EPA takes it on the chin at House Ag hearing

By Stephen Davies

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 27, 2016 - EPA received the brunt of the criticism from farm group representatives at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing today focusing on the factors affecting the cost of producing the nation's food.

And there was plenty of criticism.

Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, told the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research that the agency has elevated “political science” above actual science. In particular, he mentioned both the April 19-21 meeting of a Scientific Advisory Panel convened by EPA to assess the value of epidemiological studies on chlorpyrifos exposure, and a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans.

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On chlorpyrifos, which has been used for decades as Lorsban or Dursban, EPA is relying on a study by the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health “that suggests a correlation between adverse health outcomes for some children allegedly exposed to the pesticide in cities.” But, he added, Columbia will not publicly release the raw data.

At the same time, he said, “EPA is pushing aside the findings of long-standing verified laboratory studies and important new toxicological data that do exist about chlorpyrifos, all of which are available and subject to public scrutiny and demonstrate that the product is safe for agricultural use.” Vroom faulted EPA's Office of Research and Development, telling Agri-Pulse after the hearing that ORD “favors” the Columbia study.

And on glyphosate, a widely used herbicide, Vroom told the panel, chaired by Rodney Davis, R-Ill., “We believe that there's an agenda in the ORD to try to take this important tool away from farmers.”

After the hearing, Vroom said that the U.S. government representative on the IARC panel that made the carcinogenicity finding was from ORD, not, as precedent would have dictated, from EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.

That representative “didn't say a word in the two weeks of the public sessions,” Vroom said. “We can only surmise that there's an agenda there.”

Vroom said EPA's actions are part of a trend at the agency towards using less robust science and allowing decisions to be guided more by prevailing political winds.

For example, he said employees within OPP have told CropLife America that they feel pressure from social media - “Facebook moms and teens on Twitter” - when they are making decisions.

Other witnesses were equally critical of the agency. Dale Murden, president of Texas Citrus Mutual, blasted the agency for putting out a press release on its pollinator risk assessment for imidacloprid that said the neonicotinoid “shows a threat to some pollinators,” and “indicates that imidacloprid potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators.”

“In contrast, EPA's partner in the assessment, Health Canada, put out a very different message resulting in Canadian news coverage stating, ‘regulatory reviews show slim risk to bees from imidacloprid,' ” Murden said.

There were no EPA witnesses at the hearing. Asked for comment afterward, an EPA spokesperson said: “We are using science to guide our decision-making. EPA collaborates among our offices, as well as our state, federal and international partners, in making decisions to protect the public and the environment while ensuring agriculture has the necessary tools to address pest issues.”

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Another hot-button issue addressed at the hearing was GMO labeling. Chuck Conner, head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said “negotiations are very, very active” in the Senate to try to iron out differences between Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Davis said the labeling issue “didn't become partisan till it got over (to the Senate)” and expressed frustration that the House may have to take up the issue again, provided the Senate can reach a compromise.

The House passed a bill last summer that would block states from requiring GMO labeling. On July 1, Vermont's GMO labeling law is scheduled to take effect, which in the absence of federal action has led major food companies such as Campbell's to announce they will begin disclosing the presence of GMOs in their products.

Other subjects addressed at the hearing included implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the H-2A visa program for seasonal farmworkers, agricultural research, and decaying USDA infrastructure. The testimony is here. A video of the hearing is here.

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