regarding Pierce's disease control:

1. Change the way industrial vineyards are managed: compost; reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides; plant cover crops; mow between rows; increase riparian setbacks to 150 to 300 feet; replant with drought-tolerant root stock to allow for dry farming; stop removing host and native plants from riparian corridors; adopt organic and biodynamic standards.

2. Create a statewide task force that oversees and approves all control measures, and includes representatives from public health and environmental organizations, public interest toxicologists, small-scale organic and biodynamic farmers, and residents of areas impacted by Pierce's disease policy. Task force meetings must be open to the public, and must be advertised widely and well in advance.

3. Require all affected counties to hold public hearings that involve the public in real decision-making about local control measures.

4. Quarantine all shipments of nursery stock, vines and produce from infested counties. Pesticides must not be used as a means for allowing items to be shipped.

5. Use pesticides only as a last resort, and NEVER on private property over the objections of the owner. Residents must have the right to refuse pesticide spraying on their own property.

6. Prohibit spraying of organic and transitional farms against the farmers' wishes, and protect organic and transitional farms from drift resulting from pesticide applications to other properties.

7. Prohibit aerial application of any pesticides to control Pierce's disease.

8. Prohibit the use of carcinogens, reproductive toxins, EPA Category I and II acute pesticides, and nerve poisons, including Lorsban and Sevin.

9. Prohibit the use of genetically modified materials to combat Pierce's disease.

10. Ensure that neighbors within a one-mile radius of vineyards to be sprayed receive at least 24-hour advance notice. Use application methods that pose the least potential harm to the public health and the environment.

The Town Hall Coalition calls upon the Board of Supervisors to defend the health and welfare of the people of Sonoma County. We repeat our July 18 request for a public hearing and ask that it be held by Aug. 22.

The public must be allowed to participate in making decisions about Pierce's disease control in Sonoma County.

We also ask our Board of Supervisors to urge the state of California to hold similar public hearings by Aug. 31 and to establish a Pierce's disease task force that represents all the people, not just special interests.

Forcing residents to give up their property rights and the right to a chemical-free home every time a pest gets out of control is unacceptable, particularly since some members of the agricultural community set the stage for insect infestations and disease.

Agricultural interests can help restore the balance of nature by taking care of the soil, water, wildlife, farmland ecology and the community as a whole.

We are simply asking vintners and growers to be good neighbors.

Lynn Hamilton is a founding member of the Town Hall Coalition. Tara Treasurefield is chair of the coalition's toxics committee.


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Town Hall Coalition
6741 Sebastopol Ave. Ste. 140 Sebastopol California 95472
T: 707-824-4371 / F: 707-824-4372