Pesticides continue to be a divisive issue, both in Washington and in the West. On one side, they provide much needed respite from the myriad challenges facing the produce industry, while on the other, environmental advocates push to restrict their use for concerns over the health and environmental issues. To help you remain up to speed on the current debate, here is a snapshot of federal pesticide issues.
Mexico Phasing-Out Glyphosate
Mexico’s Secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources Victor Toledo published an op-ed calling for decreasing the use of pesticides on crops, setting a short-sighted precedent on our food and trade system, particularly troubling during the already challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Toledo contends that glyphosate is causing “serious environmental damage” but banning the product outright would ultimately unwind important agricultural innovations that have shown to improve sustainability and environmental quality.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently announced that Mexico will phase-out the private use of glyphosate over the next few years, ending in late 2024 when his term is over. Western Growers has been working with allied organizations on this issue, urging the administration to address this issue directly with Mexico, so that our southern neighbor and trading partner does not follow the same path as the European Union to restrict our exports’ pathway into their markets based on unsound science.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently requested public comments on a petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which requested that the agency revoke all tolerances for residues of specified neonicotinoid pesticides. The NRDC claimed that EPA’s analysis of neonicotinoid toxicity to human health risk and drinking water assessments contained several flaws including not assessing the potential for cumulative toxicity from exposure to multiple neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are a critically important class of chemistry for specialty crops, and further limiting their use will harm many growers’ ability to maintain production levels, particularly during this challenging time. When compared to available foliar application alternatives, neonicotinoids are more selective and allow for better preservation of mutually beneficial insects in the process. Western Growers filed comments with our allied associations on this issue to encourage the continued access to these compounds and to maintain flexibility in their safe and effective use.
Pesticide Ban Bill
Senator Tom Udall (NM) and Representative Joe Neguse (CO) recently introduced companion legislation that would ban organophosphate and neonicotinoid insecticides as well as paraquat, in an effort to follow the European Union’s lead on removing pesticides from the domestic marketplace. The Save America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act has the endorsement of the United Farm Workers as well as the Center for Biological Diversity.
Both bill sponsors acknowledged that this bill would not likely move beyond mere introduction during this session of Congress but hope that it will help educate other members of Congress on the issue. In a recent call with stakeholders, Udall (who is set to retire at the end of 2020) said the bill would provide necessary updates to outdated pesticide regulations that seem to be designed to protect the pesticide industry. Neguse said he was proud to sponsor the legislation, particularly for its potential environmental impacts.
While we agree that this legislation will not succeed in this congressional session, we will keep a close eye as it may lay a marker for future debates, depending on the results of the upcoming election.
Pesticides are one arrow in the grower’s quiver that need to be utilized in the ever-challenging, demanding environment they produce in. We should remain well-versed on these important issues to know how outcomes might impact our ability to continue to produce and when to assist pesticide registrants in debates that will ultimately take a toll on our businesses.