Undue Influence

Much as the chemical industry complains about regulation, the regulatory process in the U.S. is largely captured by corporate interests. Corporations wield unmatched money and influence, and regulatory agencies rely on industry-funded studies, antiquated legal frameworks and inadequate enforcement tools.

In reviewing the health and environmental impacts of pesticide products, for example, EPA relies almost entirely on industry-funded studies. This corporate science is rarely available for public review. Chemical companies commonly sit on panels and committees that “advise” regulators. A representative from Dow Chemical currently serves on the Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee for the EPA.

PAN works with partners to shine a light on the undue influence of the pesticide industry on decisions made by regulators in Washington DC and in statehouses across the country.

The “Revolving Door”

Corporations use every trick in the book to sway regulators and legislators, but the most effective may be the “revolving door.” Many of the agrichemical industry’s former executives, lawyers and scientists serve in the government agencies that are charged with keeping watch over their industries. For example:

  • Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice & former Monsanto lawyer who did not recuse himself in a recent case involving his former employer.
  • Islam Siddiqui, former pesticide lobbyist for CropLife America, currently the lead Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Office of Trade – despite record opposition to his appointment.
  • Roger Beachy, founding president of the Danforth Plant Science center (Monsanto’s de facto nonprofit research arm), currently heads the USDA’s National Institute for Food & Agriculture.
  • Michael Taylor, former Monsanto lawyer & Vice President for Public Policy, currently serving as the Deputy Comissioner for Foods at the FDA. Taylor is famous for having engineered the U.S. government’s favorable agricultural biotechnology policies during the Clinton administration.
  • Elin Miller, former heard of Arysta’s North American division, installed by George W. Bush as head of EPA’s Region 9 Office. Arysta is the largest private pesticide company in the world, and sole producer of methyl iodide.
  • Ramona Romero, former corporate counsel for DuPont, appointed in 2010 to serve as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Office buildingThe agricultural input industry maintains an army of lobbyists in Washington DC, state capitals and countries worldwide to protect their interests. As a special interest lobbying bloc, agribusiness spends over $100 million a year lobbying Congress. They wield influence in an array of areas, from anti-trust, patent and tort law, to labeling, food safety, insurance industry and financial services regulation.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington, claims to be the “voice of farmers.” In fact, they lobby for corporate agribusiness and speak on behalf of a membership base comprised not of farmers, but of insurance industry affiliates — which explains why the Farm Bureau was such a vocal opponent of healthcare reform in 2010.

In 2009 alone, the agricultural input industry spent $35 million. Monsanto and Biotechnology Industry Organization, spent over $15 million combined.

In 2003, while atrazine was being reviewed by U.S. EPA, Syngenta lobbyists participated in over 50 closed-door meetings with EPA regulators. No other scientists or stakeholders were invited, the meetings were not publicly announced, and documents about the meetings were only made public by the agency after a lawsuit was filed. Atrazine was subsequently reapproved in the U.S. on the basis of the same science that convinced the European Union to ban the chemical.

Morton Grove pharmaceuticals, which markets the pesticide lindane, organized a campaign to oppose the Michigan bill to restrict the chemical’s use. Following on a successful prior campaign to defeat similar legislation in New York State, Morton Grove sent former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders to meet with legislators in both Michigan and New York to plead the company’s case.

Gaming the Regulatory System

Regulatory agencies don’t have money to run scientific analysis. This leaves them, and the public whose interests they are charged with protecting, at the mercy of corporate science. Some examples of how this arrangement works in practice:

Confidentiality claims: Most safety studies conducted by pesticide companies are shielded from public scrutiny by claims of “Confidential Business Information.” These studies are never published in the peer reviewed scientific literature, nor made otherwise available for review by independent scientists.

Funding faulty science: When independent scientists discovered that atrazine “chemically castrates” male frogs, the company that makes atrazine, Syngenta, paid for a review of the ecotoxicity of the herbicide that concluded atrazine didn’t affect fish, amphibians, or aquatic reptiles. Independent scientists subsquently reviewed Syngenta’s review and found it riddled with inaccuracies and systematically biased.

Cherry-picking data. When multiple studies are available, corporations promote the one most favorable to their interests as the definitive study. For example, endosulfan manufactures convinced EPA to use an old rat toxicity study as the basis of its dietary risk assessment, even though newer study in rabbits showed acute toxicity at lower levels. Using the new study would have shown unacceptably high dietary risks to children.

Benefits analysis. Under FIFRA, the law regulating pesticide use, EPA is supposed to weigh the benefits of using a pesticide against the risks. To assess benefits, the Agency simply asks pesticide companies and grower groups whether alternatives are available and how much they cost. The EPA has no money or authority to research alternatives, and no way to verify the information volunteered by the ag industry.

Delay tactics & extended timelines. While EPA has the authority to ban or restrict dangerous pesticides, in practice they are reluctant to exercise it. This is because under FIFRA, pesticide manufacturers are afforded so many opportunities to appeal and object to the Agency’s decisions, that they can grind EPA action to a halt. Carbofuran is one example: In 2006 EPA, decided — after a multiyear process — that the insecticide was too dangerous and would be banned. FMC, carbofuran’s U.S. manufacturer, has fought the Agency’s decision, and as of 2010 it remains on the market, with no end in sight. So rather than take unilateral action on problem pesticides, EPA prefers to negotiate phaseouts and use restriction with the manufactures. While quicker and cheaper than prolonged litigation, this strategy still results in shamefully long timelines for phasing out toxic pesticides, like the 6-year phaseout negotiated for endosulfan, or the 8 years for aldicarb (the pesticide responsible for the worst pesticide poisoning case in U.S. history.)

Corporations also unduly influence government science by funding institutions and planting individual researchers. Dow Chemical presents a typical case: in 1995 they loaned a staff scientist to the U.S. House Commerce Committee to “assist” with changes to environmental, health and safety protections and gave $100,000 in grants to members of the scientific advisory board reevaluating the toxicity of dioxin.

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