US Lags Way Behind in Banning Harmful Pesticides

(CN) – Farmers in the United States use 72 pesticides banned in the European Union, 17 agricultural substances outlawed in China and 11 pesticides no longer allowed in Brazil, the Center for Biological Diversity revealed in research published Thursday.

“Of the 85 pesticides approved in the USA and banned in at least one of the other nations, most are herbicides,” said study author Nathan Donley in an interview.

Herbicides account for 58%. The rest of the 85 target insects, fungus, bacteria and related categories.

Published Thursday in scientific journal Environmental Health, the study makes use of 2016 data, when U.S. farmers applied 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides. Those treatments included 322 million pounds of chemicals no longer allowed in the EU, 40 million pounds of pesticides banned in China and 26 million pounds banned in Brazil.

The study concludes total bans are the “most effective way to prevent intentional or accidental exposure.”

“The USA is generally regarded as being highly regulated and having protective pesticide safeguards in place,” said Donley in a statement. “This study contradicts that narrative.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to cancel approvals on pesticides deemed harmful, such as chemicals found to harm brain development or cause cancer. However, looking at the 508 active ingredients used in the U.S. since 1970, Donley found that of 134 canceled over time, agrochemical companies took 97 off market without being told.

Voluntary cancellations tend to involve pesticides that have already seen a decline in use. In addition, the voluntary nature of the cancellations means the phase-out often takes longer than it would with a hard ban. 

“These findings suggest that the USA utilizes voluntary, industry-initiated cancellation as the primary method of prohibiting pesticides, which is different from the non-voluntary, regulator-initiated cancellations/bans that are predominant in the EU, Brazil and China,” Donley said in a statement.

The four agricultural producers studied account for more than half of all production value in agricultural markets.

“Agricultural production in these places is very important economically, and I felt there would be similar pressures put on these nations with regards to pesticide use,” said Donley in an interview.

The study’s conclusions, based on a comparison of total bans, “can’t necessarily be generalized to other aspects of pesticide regulation, such as safeguards that do not involve the total banning of a pesticide, the implementation and enforcement of regulations, and regulation compliance,” Donley added.

In the EU, pesticides undergo the most complete review and renewal process, overseen by the European Food Safety Authority. In Brazil, three agencies oversee risks to human health and the environment as well as chemical efficacy. However, a new bill proposes that the agencies operate under the Ministry of Agriculture, which would get veto power. China, which toughened related laws in 2009 with new data requirements, is set to phase out another 12 pesticides by 2022.

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