Better Bug Killers Through Farm Bill Reform

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pesticides are toxic by design.

They are expressly created to kill living organisms. When carefully targeted, pesticides can help farmers reduce their risks and boost income.

But, pesticides frequently miss their intended targets and often wind up polluting air, water and bodies. As the Environmental Working Group’s yearly Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce shows, the most toxic pesticides are still detected on some foods.

Of course, the people most vulnerable to misuse of pesticides are farm workers and people who live near farms. For example, almost half of pesticide poisoning cases reported in California in recent years were caused by agricultural uses.

All of us are vulnerable to exposure to pesticides in our food and drinking water, and children are most vulnerable because of the impacts of pesticides on the developing body, especially our brains and reproductive organs.

Congress has taken steps to reduce exposure to pesticides, passing legislation in 1996 to force EPA to consider harm to children caused by pesticides and to incorporate new science. As a result, millions of pounds of the most toxic pesticides have been removed from commerce.

But, pesticides continue to pose threats to human health and remain one of the  reasons that rivers remain too polluted to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. Pesticides also threaten wildlife, especially pollinators.

Could the Farm Bill be an opportunity to promote better bug killers?

Reforms to USDA conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Security Program (CSP) could do more to reward farmers when they take steps to reduce pesticide applications or choose to make the transition to organic farming, which prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides.

Currently, too much EQIP funding flows to the largest farms and ranches to install costly structures, like manure storage systems. Reforming EQIP by focusing scarce federal funds on better management of pesticides or transition or organic farming would produce many more benefits for people and wildlife– and help many more farmers.

Providing full funding for programs like EQIP is also critical to helping farmers reduce exposures to pesticides. Unfortunately, Congress has repeatedly cut conservation funding in recent years – making the long lines of farmers waiting for conservation funding even longer.

Making matters worse, both the House and Senate Agriculture committees have proposed to further reduce funding for programs like EQIP in the Farm Bill to help boost unlimited subsidies for crop insurance. That’s a double whammy for consumer and the environment because the subsidies encourage more crop production – and the application of more farm chemicals.

A better course would be to reform costly subsidies through reasonable limits on who can receive subsidies and the amount they could receive. Saving generated from such common sense reforms could be used to restore cuts to conservation funding – helping many more farmers and protecting public health.


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