By Madilynne Clark
Washington agriculture is more productive than it has ever been, making better use of land, water and other inputs.
Some activists, however, are putting that at risk, pushing for requirements for pesticide-free, Genetically Modified Organism-free, decreased carbon footprint and mandated organic food products to name a few. Consumers have a choice to purchase the food they want, even if others disagree with their choices. Turning those personal choices into requirements, however, puts everyone’s food at risk.
In pushing for new regulation, advocacy groups have moved the food industry beyond a natural market system that allows people to choose the products that suit their income and values. Ignoring sound science and pushing for excessive government regulation has allowed consumer groups to ensure niche goods become the only choice, limiting agriculture’s ability to use effective innovation to deliver edible and affordable food while reducing waste.
Consumers have always accepted the need to wash produce before it was eaten. During the growing process, fruits and vegetables will come in contact with inedible and less than desirable components; dirt, pesticides, bugs and manure from birds flying over the field are all likely culprits. Washing fruit removes the last of any undesirable residue on the crop.
Concerns over pesticides, however, have risen to a state of irrational panic among consumers. Social advocacy groups and even competing businesses have helped cultivate fear and demanded regulations that prohibit or limit the use of pesticides.
Some claim that food can be grown without any pest control. That assertion, however, puts U.S. agriculture at risk. When pests are not controlled, they can threaten the stability of our food supply.
In the real world, however, farmers are extremely careful with pesticide use and use products that are safe, effective and needed.
Regulatory policies exist to ensure human consumption of pesticides remains significantly lower than the acceptable daily intake (ADI). ADI is already set well below doses known to cause risk. However, pressure from advocacy groups can ban already approved pesticides simply because they are personally less tolerant of risk, forcing everyone to pay for their personal preference.
It takes 20 years to bring a new chemistry to market and to allow enough time to recoup the cost of development. This is a huge risk when a product can be banned because of social pressure based on unsound science. If innovators believe products will be rejected by regulators or the market because of unscientific scares, they will invest elsewhere. This undermines research and development built on the record of the last century of scientific success.
This occurred in 2012 when social advocacy groups attacked methyl iodide (MIDAS) manufactured by Arysta LifeScience. Activist groups deemed synthetic methyl iodide as unfit for use – despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval and the natural occurrence of methyl iodide from kelp and algae in temperate oceans. Arysta removed MIDAS from the U.S. while keeping sales in eight other countries, including Mexico.
Researchers must pay for scientific tests of the new product and its every use, including testing on all crops that will be legally listed on the product label. In Washington, with 300 crop varieties, specialty crops with limited acreage will not be worth the cost of registering the new products.
The continued banning of various pesticides caused by social pressure and unsound science could be disastrous. This is not a new issue. A 1989 study, estimated the banning of fungicides would increase consumer food prices 13 percent and would have a disproportionate impact on the poor. This is still true today.
A real-world example from 2014 estimates the cost of the European Union ban on neonicotinoids for United Kingdom farmers to be $33 million for alternative pesticide use, lost crops, and replanting crops. What’s worse, the ban on neonicotinoids in the European Union has not reduced the risk to honeybee colonies.
A new study by Washington State University shows neonicotinoids poise little to no risk to bees. WSU Professor Alan Felsot said, “Based on residues we found in apiaries around Washington state, our results suggest no risk of harmful effects in rural and urban landscapes and arguably very low risks from exposure in agricultural landscapes.”
Promoting fair and reliable testing and registration of pesticides is good for our state, allowing farmers to continue producing enough food efficiently, safely and with minimal waste. Washington state agriculture and consumers benefit when pressure from regulators remain consistent in the chemical registration process and do not yield to unsound science and social interest groups.
Madilynne Clark is the director for Agriculture Policy Research at Washington Policy Center. Learn more at www.washingtonpolicy.org.