Proposal to Cut California Dept. of Food and Agriculture a Bad Idea for the Nation | Civil Eats

Proposal to Cut California Dept. of Food and Agriculture a Bad Idea for the Nation


As California teeters on the brink of fiscal disaster, yet another new budget proposal has arisen. State Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) will hold hearings in Sacramento today.  The topic: discussing whether key functions of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) can be eliminated or transferred to other state agencies. Per Florez, “most of its [CDFA] functions could be performed by other departments.”  This proposal is part of a larger, overall effort that is considering consolidation and reform of several state agencies.  In a time of deep budgetary crisis that is unprecedented in the Golden State, everything seems to be on the table.

But should the California agency that regulates food and agriculture – the agency tasked with assuring so many things that make it possible for California to bring food to your table – be considered for elimination?

The CDFA is its own $100 million General Fund-backed agency.  In some other states, this might not make sense.  But agriculture reigns in California, and is an enormous part of the state’s economy.  With California facing a $24 billion budget shortfall (one that is growing by the day), the idea of saving $100 million is clearly attractive.  But is this a real savings, or does the State open itself up to pest and food safety threats that could wipe out any resulting savings and wreak further havoc on an industry that is already suffering?

What is CDFA responsible for?  A surprising array of things that impact each California resident on a daily basis. Agriculture and environmental stewardship (which includes work in climate change and energy efficiency). Agricultural security and emergency response.  Animal health and food safety, which includes a range of activities around hot topics such as swine and avian influenza, meat and milk safety, and biosecurity, to name a few.  CDFA handles important stuff.  Consider the milk safety issue alone. California is the nation’s leading milk producer, providing nearly 20% of the nation’s milk supply.  What happens here doesn’t stay here: public policy in California affects the nation…and the nation’s food supply.  Can California afford to potentially cut back on food safety functions? Can the nation afford to let us?

One area of CDFA that has come under particular scrutiny is marketing boards and commissions.  There are 54 of them, and they promote some of the state’s top commodities.  My suggestion: look at those, perhaps.  However, it is misguided to suggest that the functions of CDFA – which are essential – can be easily relocated to other state agencies that are themselves struggling for survival.  Reallocating responsibility for functions that are core to human health and safety to agencies with no historical precedent for handling them during such a chaotic period is simply imprudent.  It can’t be done, and it shouldn’t be done.

One of the most important roles that CDFA plays is in plant health and pest prevention.  The CDFA works with other institutions and agencies, including the University of California, to provide leadership for pest prevention and management programs that effectively protect California’s agriculture, horticulture, natural resources, and urban environments from invasive plant pests.  In recent years, California has been hard hit with plant disease, pests and invasive species.   The light brown apple moth (causing its first commercial damage in blackberries in California).  The gypsy moth.  The med fly.  Asian citrus psyllid (which has proven catastrophic to the citrus industries in Florida and Brazil).  Pierce’s disease, which presents a constant threat to California’s grape industry.  Like it or not, what threatens California agriculture threatens the nation’s food supply.  Quarantines here drive up prices elsewhere.  Does it make sense to discard such vital programs?

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A vital area of CDFA’s responsibility is inspection.  California currently produces more than 350 crops that enter the national and international food supply.  CDFA inspection not only assures consumer satisfaction, but food safety.  The CDFA provides numerous laboratories and analytical services that ensure food safety, and provide diagnostics on plant disease and pests.  CDFA is also responsible for fairs and expositions, which I’ve written about previously.

Political life in California has become a reactionary process.  Much of this is driven by the state’s mind-boggling initiative process; we legislate by ballot box here.  A process that made sense during the Progressive Era has become perverted and damaging in the nation’s most populous state, rendering California virtually ungovernable. Contributing to the problem are the term limits that Californians have set for their legislators.  Term limits have eroded the ability of legislators to truly understand the complexities of the state, and key agencies, such as CDFA.  There simply isn’t enough time for policy makers to develop a solid and nuanced understanding of what they are to govern.

As I compose this, it feels as if I’m writing a postcard, not from the idyllic California coastline, but from the edge.  Summer is in the air, beaches are packed, but there is a sense of unease among people.  We can’t really settle down.  We’re all on edge, waiting for a budget that will change much of life as we know it in California. Waiting to rebuild with what will be left. Everything is bigger in California, and our budget problems are no exception.  But what impacts California agriculture impacts the nation’s food supply.  And you don’t have be a California resident to be concerned about that.

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An academic with the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Rose Hayden-Smith’s work focuses on providing gardening and food systems education to youth, educators and community audiences in Ventura, California. She serves as the leader for UC ANR's Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. A practicing U.S. historian, she is a nationally recognized expert on Victory Gardens, food policy, and school garden programs. Hayden-Smith was a 2008-2009 Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow (FASP); she writes as UC's Victory Grower. Read more >

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  1. RobertWilliams
    I totally agree with the concept of this article, but the actual practice and execution by the CDFA has little to do with concept.

    A.G. Kawamura, the Director of the CDFA is so politically and financially corrupt, that none of these important functions get treated with professional and scientific attention at the CDFA. Agriculture survives and thrives in spite of the CDFA.

    Small farms that are responsible for our State's top care of food products are strong armed by CDFA and compromised food policies result as CDFA caters to and accommodates large corporate farms whose corporate office money motivation is separated from the actual food growth by thousands of miles and a gap of knowledge where those who make the decisions have never touched the soil. CDFA shields these corporate heads from liability and that is the safety that CDFA provides.

    CDFA teaming with USDA gives awards to meat producers who forklift sick animals laying on the ground into the slaughter house to enter our food supply. Only after brave independent heroes sneak into the facility and capture these activities on film do the CDFA and USDA pretend to be offended and do an investigation.

    Raw milk producers that have standards and knowledge far better and beyond the CDFA are interfered with for ego and power and money reasons by the CDFA and brought to the edge of bankruptcy. Large corporate milk producers that deliver milk with additional chemicals that have no place in a child's body, not to mention the cow's body, are given open avenues to markets of millions of unknowing people by the CDFA.

    CDFA speaks about healthy and natural foods, but in practice Kawamura and the CDFA facilitate the maximum use of toxic pesticides to be applied throughout the state because that is good for the small number of large pesticide companies that Kawamura truly represents. Currently approximately 200 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied EACH year in California. That is about six pounds for every child, infant, fetus, pregnant mother and adult, EVERY year.

    The CDFA is supposed to be working with the University of California, but a recent letter from the three top professors at UC Davis advising CDFA that their Light Brown Apple Moth eradication program is flawed and not based on science was and still is totally ignored. The information from the UC Santa Cruz Director of the Arboretum to the CDFA has also been totally ignored. This same director wrote the most notable and current report on LBAM and controlling LBAM without affecting the environment or exposing people, their pets and wild animals to toxins. The CDFA public relations director attacked the scientific report even before the CDFA scientists had a chance to review it. Kawamura wants the $100 Million per year of taxpayer emergency funds for that LBAM emergency program. The CDFA has delivered pictures and examples of LBAM damage on numerous previous occasions and each time after some scrutiny, each example was proven false by Superior Courts, scientists and even the CDFA, themselves, when they chose not to deliver those same pictures when asked about the dates and places that they were representing, intentional deception by the CDFA. This recent damage in a berry field is based on LBAM larva found in the area, but still no direct links to prove the damage from LBAM. It is still quite likely another tortricidae moth. That CDFA or USDA would advertise it as LBAM damage prior to proving it demonstrates their desire to show LBAM damage regardless of what is true.

    Our food supply is so important as are our homes. It is nice to have someone watch our homes when we are away, but it is better to leave it unattended than to have a criminal guarding it. The concept of CDFA is a good one, but if Kawamura continues to be director of the CDFA, then we are better off without the agency. If Kawamura is replaced by a person with integrity and knowledge and a true motivation to serve the people of the state, then the decision to close the CDFA is not nearly as attractive.
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  3. Rose Hayden-Smith
    Hi, Robert:

    Thank you for reading and commenting. I often hear complaints about CDFA. As you noted, my intent was not to criticize individuals or CDFA's performance in specific areas, but rather, to point out how crazy it is to take a chainsaw to an agency tasked with the roles CDFA is tasked with. Reform is needed, but reform that identifies areas for improvement, and doesn't seek to simply do away with all the functions. Clearly, every organization can benefit from evaluating their effectiveness in aligning to core mission, and their organizational efficiency. I'm guessing that as a result of the hearings initiated by Sen. Florez, that CDFA will be doing some soul-searching about what it can do better. Hope I don't sound too naive. I am glad for your comment; hope we run into one another.
  4. What really struck me Rose was that eliminating CDFA only saves $100 million! And if I understand correctly, the full $100 million wouldn't be saved because many of the tasks would be picked up by other agencies. In light of a $24 billion shortfall, the proposal seems a little like cutting one's finger off in order to lose weight.

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