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27
Mar

Action Alert: Stop the Attack on Public Health and the Environment in the Farm Bill

Action: Stop Congress from undermining USDA’s ability through its conservation programs to (i) curtail dangerous pesticides that exceed safety thresholds or have not been fully tested, and (ii) advance the transition to organic production and land management.

Issue: USDA should retain its discretionary authority to restrict or prohibit specific classes of pesticides as a condition for participating in conservation programs. Language now on the table as a conference amendment in current Farm Bill negotiations: “The Secretary shall not prohibit [or “discriminate against” in the House-passed Farm Bill] the use of specific registered pesticides or classes of pesticides as a pre-condition for participation in programs under that [conservation] subtitle,” known as the Goodlatte pesticide amendment, named for its original sponsor, minority leader in the House Agriculture Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Threat: Conferees to the Farm Bill (Democrat and Republican Senators and Representatives from the Agriculture Committees of Congress who are negotiating the final Farm Bill language), are considering a provision included in the House Farm Bill (SEC. 11305) that would prohibit USDA from exercising its authority to restrict specific pesticides in its conservation programs. Time Frame: Conferees are debating this issue now and intend to resolve it in the next week or two. They have already agreed in part to some language that will tie the Secretary of Agriculture’s hands in seeking to address contamination of air, land and water and coordinating conservation programs with the organic certification statute, the Organic Foods Production Act.

Background: The authority of USDA to restrict usage of specific pesticides when necessary, under its conservation title is critical to long-term sustainability in agriculture, forestry, wildlife and wetlands management, essential in assisting agricultural producers to meet the standards of numerous federal statutes (Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and others), and imperative as the department carries out its responsibility to assist in the transition to organic management systems.

Scientific research increasingly identifies the need to advance management practices that seek to avoid or limit the use of registered pesticides that are contaminating air, land, and water, in many cases now at elevated levels that raise concern for human health, wildlife and the environment. For example, ongoing U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research findings of contamination of the nation’s waterways with pesticides have led to strategic initiatives, such as the intergovernmental Chesapeake Bay Project, which has developed a coordinated strategic plan to achieve a “toxics free Bay to improve conditions for aquatic-dependent wildlife.” Nationwide, the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program found in its report Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater (2006) that more than half of all agricultural streams and more than three-quarters of all urban streams have pesticide contamination that exceeds acceptable standards for aquatic life. Human health standards are exceeded in about 10 percent of agricultural and 7 percent of urban streams. In addition, drinking water standards have not been developed for 36 of the 83 pesticides and degradates found by NAWQA.

If USDA is to play a role in meeting the goals in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as well as other watersheds across the country, the department most certainly may have to consider some restrictions of specific pesticide contaminants in the disbursement of its conservation program dollars. To not do so would undermine USDA’s role in conservation and put it at odds with its statutory authority to advance organic and integrated pest management systems in response to widening environmental and human health problems.

There are numerous examples where USDA may need to utilize this authority to support methods that implicitly or explicitly seek to reduce contaminants that are adversely affecting the environment and, in the process, ensure continued agricultural viability. In addressing contamination through conservation programs, USDA may disburse funds and stipulate production methods, such as organic or integrated pest management, that eliminate or reduce certain contaminants. In the past, for example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in some cases has utilized its payments to support the transition to certified organic production systems, thus allowing only those pesticides permitted under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and prohibiting those substances not listed as acceptable. Under OFPA, “The Secretary shall establish a National List of approved and prohibited substances that shall be included in the standards for organic production…”

Under the Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, Congress has restricted ozone depleters in an effort to curtail global warming. To assist agricultural producers in making the shift to alternatives, the department has the authority to limit the use of methyl bromide in its conservation programs and in so doing facilitate the transition to environmentally sound practices. Here again, organic practices can help lead the way in addressing conservation practices.

Who to Contact: Let your members of Congress (U.S. Representatives and Senators) know that you want them to contact the conferees on the House-Senate Farm Bill conference committee and ask them to reject the Goodlatte pesticide amendment and allow USDA to advance conservation practices as needed. If your Congress member is a conferee (see list), urge the member to be an advocate for this position.

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