Attempt To Ban Hand Weeding Being Pursued By Agricultural Labor Groups In California

November 19, 2003 - 13:49

Debate continues on attempts to ban the agricultural practice of hand weeding in California. Agricultural labor groups filed a petition with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) to ban the practice, and as a result, an advisory committee was formed. The committee is composed of an equal number of labor and industry representatives, said Mike Webb, head lobbyist for the Western Growers Association (WGA), which represents growers that produce 90 percent of the fruits, nuts and vegetables in California. WGA strongly opposes a ban.

"Almost any crop grown in California would be affected by the ban," Webb said, included nursery crops. "Hand weeding is a practicality for growers. It’s absolutely essential to the industry."

Those seeking a ban on hand weeding cite potential back injuries as the reason, and advocate use of long-handled implements instead. These tools are not practical for many crops, Webb said.

Growers say the practice is used as selectively as possible, because it is very expensive. They also say that a ban on hand weeding could lead to increased pesticide use.

Groups seeking to ban hand weeding had introduced a bill in the California legislature, Webb said, but opponents of the ban were able to defeat it.

The advisory committee is meeting periodically to see whether the two sides can find some common ground, Webb said. If Cal-OSHA does process the petition further, there will an opportunity for comment on any proposed regulatory action.

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