The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Ahna Kruzic
Communications Director

Senator Udall Introduces "Long Overdue" Legislation to Overhaul U.S. Pesticide Rules

Children’s health, farmworker and healthy farming advocates applaud proposed updates to antiquated federal law


Today, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced the "Protect America's Children from Toxic Pesticides Act," which would update U.S. pesticide rules to be more in line with more health-protective laws in other countries.

The bill would also provide immediate protections for farmworkers, who are on the frontline of workplace pesticide exposure and also face increased health risks during the current pandemic.

"Our pesticide rules were established to get products quickly to market, not to protect workers, families or the environment," says Kristin Schafer, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network (PAN). "Other countries have managed to stand up to pesticide industry pressure, follow the science and put measures in place that prioritize public health and the environment -- while maintaining agricultural productivity. It's high time we caught up, and this bill is a good first step."

Each year the U.S. uses over one billion pounds of pesticides -- nearly a fifth of worldwide usage -- and use levels are rising.

The current pesticide law, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1972 ("FIFRA") contains many provisions that prioritize pesticide industry interests above the health and safety of people and our environment. For example once approved, pesticides often remain on the market for decades, even when scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows harm to people or the environment.

Because of the outdated law, the U.S. continues to allow widespread application of many agricultural pesticides that have been banned in other countries. According to a recent analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, hundreds of millions of pounds of agricultural pesticides are applied in the U.S. each year that have been banned in the European Union (EU), China and Brazil. Specifically, the U.S. applies 320, 40 and 26 million pounds of chemicals that the EU, China and Brazil, respectively, have deemed too dangerous to use within their borders.

"Farmworkers are not mere statistics, but real people with vibrant families who risk exposure to pesticides every day so the rest of us can have food to eat," says Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety Coordinator with the Farmworker Association of Florida. "Just as the COVID-19 health crisis has laid bare the reality of racial disparities suffered by Black and Brown communities, so too, farmworkers suffer disproportionately from chronic health problems related to pesticides. And farmworker children are at much higher risk for birth defects and neuro- and developmental health problems from these exposures. FIFRA reform is urgent and long overdue -- farmworkers are 'essential' not 'expendable!'"

The Protect America's Children from Toxic Pesticides Act would phase out products scientifically proven to be particularly harmful to human health and the environment, including:

  • Organophosphate insecticides, which have been linked to neurodevelopmental damage in farmworkers and children;
  • Neonicotinoid insecticides, which contribute to pollinator collapse around the world and have recently been shown to cause developmental defects, heart deformations, and muscle tremors in unborn children; and
  • Paraquat, one of the most acutely toxic herbicides in the world -- according to the EPA, just "one sip can kill." Science has shown that chronic exposure to paraquat increases risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 200% to 600%. It is already banned in 32 countries.

The bill also provides significant protections for frontline communities that bear the brunt of pesticide exposure, prohibits the use of old stockpiles of banned pesticides, requires listing of "inert" ingredients on all pesticide products, and closes dangerous loopholes for emergency exemptions and conditional registrations.

In addition, it immediately suspends use of pesticides deemed unsafe by the EU or Canada until they are thoroughly reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The science is crystal clear," says PAN Senior Scientist Margaret Reeves. "These chemicals are putting our health, environment and food supply at risk and we must help farmers move away from them. Senator Udall's bill puts science, public health and on-farm resilience over corporate profits -- it's passage is urgently needed and would finally put us on the right track."

PANNA (Pesticide Action Network North America) works to replace pesticide use with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five autonomous PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens' action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to ensure the transition to a just and viable society.