Pesticides for dinner?
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives think they’re safe enough to eat and drink. Don’t let them sell us out to Big Ag. Action Alert!
Every four years, Congress passes a new Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation that establishes policies for US agriculture, nutrition assistance programs, organic development programs, and more. While there are some decent, minor provisions in the current Farm Bill making its way through the House of Representatives, on balance it contains many more items that will hurt consumers, especially when it comes to the regulation of pesticides.
One of the biggest problems with the bill is that it will likely allow more pesticides to be sprayed on organic crops. Currently, there is a National List of approved and prohibited substances for organic production—some synthetic substances are allowed in organic farming, and some natural substances (like arsenic and strychnine) are prohibited. Items are added to the list through the National Organic Standards Board, which uses specific criteria (such as the effects on human health, effects on the ecosystem, availability of alternatives, etc.) to evaluate whether a substance can be used in organic agriculture.
The Farm Bill creates an expedited process for items to be added to the National List. If the FDA or the EPA determine there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from exposure to the pesticide, a separate task force can be convened to determine if the substance can be added to the National List. Considering that the EPA has, for instance, outrageously concluded that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe, this provision opens up an avenue for all kinds of toxic pesticides to be added to the National List and sprayed on our organic food. For more information about the well-documented negative health effects of glyphosate and other pesticides, including the possible link between these chemicals and birth defects, check out our previous coverage here and here.
Not only does the Farm Bill threaten organic integrity through increased use of pesticides; it preempts Americans at the city, county, and community level from restricting the use of pesticides. This is great for agribusinesses and chemical manufacturers, but not for local communities trying to protect their health. This provision is an obvious attempt to block an expanding number of cities that are passing laws restricting or banning the use of pesticides. Boulder, Colorado, for instance, banned Roundup for use on city parks, as did Irvine, California. To us it seems obvious that special interests asked for this: who other than Monsanto and Big Ag would care if Roundup could be sprayed on city parks? That Monsanto alone has spent more than $1 million in lobbying in 2018 does not seem like a coincidence.
Other provisions would allow farmers to spray pesticides into water, including drinking water sources. Keep in mind our water is already being contaminated by pesticides. This has been linked to low birth weights, more breast cancer, and lower sperm counts. If the House removes protections that prevent more pesticides from being dumped in our water, we can expect these problems to get worse. Once again, this only seems to benefit special interests.
The current draft of the Farm Bill also eliminates all funding for the organic cost share program, which provides assistance to farmers trying to certify their farms as organic. This strikes us as a terrible allocation of resources. Billions are set aside to subsidize corn, wheat, soy, and other commodity crops that are used to make junk food; by contrast, the 2014 Farm Bill allocated $11.5 million per year for the organic cost share program—money that the House Farm Bill is now proposing to cut. Generally speaking, we don’t like the government picking winners and losers—this should be sorted out by the market. Not only is the government incompetent (recall the confused thinking that permeates the federal government’s dietary guidelines), it is also beholden to special interests. Incompetence and cronyism notwithstanding, if subsidies are going to be given out, it doesn’t make sense to send billions towards food that is making us unhealthy and sick, while eliminating funds for the production of sustainable, clean and healthy food.
The Farm Bill does include some of the provisions that were part of a previous bill that ANH supported which sought to address the issue of fake organics coming into the US from overseas. As we stated at the time, these measures wouldn’t fix all the problems with the organics program, but they are a step in the right direction in getting the government to do its job in ensuring the integrity of our domestic organics program.
Unfortunately, those measures are not enough for us to offer support to this bill. The threats to organic integrity and consumer health are too substantial—consumers must weight in and tell their representatives to stop protecting Big Ag at the expense of consumers.
The House is expected to vote on its version of the Farm Bill in the next few days; the Senate must still form its own bill, and then the two chambers will reconcile the two versions into a single bill. We will stay abreast of developments and alert ANH members at key points in the process.
Action Alert! Write to your representative in the House and tell him or her to protect consumers, not Big Ag, in this year’s Farm Bill. Please send your message immediately.