The European Union on Friday voted to ban the use of a chemical that the Obama administration put on a path to banning but that continues to be available and in use in the United States. Chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl are neurotoxins that studies have overwhelmingly shown cause brain toxicity in children.
The EU’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed (PAFF) voted Friday not to renew previous approvals for the use of chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl. The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, is expected next month to adopt the committee’s proposed regulation. That means that member states “must withdraw all authorisations for plant protection products containing the active substances.” A grace period of up to three months may be granted to give member countries time to implement procedures for storing, disposing or using the toxins.
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it planned to ban chlorpyrifos for agricultural use, but the ban had not been enacted before the transition to a Trump administration. Scott Pruitt, the administration’s first EPA administrator, reversed the Obama-era ban, launching a rash of legal challenges that ended last April when a federal court ordered the EPA to issue a final decision on a ban by July.
That decision, announced by current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, lifted the proposed ban on chlorpyrifos. In its ruling, the EPA declared that the evidence presented by parties supporting the ban was “not sufficiently valid, complete, and reliable” to support a ban.
The EU’s ruling was clear about its reasons for banning the substance: “Experts concluded that concerns related to human health exist, in particular in relation to possible genotoxicity and developmental neurotoxicity.” The European Commission expects to vote on a separate draft resolution in February 2020 that would set the residual levels of chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl in food and feed “to the lowest level that can be measured by analytical laboratories.” Such a rule could have a negative impact on the U.S. food and feed exported to the EU.
Between 2017 and earlier this year, the now disassembled company known as DowDuPont contributed nearly $380,000 to 118 of 330 congress members who did not sign on as sponsors of the Ban Toxic Pesticides Act of 2019. The company also contributed $14,000 to ten of the 107 co-sponsors of the bill. The agricultural portion of DowDuPont was spun out in June 2019 and is now publicly traded as Corteva Agriscience.
The state of California banned chlorpyrifos use in May following the EPA’s decision. Last month the company issued a statement detailing its negotiated plan to cease selling chlorpyrifos in the state by February 6, 2020, and discontinue the pesticide’s use completely by December 31, 2020. Hawaii banned the chemical last year and a phased withdrawal program ends in 2022. Chlorpyrifos was banned for U.S. residential use in 2001.
The EPA’s reversal of a ban on chlorpyrifos not only challenged the science that found the substance dangerous but also the sufficiency of the science. The EPA in its final ruling said that lacking the raw data from a critical piece of research made it impossible to replicate the study and, therefore, impossible to verify the conclusions. While it is not stated in the ruling, the reversal may have been the first time the agency used a proposed rule that requires researchers to provide raw data in order for any study to be considered. Wheeler last month announced a new draft of such a rule, one first proposed by Pruitt in 2017.
For now, though, environmental groups are celebrating the EU ban. Nabil Berbour at SumOfUs.org said, “This is a major win for the health of European citizens who are more and more concerned by dangerous pesticides they find on their plates. … The EU is the largest single market in the world and the most powerful trading power, so we hope this ban will pave the way to other bans elsewhere in the world.”
Chlorpyrifos is not the only threat to the world’s food supply. Climate change will also affect in many other ways how the world’s food is grown.