Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

Closing loopholes, building momentum

It’s been an interesting few weeks for those of us tracking food, farming and pesticide issues. Hard-to-pronounce chemicals like chlorpyrifos and dicamba have been making headlines, and a wonky legal victory that’s flown largely under the radar could help close a dangerous loophole in our federal pesticide rules. 

This increased public scrutiny and pressure can’t be making the pesticide industry happy, but it’s certainly good news for the rest of us.

Closing a monster loophole

Earlier this month we joined the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in celebrating their successful challenge of the “conditional registration” of nanosilver’s use as a pesticide. This win deserves much more attention than it’s gotten so far. Not only is it an important victory for environmental health in it’s own right, it also provides the legal underpinnings to fix a gaping hole in the pesticide registration process. This win could lay the groundwork for getting dozens of under-tested, potentially dangerous chemicals off the market.

Here’s the deal. The conditional registration option was put in place to provide a way to quickly bring pest control products to market in response to health emergencies or dramatic pest outbreaks. Congress wrote the provision with an explicit requirement that these temporary registrations be in the “public interest.” But that’s not how it’s been used.

By some estimates, more than 60% of newly formulated pesticides are put on the market under this streamlined registration process. This means the new products bypass all the required health and environmental safety testing; in some cases they then stay on the market for years — even decades.

Sometimes these conditionally registered chemicals end up causing serious problems out in the world. Use of the herbicide Imprelis, for example, resulted in die-offs of hundreds of thousands of coniferous trees before Dupont was forced to pull the product from the market (and pay millions in damages). Bayer’s clothianidin, one of the ubiquitous bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides, was brought to market under the conditional registration provision back in 2003 and has since been implicated in dramatic pollinator die-offs.

The nanosilver legal victory reaffirms the limited original intent of conditional registration, and could be the impetus for tightening — or even closing — this dangerous loophole. Hats off to the scientists and legal team at NRDC for this important win.

A rough patch for Monsanto & Co.

In other momentous pesticide news, the Arkansas State Plant Board moved to protect its farmers by banning dicamba, Monsanto’s latest drift-prone, crop damaging herbicide used with the corporation’s new generation of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soy seeds. If the ban is finalized, it could lead to similar action in other states.

Then, more evidence came to light that Scott Pruitt — the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — was indeed doing Dow Chemical’s bidding when he ignored the agency’s own scientists and reversed course on a planned ban of the brain-harming insecticide chlorpyrifos. And the American Academy on Pediatrics said they are “deeply alarmed” by what Pruitt’s decision means for children’s health.

And finally, a “documentary” singing the praises of genetic engineering and painting concerns about the associated spikes in herbicide use as “anti-science” was soundly debunked by more than 45 academic experts who called the industry-supported film “pro-GMO propaganda.”

Overall, not a great few weeks for Monsanto & Co.

Lifting the veil . . .

If there’s a glint of a silver lining to the new administration, it’s that the influence of corporations on our public agencies is now so very blatant that it’s been laid bare for all to see.

And as it becomes increasingly clear that the decisions these corporations support benefit only their bottom lines, it becomes harder and harder to look the other way.

Loosening the pesticide/biotech industry’s grip on our food and farming system isn’t going to be easy. We know these corporations will fight hard for their bottom line interests, and their pockets are very deep. But developments like those we’ve seen in the past few weeks — along with all the amazing stories of farmers successfully shifting away from industrial agriculture — give me hope that momentum is building for real, lasting change.

Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

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