In what would have been unimaginable even two years ago, a former organic farmer who once headed California's largest organic certification organization was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as head of the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Brian Leahy was assistant director in the California Department of Conservation. He now enters a department that has long been viewed as accommodative to pesticide interests.
I first came across DPR when I wrote about a powerful soil fumigant known as methyl bromide in my book Organic Inc. Looking over publicly available documents, it was clear that the department interpreted its own toxicity findings in a liberal manner in order to let the spraying of this neurotoxin continue. Only subsequent law suits forced it to retreat and revise its fumigation protocal.
But as methyl bromide was phased out under a UN treaty, one of the substances proposed to replace it -- methyl iodide -- was even more toxic. California DPR approved the cancer-causing substance in December 2010 against the concerns of its own scientists and those on an independent panel, prompting a ferocious uproar by environmental and consumer groups.
Whether Leahy's appointment by Brown proves a game-changer on the future of methyl iodide remains to be seen. But it's clear that with the growth of organic farming in the state, what was unimaginable has now come to pass. And California -- at least when it comes to pesticide regulation -- is highly influential nationally.
So it will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.
Leahy, by the way, served as executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) from 2000 to 2004. His appointment requires state senate confirmation.
- Samuel Fromartz