With a Side of Pesticides

Last February (2012), Monsanto petitioned the EPA to increase the allowable amount of residual pesticides on many popular produce items. Just over a year later, on May 1st, 2013, those new limits went into effect.

Environmental Protection Agency Seal

Environmental Protection Agency Seal (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Let’s put aside for a moment any preconceived notions about the safety or hazards of ingesting pesticides. Let’s set aside our biases against Monsanto and the government (if, like me, you have them). Let’s just talk timing here.

Monsanto filed their petition with the EPA on February 8, 2012. The EPA’s new regulations took effect on May 1st, 2013, fifteen months later. What had to happen in those fifteen months for the EPA to approve the petition and change the standards? Here’s an excerpt from the EPA’s decision regarding the guidelines for approving a petition (any emphasis is mine):

Section 408(b)(2)(A)(i) of FFDCA allows EPA to establish a tolerance (the legal limit for a pesticide chemical residue in or on a food) only if EPA determines that the tolerance is “safe.” Section 408(b)(2)(A)(ii) of FFDCA defines “safe” to mean that “there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other exposures for which there is reliable information.” This includes exposure through drinking water and in residential settings, but does not include occupational exposure. Section 408(b)(2)(C) of FFDCA requires EPA to give special consideration to exposure of infants and children to the pesticide chemical residue in establishing a tolerance and to “ensure that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to infants and children from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue. . . .”

When Monsanto filed its petition requesting an increase in allowable pesticide residue, the EPA had to be reasonably certain that aggregate (accumulated, regular, etc.) exposure to these increased levels wouldn’t cause any problems before they could grant Monsanto’s request. This certainty had to be based on reliable information.

If you go to the main page, you can actually access the memos prepared by EPA insiders regarding the petition. There are only four of them. The shortest is 16 pages and the longest, 36. All were submitted between October 16th and November 20th, 2012. With a filing date of February 8th, 2012, the EPA evaluated all available evidence on the potential health hazards of glyphosate in roughly nine months.

We all know what they say about assumptions, but I do think it is fair to assume that in nine months the EPA didn’t conduct too many tests of its own. They certainly didn’t conduct any studies analyzing the long-term effects of increased glyphosate levels and exposure. So where did the EPA get its “reliable information” and data upon which to make its decision?

I honestly don’t know. I spent a good amount of time browsing the website, but couldn’t find their sources. I do know that the EPA’s track record of seeking out independent sources of information isn’t good. Having read (and watched) The World According to Monsanto I know that in the past the EPA and USDA have relied upon data and studies conducted by Monsanto itself to come to their decisions. They took Monsanto at its word that products like DDT and Agent Orange were harmless.I sincerely hope the EPA learned from their past mistakes and sought out independent sources of information, though I am doubtful.

Here’s what the website has to say about the data:

EPA has sufficient data to assess the hazards of and to make a determination on aggregate exposure for glyphosate including exposure resulting from the tolerances established by this action.

The reports summarize the data, but do not cite sources. I would love to know what “reliable information” they based their decision upon in this instance and would be very interested to know if the group(s) who conducted the studies have ties to Monsanto. It wouldn’t be the first time the EPA/USDA/FDA relied upon studies produced by a party with a vested interest in the outcome.

Also, why is the EPA evaluating the health effects of pesticides? Shouldn’t that be the USDA? Shouldn’t the EPA be concerned with the environmental impact of these products? Not the health impact? Am I the only one who is confused (and concerned) by this decision?

4 thoughts on “With a Side of Pesticides

    • I’m amazed they are able to push stuff like this through without anyone realizing it. I didn’t read about it until it was already a done deal. Where is the transparency in our government?

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