It is a gentler California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) today, but not necessary more benevolent nor quicker.

It has been a decade since DPR was created, taking over the role the California Department of Food and Agriculture then head of registering pesticides for use in California apart from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

California is the only state with its own EPA, and DPR is one of its divisions. While many farmers and pesticide makers bemoan California’s go-it-along pesticide regulatory process, California has been regulating pesticide use longer than the federal government. More than 60 years ago California required pesticide formulators to prove product efficacy.

DPR receives more than 15,000 registration submissions each year. These range from simple label changes to new active ingredients. There are currently 11,000 products registered in the state.

Barry Cortez, DPR chief of pesticide registration, told the California Plant Health Association regulatory conference recently that it still takes "too long" to get a product registered in California, and the department continues to work at paring down the wait.

It takes about a year to get a product through DPR. The law creating DPR said it should take only 120 days.

The gentler part of DPR is that is no longer summarily returns applications not properly submitted.

"We returned a lot of applications in the early 80s," said Cortez. "Today we try to provide a service by helping people get through the process without kicking back the applications."

Concurrent registrations

Increasingly more pesticides are run through concurrent registrations processes with the federal EPA and DPR and that is getting products to California farmers at the same time it’s available to their peers in other states. DPR ombudsman Regina Sarracino estimated more than half the current active ingredient applications in DPR are on concurrent tracks with EPA. Increasingly more new active ingredient applications are for products classified as "reduced risk" and those are given fast tracks.

Also, DPR is conducting more product tolerance reviews for EPA, especially on minor crop registrations. This is a renewal of an effort to "harmonize" the often-dual efforts of the federal and state registration process. The Food Quality Protection Act derailed this process, but according to DPR director Paul Helliker harmonization is back on track and should speed up the registration process.

"In the past we have actually approved active ingredients before EPA," said Cortez. "I know of two that were okayed by DPR and then dropped by EPA."

"California is not always the slowest," said Debbie Stubbs, regulatory affairs manager for Syngenta in California, Arizona and Hawaii, who is also co-chair of the CPHA association regulatory affairs committee.

DPR has 25 registration specialists, but Jerry Campbell, program supervisor for pesticide registration, said a high turnover rate among those specialists is one reason DPR has been unable to significantly decrease the time lag.

Some of these specialists may be assigned as many as 150 companies and are often swamped with requests. "These people do not make the rules and requirement" mandated by law to get a product registered in California, said Stubbs. Listen to what they say and understanding the California registration timeline will get products efficiently through the system, said Stubbs.

"A lot of people don’t listen to us when we tell them what is necessary to get a registration," said Campbell. That, he said, only leads to delays and frustration.

"Our goal is to get people and products through the registration process as soon as possible and so you can get products on the market," said Campbell.

The program supervisor added however, that the route to full registration through Section 18 emergency registrations and 24C special local need registration and into the marketplace has become more difficult.

Fewer exemptions

Campbell said companies have used those routes to get products on the market ahead of full registration, but DPR has dramatically reduced the number of exemptions it grants, he said.

One of the rules in getting products registered in California is a mandatory 30-day posting period for public comment. DPR is required to look at each one.

Comments are increasing, said Campbell, but it is not slowing down the process.

"We are seeing letters posted on the Internet that result in the same comment filed 500 times, but so far this has not slowed down the process," said Campbell.