Events in recent years have demonstrated the vulnerabilities in our food production systems and supply chains. Our wellbeing depends on access to safe, affordable food. Pesticides are essential tools for growers and others whose farms and food-producing businesses rely on them. If left unchecked, pests such as insects and mold can inflict crop losses greater than 80 percent. Additionally, pesticides are essential to maintaining and expanding vital conservation practices such as cover cropping and conservation tillage that protect soil health, air quality and water quality. Without access to safe, effective pesticides regulated with the best available science, food prices for American families will rise significantly and our ability to protect public health, infrastructure, and our environment will be greatly diminished.
Pesticides are essential to efficient farm production. They undergo a rigorous development and review process—taking 11 years on average—before they are commercially available. Pesticides available to farmers have met the health and environmental safety standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are considered safe for use according to EPA specifications. Unfortunately, some U.S. states are directly contradicting scientific guidance from the EPA and are jeopardizing the future of pesticide application on farms. Left unaddressed, this would have big implications for U.S. food security, farmers’ livelihoods, and consumers’ pocketbooks.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the primary statute governing pesticides, gives EPA the authority to make foundational, science-based decisions on how pesticides can be labeled and used. States are permitted to regulate the sale and use of pesticides under FIFRA but are preempted from requiring additional or different pesticide labels. If they did so, their actions would create an unworkable, inconsistent patchwork of state regulations that would quickly disrupt commerce and increase costs for farmers and consumers. Nevertheless, some states are now attempting to do so.
The American farmer produces enough to feed, on average, 155 people. Despite that wonderful efficiency, more than 34 million people in the U.S. are going hungry. Ensuring a stable domestic food supply is a challenge, even without pandemics and the war in Ukraine involving two major wheat exporters. Each year, farmers lose up to 40% of their crops to pests and diseases. Without pesticides, this loss would be alarmingly high, even to the point of threatening U.S. national security. Even the loss of some pesticides, in only some states, would be a significant enough loss to impact food availability and price, affecting both the well-off and the vulnerable.
Farmers must protect their crops, or they would go out of business and the rest of us would go hungry. Pesticides help maintain the improved crop yields and the soil & water conservation practices that allow farmers to be as thrifty and conservation minded as possible. In a tough profession, confronting drought, natural disasters, and inflation, many farmers are profitable for only two years out of five, or even less often. However, every dollar a farmer spends on pesticides returns $14 in benefits that is passed along to consumers in the form of lower food costs. Every barrier to using EPA-approved pesticides threatens to drive up our food costs.
By reaffirming the EPA’s authority to establish the fundamental science of nationwide pesticide regulation and serve as THE federal authority under FIFRA to make pesticide decisions, and by reiterating that states may regulate pesticide use but not impose additional labeling requirements, Congress can protect the American farmer and the domestic food system that delivers affordable, abundant food.
-Charles Hall, Executive Director, North Carolina Soybean Producers Association