Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new proposal which would ban the use of chlorpyrifos on citrus fruits, almonds and other crops. Chlorpyrifos is a common insecticide which is used on a number of crops that also includes oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli and asparagus.
The Associated Press reports:
“The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and regulators say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide. U.S. farms use more than 6 million pounds of the chemical each year – about 25 percent of it in California.”
The EPA stated that a recent analysis did not show risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food, but combined with estimates for exposure from drinking water, the “EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard.”
The agency will take public comments on the proposed ban for at least two months. A final ruling is expected in December 2016 with the rule going into effect in 2017.
In the early 2000’s the EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos and in 2012 placed “no-spray” buffer zones around schools and other sensitive areas.
The AP reported the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit asking for a national ban on chlorpyrifos, citing evidence the chemical interferes with brain development of fetuses, infants and children.
Veena Singla, a scientist with NRDC’s health and environment program, said that the proposal “is a huge step in the right direction, but we think there’s enough evidence to ban all its uses now.”
The proposal from the EPA came just days after a researcher with the United States Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on pesticides. The complaint follows calls for investigation of both the USDA and the EPA.
The Anti Media reported that Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist and 11-year veteran of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, filed the complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren is well-known in the scientific community for previously alleging that the USDA attempted to prevent him from speaking about his research for political reasons.
Lundgren previously published a study that found soybean seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides “offer little benefit to soybean producers.” He also served as a peer reviewer in a report published by the Center for Food Safety. That study found further evidence that neonicotinoids adversely affect bees.
Although Lundgren’s work is examining a different class of pesticides, his story highlights a dangerous trend around the science of pesticides: the suppression of research and retaliation against those who challenge the safety of pesticides.
In early May of this year, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment issued a letter to officials with the USDA and EPA. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.
A number of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides have now been linked to health problems in animals and humans, as well as environmental degradation.
In March of this year it was reported that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report on the herbicide glyphosate which concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the EPA had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985.
The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.
Since the IARC’s rulings, Monsanto has faced a wave of lawsuits as personal injury lawyers are now looking for plaintiffs who have been harmed by the corporations products.
The rise in the use of pesticides and herbicides comes with the increased use of genetically engineered or genetically modified crops. In September 2014, I wrote about the USDA’s decision to approve GE corn and soy and how this decision would lead to an increase in pesticide use.
This happens because the food products being approved by the government are engineered to resist widely-used chemicals such as glyphosate. This has led to an increase in “super-weeds” which are immune to the effects of glyphosate. This leads to an increase in spraying of these chemicals, as well as newer, stronger chemicals to fight the super weeds.
This cycle of spraying, and nature responding and adapting, will likely continue as the USDA recently approved another GE corn from Monsanto. Fellow bio-tech giant Syngenta is also applying for approval of a glyphosate-resistant GE corn. The USDA’s preliminary findings stated the risk of herbicide-resistant weeds will be an ongoing problem as long as herbicides are used.
The EPA’s latest proposal to ban the use of chlorpyrifos may indicate a shift towards more nuanced policies on herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.