Pesticide Lobby Pushes Farm Bill Amendment to Strip Localities and States from Restricting Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, July 7, 2023) The introduction of the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act (H.R.4288) in the U.S. House of Representatives, expected to be a part of the Farm Bill negotiations, is raising the specter (yet again) of undermining local and state authority to protect the health of their residents from pesticidesâ€”effectively overturning decades of Supreme Court precedent. Environmental groups and consumer protection advocates have long fought off provisions, like those in the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act, which seeks to prohibit improved protections from toxic pesticides that are not adequately regulated by the federal government. Among the many deficiencies in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), review of pesticides is its failure to fully evaluate for endocrine disruption, according to the Office of Inspector General. Critics argue that this bill will hinder state governments from tailoring laws to address the specific needs and concerns of their communities.
While the billâ€™s language appears to focus on labeling, it actually prohibits any locality or state from imposing restrictions that are more restrictive than the federal labeling on a pesticide product. The bill states that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) will require the â€śuniformity in national pesticide labeling, and prohibit any State, instrumentality or political subdivision thereof, or a court from directly or indirectly imposing or continuing in effect any requirement. . .different from the labeling or packaging approved by the Administrator. . .â€ť In other words, if a community restricts pesticide use near sensitive areas, like waterways, or seeks to protect children, or those with preexisting health conditions, that action would constitute a restriction different, albeit more protective, from the label.
The introduction of state pesticide preemption laws has been a growing trend, largely influenced by the pesticide industry’s efforts to limit local and state control since the late 20th century. This has led to an ongoing debate surrounding the balance of authority between local, state, and federal levels of government in pesticide regulation, particularly in areas related to public health.
During the 2018 Farm Bill deliberations, similar efforts by the pesticide industry to limit state control were rejected by the Farm Bill conference committee. However, the introduction of the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act now aims to preempt California from issuing cancer warnings on products containing glyphosate, such as Roundup.
In addition to a blanket prohibition of local authority to restrict pesticides more stringently than the EPA, advocates see the new bill as an attempt to preempt California, and other states, from issuing cancer warnings on products. Under Proposition 65, a right-to-know law in California, residents are provided with information about chemicals that may cause cancer or reproductive effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an internationally recognized authority on the carcinogenic potential of chemicals, classifies glyphosate as â€śprobably carcinogenic in humans.â€ť
The constitutionality of the Prop 65 warning for glyphosate is currently being litigated. In a federal district court ruling, Monsanto and others claimed that the warning violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment. California appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit, and oral arguments were submitted in April 2023.
Despite the IARC finding and a preponderance of cancer findings in the scientific literature, as well as numerous jury verdicts for plaintiffs suffering non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in 2020, EPA released a human health risk assessment for glyphosate as part of the mandatory registration review under the FIFRA that concludes that the weed killer does not pose a cancer risk. However, in June 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the EPA’s determination, stating that the agency failed to adequately consider the potential cancer-causing effects of glyphosate. The court found that the EPA disregarded evidence, including increased risks of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and tumors in animal studies, as acknowledged by its own experts, advisory panel, and medical professionals. Consequently, the EPA has been ordered to revise its assessments for the final registration review of glyphosate by 2026, with the previous deadline extended by Congress.
The fight to defend the authority of local governments to protect people and the environment has been ongoing for decades, reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. The Court specifically upheld the authority of local governments to restrict pesticides throughout their jurisdictions under federal pesticide law. InÂ Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier,Â the Court ruled that federal pesticide law does not prohibit, or preempt, local jurisdictions from restricting the use of pesticides more stringently than the federal government throughout their jurisdiction. According toÂ Mortier, however, states do retain the authority to take away local control. In response to the Supreme Court decision, the pesticide lobby immediately formed a coalition, called the Coalition for Sensible Pesticide Policy, and developed boilerplate legislative language that restricts local municipalities from passing ordinances on the use of pesticides on private property. The Coalitionâ€™s lobbyists descended on states across the country, seeking and passing, in most cases, preemption legislation that was often identical to the Coalitionâ€™s wording.
Since the passage of those state laws, there have been numerous efforts to prohibit localities from developing policies reflecting the unique needs and values of the people living there. In states that do not prohibit local action on pesticides, an ever-increasing number of communities are stepping up to protect their residents and unique local environment from pesticide poisoning and contamination. Having failed to curtail local action and with a growing number of communities deciding to act, the chemical industry is flexing its muscle with an attack in Congress.Â
Environmental activists and concerned citizens argue that states must retain the ability to inform their residents about product risks, including pesticides like glyphosate. Environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, are urging the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to draft a Farm Bill that does not undermine (i.e., preempt) the authority of local communities that are striving to safeguard public health and the environment.
The introduction of the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act has ignited a contentious debate regarding the balance between federal and state control over pesticide regulations. The outcome of this proposed legislation could have significant implications for public health, environmental protection, and the authority of state governments across the United States.
Take action! Click here for the following two steps:
- Part 1: Tell your local officials to sign onto a letter opposing the preemption language
- Part 2: Tell your U.S. Representative and Senators to support communities by opposing anti-democratic preemption language in the 2023 Farm Bill.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: 118th Congress H.R.4288Â