As an increasing number of hazardous chemicals are banned around the world, they remain legal in the US. Why are American regulators so slow to move, and who benefits from their inaction?
Dozens of pesticides, up to 85 in total, approved for widespread agricultural use in the United States have been banned elsewhere in the world. For example, the US allows 11 different pesticides banned in China, and 17 that have been prohibited in Brazil.
The contrast is especially stark in Europe. The recently banned pesticide chlorpyrifos has serious genotoxic and neurological effects, especially in children, the European Food Safety Authority warned in a report published over the weekend. The pesticide, which comes up for re-approval in January, does not comply with EU health regulations because a safe exposure level cannot be established, even at the lowest experimental quantity.
With no safe dose, there can be no responsible use of the substance, no matter how cheap and effective it is compared to other pesticides. This seems like common sense, but the EU regulator’s decision to advise against chlorpyrifos stands in contrast to its American counterparts, which have stubbornly refused to ban the pesticide in commercial agriculture, along with many other deadly substances manufactured by wealthy agrochemical conglomerates.
Not only does chlorpyrifos remain in use in the US, concerns about its negative effects on living creatures (including humans) are dismissed by regulators and media marching to the tune of Big Business. The poisonous pesticide, and dozens more like it, are zealously protected by watchdogs who seem to have devolved into lapdogs for industry.
After nearly a decade of lawsuits, the Obama administration finally promised in 2015 to ban chlorpyrifos. The Environmental Protection Agency even produced studies showing that the pesticide harmed brain development in children. But Trump’s EPA director Scott Pruitt reversed that decision before it could take effect, shortly after a meeting with executives from Dow Chemical, its manufacturer. Prior to his appointment, Pruitt worked so closely with the energy industry in fighting the EPA and environmental legislation, that he actually allowed energy lobbyists to use his official stationery (as Oklahoma attorney general) to file complaints against the regulator.
That is just one example of collusion between US regulators and the industries they’re supposed to regulate. Communications between Monsanto executives and EPA scientists show the former bullying, cajoling, and coercing the latter into downplaying troubling experimental results regarding the carcinogenicity of Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide glyphosate (marketed as Roundup). It remains legal in the US, despite multiple court rulings awarding hefty sums to customers stricken with non-Hodgkins lymphoma from using the product.
Monsanto, now owned by the German giant Bayer, has been caught ghostwriting scientific studies and journal articles and paying sympathetic scientists to use their names, thus allowing the company to present the work – including studies it has shown off in court as proof of Roundup’s safety – as “independent.”
In 2017, the EPA’s inspector general launched an investigation the agency over an email in which its Office of Pesticide Programs appeared to conspire with Monsanto to “kill” an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services into glyphosate.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined the herbicide was “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on a wealth of peer-reviewed studies, but the EPA refused to change its classification. Instead, the agency has relied on proprietary industry-funded studies even as former EPA scientists insist on re-evaluating the herbicide following a study that found exposure raised the risk of developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma by an eye-popping 41 percent.
This regulatory capture has been aided by the media. Monsanto has “pet journalists who pushed Monsanto propaganda under the guise of ‘objective reporting,’” according to one of the Roundup cancer lawsuits. The lawsuit described the “reputation management” consultants who infiltrated news outlets, including the BBC, in order to influence the “real” journalists writing about the company, supplying pro-GMO talking points and storylines while slapping their names on Monsanto-written articles. The company has also sought to smear and discredit hostile journalists, using an astroturfed journal called Academics Review. More recently, the EPA itself has started going after journalists who pursue stories exposing the regulator’s collusion with Big Pharma.