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Daily News Blog

16
Jul

New Industry Hire Highlights Revolving Door at EPA

(Beyond Pesticides, July 16, 2015) The latest former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official to take advantage of the revolving door between EPA and the pesticide industry is Nader Elkassabany, PhD, former branch chief of the Risk Assessment and Science Support Branch in the Antimicrobial Division in the Office of Pesticide Programs. CropLife America announced last week that it has hired Dr. Elkassabany to serve as senior director of environmental policy, responsible for the pesticide trade group’s regulatory strategies on environmental policy. He will also help manage the company’s Environmental Risk Assessment Committee and its working groups.

EPA-buildingIn a statement, CropLife America President and CEO Jay Vroom considers his expertise invaluable. This is no surprise, given that Dr. Elkassabany brings with him 15 years of experience working in  the registration and re-registration of pesticide active ingredients in the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) at EPA. This will undoubtedly be beneficial for the trade association, which represents major agricultural chemical manufactures like Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, and DuPont Crop Protection.

According to a statement from CropLife, Dr. Elkassabany received three EPA Bronze Medals for Commendable Service. He left EPA in 2012 to work for another big name in consumer pesticides,  S.C. Johnson, which owns the Raid brand of insect killers, as well as mosquito repellant Off! At S.C. Johnson, he served as director of regulatory affairs for U.S. pesticide products registration, and supervised a team of staff responsible for securing and maintaining federal and state registrations for all consumer products.

Croplife America has been an aggressive promoter of chemical-dependent agricultural practices and an opponent of organic methods. It  was a major player in proposed rules for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that would roll back robust chemical safety standards which would weaken pesticide standards and threaten the U.S. organic food industry. The group also has a rich history of leveraging its relationships with government regulatory agencies. Islam Siddiqui, PhD, was vice president for science and regulatory affairs for CropLife America, and was a registered lobbyist with the company from 2001 to 2008. He later became Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Despite record opposition to his appointment, including from Beyond Pesticides and the National Organic Coalition, due to his very public support of GE crops, Dr. Siddiqui was appointed to the USTR  by the Obama Administration in 2010, and confirmed by the Senate in 2011. He resigned from the post in 2013.

The “revolving door” refers to the movement of personnel between roles as regulators and legislators and the industries that are affected by the regulations. The industry has a long history of utilizing this technique, which creates inappropriate relationships between large corporations and the government agencies that are tasked with enforcing regulations. SourceWatch maintains a list of some of the other names and positions of EPA’s revolving door. Additionally, Pesticide Action Network North America’s Undue Influence lays out the revolving door strategy that corporations use to influence regulators and legislators.

Perhaps the most high profile instances of the revolving doors is Michael Taylor, JD, former vice president for public policy at Monsanto, and current Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Mr. Taylor’s appointment to FDA by the Obama administration in 2009 sparked outrage from environmentalists because of his ties to the biotech giant Monsanto. From 1998 until 2001, Mr. Taylor served as the vice president for public policy at the company, and is credited with paving the way for the explosion of genetically engineered (GE) crops in the marketplace for his work shaping and implementing the government’s policies during the Clinton administration. In his bio on FDA’s webpage, very little is written about his ten year career at the biotech giant company, just a quick blurb at the bottom of the page. Another example is Steven Schatzow, a former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pesticide program and now an attorney representing pesticide firms. Mr. Schatzow was fired from representing Amvac, a company that purportedly bought chemicals that had known safety issues from companies at discount price, in 1994 after his negotiations with EPA ended in the ban of mevinphos.

Other Industry Tactics

Utilizing the revolving door may be one of the most effective strategies of the industry, however there are many other tactics that it  uses in order to gain political influence. A recent report, Spinning Food, by Friends of the Earth examines additional industry tactics and strategy to influence elected officials and sway public opinion. Agrochemical companies have spent an exorbitant amount of money food over the past several years to defuse public concern about the risks of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and to undermine the reputation of organic food. For instance, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent from 2009-2013 on communication efforts to spin the media and drive consumer behavior, often using front groups that appear in the media to be independent sources, but are in fact funded by the interests of the industrial food sector.

Furthermore, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found that scientists  working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not have adequate protections from pressure and retaliation when researching issues that threaten the interests of powerful agrichemical corporations like Monsanto. The organization filed a petition for rulemaking with the agency in March, seeking to strengthen USDA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, and adopt best practices used in other federal agencies in order to prevent political suppression or alteration of studies.

Finally, one of the most notorious of industry’s covert tactics to continue profiting off of its poisonous products is by Syngenta Crop Protection. An investigative report in 2013 uncovered that the company launched a multi-million dollar campaign to discredit critics of its controversial herbicide atrazine, most notably Tyrone Hayes, PhD, whose research finds that the chemical feminizes male frogs. You can watch Dr. Hayes’ talk at the most recent National Pesticide Forum in Orlando, FL, where you can hear about his experience being targeted by the chemical company, and the importance of supporting independent scientific research to inform sound public policy that protects health and the environment. This information is critical in  influencing state and local decision makers to act because of industry-dominated regulatory decisions that assume the necessity of toxic materials, driven by companies with an economic interest. EPA’s reliance on industry-funded science, and the numerous connections between industry and the governing agencies demonstrate the need for critical thinking when it comes to the use of toxic pesticides and the importance of adopting non-toxic and organic alternatives.

Sources: CropLife America Press Release, GreenWire

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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