Exposing the EPA’s Dark Side
By now you may have heard that in a surprising move last month, EPA effectively pulled Enlist Duo from the market. It had only been a year since EPA approved Dow AgroSciences' controversial new pesticide product, a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D designed to accompany the agrichemical giant’s latest genetically modified seeds.
Here at PAN we took a moment to celebrate EPA’s sudden reversal. It’s not often that the agency takes such bold action on pesticides. But we also see that this short-term victory is a crystal clear example of our longstanding critiques of EPA’s process for regulating pesticides.
EPA's motivation in removing Enlist Duo from the market reveals just how shallow the agency's process for approving agricultural chemicals really is. Our regulatory system relies almost exclusively on science conducted by profit-motivated companies themselves. In this case, Dow was caught contradicting itself when reporting on its science — painting a different picture for each government agency with which it dealt.
So while I celebrate this setback for Dow, I’m frustrated to see what it took for EPA to actually take action: catching the corporation in a straight up lie.
Last fall, PAN was one of many, many organizations opposing the approval of Dow’s Enlist Duo. We joined farmer groups in pushing both USDA and EPA to look at all the potential consequences of this new, more toxic cousin to RoundUp Ready. Crop damage, increased weed resistance to herbicides and human health impacts were all likely outcomes that EPA and USDA either glossed over or ignored completely when approving Dow’s Enlist crop system.
After losing that battle, PAN joined our partners at Center for Food Safety in a legal petition challenging EPA’s bad process for approving Enlist Duo. It was while preparing a defense for this legal petition that EPA decided to withdraw its support for Dow’s new pesticide.
To explain what happened, first we have to understand synergistic effects: as in, when two chemicals combined have a stronger or different effect than either chemical on its own. One of PAN’s many standing critiques of EPA is that it doesn’t require pesticide corporations to study these synergistic effects before allowing a new product onto the market. In this case, Dow is combining glyphosate with 2,4-D to make a new formulation. But EPA only required Dow to submit research on the two chemicals separately, and specifically cited ‘no synergistic effects’ in its approval document for Enlist Duo.
But here’s the twist: while Dow provided EPA with no evidence that synergistic effects for its Enlist Duo formulation existed, the company submitted an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showing concrete evidence of synergistic effects.
EPA's confusing priorities
EPA has drawn a line in the regulatory sand at intentionally misleading paperwork, but might do nothing about all the other harms caused by Enlist Duo. After reviewing Dow’s patent application, the agency petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate its own approval of Enlist Duo. While we're happy to have this dangerous new product temporarily off the shelves, now we're waiting to see how EPA will respond to Dow’s secret studies on synergistic effects. If the corporation is to be believed, EPA will have Enlist Duo back on shelves in time for the 2016 growing season.
We know EPA will be examining how synergy between 2,4-D and glyphosate will impact vegetation, presumably of surrounding ecosystem plants. This could mean changing requirements for application like top wind speed and buffer zones, all of which were relatively lenient in EPA’s first registration of the pesticide. What is left unaddressed, of course, is all of our other concerns about Enlist Duo: crop damage, drift, human health impacts, etc, etc.
Most notably, since EPA has registered Enlist Duo, one of its components — glyphosate — has been declared a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the state of California. EPA hasn’t revealed whether this new science on glyphosate will mean any changes to its regulation here in the United States.
In the meantime, Monsanto’s flagship chemical, which they always assured us was ‘safe enough to drink,’ remains the country’s most used herbicide. And it seems EPA may decide to put Enlist Duo back on the market — and sort that cancer thing out later.
Raising the bar
This illuminating example of EPA’s regulatory failures comes during a critical window for reform. The Obama Administration announced this year a process to evaluate our country’s regulatory framework for genetically engineered (GE) crops. We're pushing hard for stricter controls and fewer loopholes, though the stated objective of this rework is to “prevent unnecessary barriers to future innovation and competitiveness.”
Wait — so we're going to make it even easier for GE crops and their accompanying pesticides to make it onto the market? Yikes.
We need a real overhaul of the regulatory framework on GE and pesticides. The priority for any farming products should be their benefits to the lives and livelihoods of farm families. Put simply? Corporate profits must take a backseat to small farms and rural health. And as a baseline, no corporation should be entitled to rush a product to market that probably causes cancer.