A Year Ago, The Government Rejected a Ban on this Pesticide. Where Do Things Stand Today?

A year ago last Friday, Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ignored the recommendations of his agency’s own scientists and rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage and developmental delays in children. Soon after the decision was announced, we published a list of the Upper Valley farms that refuse to use the pesticide. You can find that list here.

Chlorpyrifos (“klor-PEER-a-foss”) is an organophosphate pesticide. It is sprayed on crops to kill insects. The pesticide is a junior-strength nerve agent, similar to the notorious nerve gas, sarin.

Chlorpyrifos is sprayed as a fine mist on many U.S. crops, including apples, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, cherries, peaches, pears, corn, and wheat. The EPA proposed a complete ban on chlorpyrifos in 2015, citing significant risks to children and farmworkers. In a risk analysis published in 2016, the agency said children were exposed to up to 140 times the safe levels of the pesticide through food alone.

In rejecting the ban, Pruitt said the pesticide needed more time to be studied. He cited no new information saying it was safe.

One of the largest suppliers of chlorpyrifos is Dow AgroSciences. Dow donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural celebration.

So where do things stand today?

A year after the controversial decision, the fight to ban the pesticide is far from over.

Last spring, attorneys general from seven states, public health advocates, and farmworker and environmental activists joined forces to fight the Pruitt decision. By July, lawmakers were drafting a bill to ban chlorpyrifos.

Then, last Friday, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., marked the one-year anniversary of the Pruitt decision with a survey released to U.S. food manufacturers, big-box grocery stores, and major restaurant chains. The survey asks food-industry leaders to enact company policies that would protect consumers from exposure to chlorpyrifos. In particular, the survey asks food manufacturers and restaurants to implement programs that will ensure fruits and vegetables on children’s menus are not treated with chlorpyrifos and other toxic pesticides.

In short, the fight continues, particularly at the state, local, and industry level. What can you do as a consumer? Shop local. Small family farms are typically far more accountable to consumers and more transparent about their products and growing practices.


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Ken Davis

Ken Davis is the Co-op's senior copywriter. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.