July 8, 2019

Countering the Continued Vilification of Crop Protection

By Jonathan Saragen


The issue of pesticide safety continues to be demonized and is frequently raised before the court of law, but it’s in the court of public opinion where we should focus our countering efforts.

As we all know, crop protection technologies truly aid in providing a steady, nutritious diet to families across the country, but they are continuously misunderstood, seen as an easy target, and often misjudged.

The fight against pesticides is evident now more than ever; although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” it remains under close examination in the civil court system. In California, CalEPA has announced the intent to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos following its formal listing as a “toxic air contaminant,” even though government agencies at both the state and federal level imposed intense scrutiny of this very issue prior to its registration and use. And recently, the EPA announced that it is cancelling registrations for 12 neonicotinoid-containing pesticides as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by beekeepers and environmentalists.

I would note that the EPA often cites action taken by foreign countries in its decisions. For instance, in the recent Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision for Glyphosate, it noted a consistency with regulatory agencies of other nations including Canada, Australia, Europe, Germany, New Zealand, and Japan. While looking to other countries’ decisions to offer another view may serve as a basis of reference, we must not allow it to become the benchmark. Europe, for instance, is taking things to the extreme, and given the global market of pesticides, its actions directly impacts agriculture across the United States. It would be better if the U.S. governmental agencies would engage with other countries on the front end through educational exchanges and data comparisons.

On the bright side, the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2018 (PRIA) was signed into law and should improve pesticide registration through 2023. This was a long, two-year effort that will provide further resources to the EPA to evaluate and register new crop protection technologies in a more timely fashion, and safeguard modern scientific standards. EPA has committed to swift implementation of the reauthorization.

We, both industry and the relevant government agencies, can do a better job of educating the public on the use of crop protection tools. In the not-too-distant past, the EPA was a defender of its regulatory process, which gave people a concept of the rigorous review process prior to its use. Take California, for instance, where the process is ridiculously thorough. Prior to registration for sale in the state, a pesticide must undergo upwards of 120 health, safety and environmental tests and be further evaluated by the U.S. EPA for an average of nine years to determine its potential for any harm to human life and the environment. If a pesticide is able to pass the gauntlet, and it’s used as intended according to the label, it is in fact safe.

To be sure, there will always be a need for further research to be done to stimulate the next generation of crop protection tools. We can work toward less toxic pesticides and better integrate organic pesticides into the conventional space. In fact, many in the crop protection industry already have a good start on biopesticides.

The public needs to become more aware of exactly how the fresh food they enjoy is produced. The fresh produce that provides nourishment to their families, and a livelihood to many Americans, requires much more effort and science than most realize. Crop protection tools seem to be an easy target for criticism, but they provide much needed protection against pests that would disrupt our food supply.

Western Growers will continue to engage with USDA and other industry partners to promote this awareness. Promoting the process and use of pesticides will serve the nation’s food security much better than the litigation whack-a-mole that we are engaged in today.