Agriculture Department Official Misleads Senate Over Pesticides, Endangered Species

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Agriculture Department Official Misleads Senate Over Pesticides, Endangered Species

WASHINGTON - A top U.S. Department of Agriculture official advocating for fewer pesticide regulations misled the Senate Agriculture Committee today over the need for, and reliability of, the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to protect endangered species from pesticides.

Sheryl Kunickis, the USDA’s director of the Office of Pest Management Policy, stated that protecting endangered species from pesticides was duplicative and that impacts to protected species could be adequately addressed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Her assertion ignores the fact that the EPA has systemically failed to protect endangered species under that law for the past 30 years. 

“Sheryl Kunickis and the USDA seem more concerned about protecting the profits of the pesticide industry than protecting people and wildlife from exposure to pesticides,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The USDA is supposed to be a champion of safe farming practices that protect our food supply, farm workers and environment. But it appears that the only thing that they care about is protecting giant corporations like Dow Chemical. That’s a disgrace.”

Today’s hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee is focused on the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, a non-controversial piece of legislation designed to improve the process of reviewing new and existing pesticides. Rather than focusing on the merits of the Act, the USDA chose to spread misinformation and undercut sensible environmental measures guiding the use of some of the most toxic pesticides remaining on the market.

Last month Dow Chemical secretly requested that the EPA abandon legally mandated efforts to protect endangered species from chlorpyrifos and two other highly toxic insecticides, diazinon and malathion. The request came after four agencies in the federal government — the EPA, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture — invested four years assessing the pesticides’ impacts on imperiled species. The agencies have repeatedly met with stakeholders, including Dow and the USDA, and provided multiple opportunities for public comment.

“The USDA is completely out of touch with reality if it thinks that these three, antiquated pesticides are safe, and that we should just stick our heads in the sand so that the pesticide industry can maintain the status quo,” said Hartl. “The Office of Pest Management Policy and Sheryl Kunickis are nothing more than puppets of industry.”

The EPA’s final biological evaluations, supported by more than 10,000 pages of scientific documentation, determined that chlorpyrifos and malathion are likely to harm 97 percent of endangered species nationwide, while diazinon was found to harm 79 percent of protected species.

In a stunning about-face, the Trump administration recently decided to scrap a long-awaited ban on the brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos. Around 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are used in the United States every year on crops like corn, peanuts, plums and wheat. A recent study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested had detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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