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Daily News Blog

30
May

House Farm Bill Moves Out of Agriculture Committee Undermining Health, Ecosystems, and Democracy, Advocates Say

The House Agriculture Committee voted to move the farm bill out of committee undermining water health, soil health, and local democratic authority.

(Beyond Pesticides, May 30, 2024) The House Agriculture Committee voted 33-21 on May 23 to move the Farm, Food, and National Security Act out of committee after a contentious markup and onslaught of amendments that undermine water health, soil health, and local democratic authority to protect people and the environment from toxic pesticide exposure. One of nearly sixty amendments introduced in the markup last week included the continuation of a decade-long attack on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit via Clean Water Act (CWA) for pesticide discharge. What was most illuminating however was not the passage of the bill itself, but Big Agriculture’s raucous approval. Advocates see pesticide industry and its allies’ support for what it is—the reliance on petrochemical-based pesticides leading to economic instability, ecosystem collapse, and the degradation of democratic institutions. With support for entrenched dependency on petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, the committee’s bill requires taxpayers to pay through the government’s crop insurance program for escalating losses caused by chemical-intensive farming practices, contributing to yield losses that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says are “natural causes such as drought, excessive moisture [e.g., floods], hail, wind, frost, insects, and disease. . .” However, the frequency of these climate disasters can no longer be attributed to “natural causes.”

Federal Crop Insurance

According to data from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) indicated in the above graph, roughly 43.7 percent of insured crop losses are a result of climate change-induced temperature increases and drought. This phenomenon has led to a year-over-year increase in annual indemnity payments by an average of 19.6 percent between 2002 and 2022. Besides cattle and dairy, oilseeds and grain production make up the largest share of U.S. farmland. Within this category falls corn, soybeans, and wheat. According to a 2021 Congressional Research Service report, more than 90 percent of corn and soybean acres and more than 85 percent of wheat acres were insured through the Federal Crop Insurance Program. Genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant, and therefore herbicide-dependent, crops rely on highly toxic pesticide products in the production of 96 percent of soybeans as of 2023, 95 percent of spring wheat as of 2021, and 96 percent of corn as of 2021. The toxic herbicides used on these commodity crops include, but are not limited to, atrazine, glyphosate, dicamba, 2,4-D, paraquat, mesotrione, and fluroxypyr, among others.

Simultaneously, the Congressional Budget Office earlier this year released a report, “The Budget and Economic Outlook 2024 to 2034,” which finds that federal spending on interest payments from the national debt will exceed both military and Social Security spending for the first time in U.S. history. While the report attributes much of this to tax cuts and federal pandemic aid, the increase in commodity crop subsidies reliant on expensive pesticides and chemicals (accumulating $59.7 billion in production expenses for farmers as of 2022) will continue to be a significant factor in the years ahead unless the Farm Bill stops propping up agricultural production systems that are contributing to costly environmental and revenue crises.

Attacks on Local Democracy

The same industry interests that seek to increase federal spending on crop insurance for chemical-intensive agriculture are also in support of weakening local democratic institutions and decision-making processes with federal preemption language that directly impacts local governments’ ability and intervention of the courts to protect the public, including farmers, from associated harms. In response to committee passage of the Farm, Food, and National Security Act, agricultural trade associations including the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, and National Association of Wheat Growers released press releases commending the House Agriculture Committee for its leadership in protecting farmers and crop markets, with special notice given to crop insurance. As mentioned in an earlier Daily News, there are two central critiques of the House Farm Bill relating to federal preemption of local authority to restrict pesticides and the ability to litigate on harm caused by pesticides. The legislation:

  1. Takes away the right to sue for failure to warn when harmed by pesticides. In Section 10204 of the House Farm Bill, language shields (gives immunity to) the producers and users of toxic pesticides from liability lawsuits associated with the harm that their products cause. The provision will block lawsuits like those successfully advanced against Bayer/Monsanto for adverse health effects, like cancer, associated with exposure to their products and companies’ failure to warn about these effects on EPA approved product labels.
  2. Prohibits the rights of states and local governments to restrict pesticides and protect public health and the environment. In Sections 10204 and 10205, the attack on local and state authority to restrict pesticides is a bottom-line issue. As momentum builds for local restrictions on pesticide use in the face of ongoing poisoning and contamination, it is clear that effective land management does not require toxic pesticide use. Historically, localities have exercised their democratic right to protect public health and safety where state and federal standards are not adequately protective of their residents. Local governments have exercised this right in many areas affecting the health of people and the environment, such as with smoking, recycling, dog waste, and other standards.

Attacks on local democracy manifest in large part from Big Agriculture’s interest in maintaining economic supremacy over alternative models, such as organic, they view as a threat to their modus operandi.

Endangered Species Under Threat

The House Farm Bill also threatens to undermine rulemaking and administrative accountability under provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) that are intended to protect biodiversity and provide for public participation in decision making.

For example, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall not be required to reinitiate consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2)) or section 402.16 of title 50, Code of Federal Regulations (or a successor regulation), on an approved land management plan prepared, amended, or revised under this section when, after the date of such approval, amendment, or revision—

  1. a species is listed as a threatened or endangered species under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1533);
  2. a critical habitat for a threatened or endangered species is designated under that section; or
  3. new information concerning a threatened or endangered species or critical habitat for such a species becomes available.’’ [SEC 8411, p. 635]

In exempting U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management from requiring to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a Humane Society of the United States analysis points out that this would undermine newly designated endangered or threatened species and critical habitats. The House Farm Bill would also expand the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to exclude destructive practices like logging or road building from environmental review pursuant to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on 3,000 to 10,000 acre projects, as referred to in Sections 8402, 8403, and 8404.

Additionally, an amendment would change the criteria for the interagency working group decision making on pesticide regulation (pursuant to FIFRA ) by establishing that the working group “take into consideration factors, such as actual and potential differences in interest between, and the views of, those stakeholders and organizations.” [SEC 10203, p. 797] Analysis reported by Civil Eats indicates that this language, particularly “act and potential differences in interest” would open the door for federal agencies to declare industry interest more valid than the interest of organizations fighting for stringent pesticide regulations that impact public health and biodiversity.

Advocates have urged improvements in federal funding and improvements of ESA programs, including calls for increased funding for fiscal year 2024 and scrutiny over EPA’s Draft Herbicide Strategy Framework. Per the most recent update in the Framework, EPA proposes a weaker plan by shortening the mitigation requirements from a nine-point system to four tiers, offering more flexibility for farmers (including minor and specialty crops) in adopting restrictive measures, and reducing requirements in certain circumstances. Advocates have also called on the Biden Administration to significantly increase its budget request given that a budget of $841 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) alone is needed to fully implement ESA objectives. Currently, FWS only receives around 50% of the funding required to properly implement the Act.

Undermining the Clean Water Act

There are additional problematic provisions that undermine ecosystems and public health, including the continuation of a decade-long attack on the Clean Water Act (CWA) permitting program under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), pursuant to Section 402. The inclusion of Amendment 18 in the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm bill text that passed the House Agriculture Committee threatens local government’s ability to regulate pesticide discharge into waterways via NPDES. In 2009, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that point source discharges of pesticides into waters of the United States were considered pollutants under CWA. As a result of the Court’s decision, NPDES permits are now required for these discharges beginning on October 31, 2011. The goal for these permits, like any NPDES permit, is to help U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies monitor chemicals entering waterways nationwide, help mitigate any downstream adverse health effects, and safeguard drinking water. In spite of this court ruling, industry-aligned bills continued to pop up in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2023 to remove pesticides from NPDES permitting. If passed in its current form, the 2024 House Farm Bill text will see this objective come to fruition after last year’s Supreme Court case, Sackett v. EPA (2023)—changing the definition of “waters of the United States” to exclude wetlands, and ultimately weakening EPA authority to protect them.

According to advocates, the House Farm Bill fails on numerous levels in protecting public health, ecosystems health, and long-term stability of the U.S. agricultural economy. Advocates argue that investing the same amount of funding and political will into the National Organic Program would not only ensure financial stability for farmers across the spectrum of markets, but also serve as a bulwark against the impending crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and public health exacerbated by intervention from the toxic pesticide industry and their allies. Follow coverage on Farm Bill developments by seeing Daily News section on this year’s Farm Bill. See Keeping Organic Strong to learn more about the climate, health, and environmental justice benefits of transforming agricultural and land management practices to an organic system. Joining the movement can happen at the click of the keyboard by subscribing to the Action of the Week.

Let Congress know how you feel about the Farm Bill provisions: Tell your U.S. Congressional Representative and Senators to support organic agriculture in the Farm Bill, but not at the expense of undermining local and state authority to enact more stringent restrictions of pesticides.

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

Source: U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee

 

 

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One Response to “House Farm Bill Moves Out of Agriculture Committee Undermining Health, Ecosystems, and Democracy, Advocates Say”

  1. 1
    Paula Morgan Says:

    How the House could vote something so harmful into effect makes no sense. This bill destroys any meaning of protection to animals and a complete failure of protecting our food from pro Big Oil pesticides and fertilizers. This bill is death to our farms, animals, soil, food, and us! We pay these people to do this to our country? They get voted into office and spend their days selling, buying, and trading stocks with inside information, but it’s legal? Yes. We the people don’t have that privilege. Yet these same people seem to always cause harm and no intelligent means of avoiding harm. Unbelievable!

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