VPCRAC History (adapted from Timm et al. 2004)

In the early 20th century, few rodenticide products were registered or available for agricultural use. The market was relatively small, and private manufacturers were not generally involved in this pest management area. To address the serious vertebrate pest problems in the State, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) was active in developing and ultimately registering rodenticides and avicides for use against agricultural pests.  Primarily, these were rodenticides such as Compound 1080, strychnine, zinc phosphide, various formulations of anticoagulants, and strychnine for bird control. In addition, many offices sold fumigants such as carbon bisulfide, methyl bromide, and gas cartridges.

In the 1980's, changes in federal law established new scientific requirements for all new and existing pesticides. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified California that it must submit additional scientific data about the toxicology, use, and environmental fate of zinc phosphide and anticoagulant baits. Complex research projects, some costing well in excess of $100,000, were now required. If EPA did not get this requested data, the rodenticides would be prohibited from use in agriculture. Subsequently, the EPA revoked the registration of Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate), used primarily against field rodents, because of lack of adequate data to support this use. A Federal court order stopped the aboveground use of strychnine, which had been used against both crop- depredating birds and against field rodents, leaving only underground baiting (i.e., for pocket gophers) for this material. These two materials were lost as a direct result of CDFA not having the financial resources to meet EPA's registration requirements.

Clearly, CDFA was faced with a problem. Either spend millions of dollars to keep the materials necessary to protect California agriculture, or lose these remaining pest management tools.  Funding, however, was limited and both the University of California and CDFA were reducing their research efforts in vertebrate pest control. The consequence of this meant that little data were available to answer critical environmental questions. Without data to support the continued use of vertebrate pest control products, it was clear that continued registration and use of these materials was in jeopardy.

CDFA's response was to propose and ultimately develop the Rodenticide Surcharge Program. The Rodenticide Surcharge Program was created in 1990 by passage of Assembly Bill 2776, sponsored by the agricultural industry, in the California Legislature. This legislation, which created Sections 6025 through 6029 of the state Food and Agricultural Code, provided for the following:

1) the establishment of a research program on the control of vertebrate pests,

2) the formation of a Vertebrate Pest Control Research Advisory Committee, and

3) the funding of the research program by means of a $0.50 per lb assessment on vertebrate pest control materials sold or distributed by the county.

The vertebrate pest control research program was to be established and administered by the Secretary of CDFA, aimed at dealing with those species that posed “a significant threat to the welfare of the state’s agricultural economy and the public”. The specified purposes of this research program are:

1) to investigate effective and economical alternative materials for the control of vertebrate pests,

2) to solicit and consider research proposals for alternative humane methods of control,

3) to continue the state’s current vertebrate pest control product registrations until such time as effective alternative products are available,

4) to fund research for the development of scientific data required to maintain registrations, and

5) to cooperate with USDA in funding research programs to maintain, develop, and register vertebrate pest control materials used in California.

The Vertebrate Pest Control Research Advisory Committee (VPCRAC) consists of the following members:

1) One representative of CDFA

2) One representative of the County Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association

3) Five representatives of the agricultural industry representing affected commodities

4) One representative of the University of California

5) One representative of the California State University

6) One representative of the California Dept. of Health Services, and

7) One representative of the general public, with consideration given to a person with expertise in animal welfare.

It is VPCRAC’s charge to annually prioritize research needs regarding vertebrate pest control projects. In conjunction with CDFA staff, the Committee assists in administering the research program by issuing periodic calls for research proposals on topics related to California’s vertebrate pests. The Committee reviews and recommends funding for research proposals received, monitors the progress of funded research, and advises the Secretary on emerging needs and priorities.

The assessment of the $0.50 per lb surcharge on vertebrate pest control materials was specified to be collected by county agricultural commissioners and paid into a newly established Vertebrate Pest Control Research Account in CDFA, to be appropriated by the Secretary of CDFA solely for the purpose of establishing and administering the research program. If necessary, the Secretary, following consultation with the VPCRAC, can raise the surcharge assessment to a maximum of $1.00 per lb of material distributed or sold.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, changes in federal pesticide law established new data requirements for all new and existing pesticides. CDFA, along with other registrants of existing rodenticides and other vertebrate pesticides, was notified that additional scientific data about the toxicity, use, and environmental fate of zinc phosphide and anticoagulant rodent baits was required in order for the agency to consider renewing the registration of these products. Without these new data, these products would be prohibited from use in agriculture, which was a potentially devastating situation for California producers. Therefore, early in its history the VPCRAC placed a high priority on funding required studies to maintain CDFA’s existing product registrations that utilized these active ingredients. At the same time, emphasis was given to discovering and evaluating alternative methods and materials for control of rodents and other vertebrate pests. The VPCRAC strongly supports integrated pest management approaches that incorporate new knowledge into developing more efficient, appropriate strategies for dealing with vertebrate pest conflicts.

Research on pest problems caused by birds and by predators is lower on a statewide scale than on rodents as a group, but they are far from insignificant. The relatively smaller number of projects, and amounts of funding expended, on birds and predators is partly an artifact of the need to maintain CDFA’s rodenticide labels. Nevertheless, the VPCRAC has funded such studies as evaluating potential new bird repellents for lettuce, controlling bird feeding damage to grapes, and dispersing fruit and nut-eating birds from orchards. The Committee has also funded investigations into potential new coyote toxicants, as well as a coyote bait delivery device.

Recipients of research funding to date have included (but are not limited to) three universities (UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Utah State University), UC Cooperative Extension Advisors, the USDA National Wildlife Research Center, and private research labs (EBA Inc., Genesis Laboratories Inc., HACCO Inc.).

In addition to funding specific research needs, the program has funded several outreach components. For example, during 1996, a series of five outreach meetings were held throughout California that provided an opportunity for agricultural stakeholders and others to learn from VPCRAC members and from CDFA staff the surcharge program’s accomplishments, and to discuss the most important vertebrate pest management needs. Information obtained from these sessions assisted the Committee to prioritize current and developing research needs.

A specific outreach program funded in 1998 led to the publication of an extensive brochure, “Protecting California’s Agriculture” (Salmon et al. 1999). This publication was targeted toward growers and other clientele of county agricultural commissioners, whose purchase of rodenticides supported the program. In addition to explaining some of the principles that guide vertebrate pest damage management, it recounted the idea for the surcharge program, how it was implemented, and summarized selected accomplishments to date.

VPCRAC chose to expend surcharge funds to join several consortia of registrants with similar rodenticide products. The VPCRAC also recognized the need to expend surcharge funds to employ the assistance of consultants having particular expertise and knowledge in the arena of pesticide registration.

The VPCRAC, in cooperation with CDFA, the California Agricultural Commissioners Association, and the University of California, continues to develop a comprehensive educational outreach program focused on vertebrate pests and their management. “Vertebrate Pest Review” newsletters were published and distributed, in 2000 and 2001. Educational presentations on vertebrate pest control method and technologies, which have been used both by UC Cooperative Extension specialist and advisors as well as by CDFA staff, have been developed. A CDFA-hosted web page that focuses on vertebrate pest issues continues to evolve and to provide current information, as well as guiding clientele to additional resources.

Since the surcharge program’s inception, surcharge funds have supported the VPCRAC activities by reimbursing Committee members as needed for their travel costs in attending twice-yearly meetings. These meetings, in addition to providing an opportunity for the Committee to discuss and monitor ongoing research, allow interested members of the public to attend and receive continuing education credits (amount varies) that apply toward California Department of Pesticide Regulation requirements to maintain pesticide applicator certifications and licenses.

As a result of the state’s continuing budget crisis, the VPCRAC in spring 2003 voted to fund from surcharge monies an existing Senior Agricultural Biologist position within CDFA, because this position otherwise would have been lost because of funding shortfalls within the department. The Committee recognized that this position was critical to the administration and coordination of the surcharge program, as well as to the ongoing cooperative outreach efforts between VPCRAC and CDFA.