Media Release 12/30/05: Appeal Court Rejects Winegrape Pest Plan

Court Guns Down State Plan to Poison Pest of Wine Grapes: Panel Requires Thorough Analysis of Spraying of Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter


UPDATE: January 30,2006 The First District Court of Appeals has ruled that its decision to shoot down an environmental analysis for the state's plan to spray a wine grape pest should stand as a precedent for similar claims under the law. The three judge panel ruled that "Given the potential adverse impacts to human health and the environment from a statewide program authorizing pesticide use in numerous settings that could expose humans, animal and aquatic life and surface water and air to pesticide residue, at a minimum the [Environmental Impact Report] should contain a serious risk assessment of all pesticides that could be used in the [state program to counter the spread the pest]."

Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics praised the court's decision to provide guidance for future state programs involving the use of pesticides. "With at least two more plans involving pesticide use statewide now under development, it's especially critical that the agencies study the effects of pesticides as they are used in these programs so that public health and the environment can be protected."


(San Francisco, CA) An appeals court, acting on a suit brought by three citizen environmental groups, has rejected a state plan to use an array of 30 pesticides to contain the glassy-winged sharpshooter, an insect scourge of wine-grape vines.

The three-judge 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be completed by the Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA). It also told a lower court to decide whether state spraying to control the insect should be suspended until the new analysis is prepared.

The suit, which was fought by the powerful wine industry, was brought by Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs), the lead plaintiff, and People Opposed to Insecticide Spraying On Neighborhoods (POISON) and PublicEmployees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

At issue was whether the DFA could rely merely on the label restrictions on the dozens of pesticides--many of them serious nerve toxins--that potentially could be employed. The appeals court held that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires an environmental analysis that produces "specific data as needed to meaningfully assess whether the proposed activities would result in significant impacts."

DFA, the court held, "fell far short of these standards."

Expressing satisfaction with the decision, Patty Clary of Eureka-based CATs said: "Californians have the right to know what dangers come with pesticide spraying that's forced on them to protect a major industry and our state agencies must alter their programs to prevent such harm. The court has affirmed that no industry or government agency is above these fundamental laws."

Noting that the DFA plan made little distinction between spray sites, Lowell Downey of POISON said: "Our biggest concern has always been for pregnant women, children and the elderly-those people who have zero tolerance for toxic exposure. This ruling should send a clear message that the state cannot buckle under to the pressure of economic interests without considering the consequences to the people."

Added Jane Nielson of PEER: " Until all the necessary information is in, the state can't simply rely on whatever chemical that's been registered without plans that fit the specific uses, as it has tried through the program that's now been debunked by the court."

The glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca coagulata), is a half-inch-long aggressive insect invader from the U.S. Southeast that vectors a bacterium called Pierce's disease which can be lethal to wine grapes. Introduced in California in the late 1980s, the glassy-winged sharpshooter became an agricultural problem when 300 acres of wine grapes were destroyed in Riverside County in 1999. The next year, the state legislature enacted legislation creating the Pierce's disease control program within California's Department of Food and Agriculture. This triggered an emergency pest control program, and specifically stated that "[t]reatment programs shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations and shall be conducted in an environmentally responsible manner." In 2002, DFA began the process of environmental evaluation under CEQA in an effort to change the ongoing emergency program into a long-term program.

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics has its office in Eureka and members from throughout California. CATs works primarily to eliminate the use of pesticides that can negatively affect human health and the environment. See for more information.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a community group in Napa County called People Opposed to Insecticide Spraying on Neighborhoods (POISON) which is concerned about pesticide spraying in neighborhoods and public spaces.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a nationwide organization with a chapter in California of public employees who work for public agencies with trustee responsibilities for protecting water quality, fisheries and wildlife habitat. More about PEER can be found at

The decision can be read here: glassy-winged_sharpshooter_decision_12-30-05.PDF (82 kb pdf file)


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