A new bill supported by environmental organizations and co-sponsored by progressive lawmakers Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) would copy food rules in Europe and paste them in the United States. This bill disregards the American context and the way previous agriculture regulations were decided on and would downgrade the status of the United States from an agricultural powerhouse, which would be devastating to a state like California.
The bill is called the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), and it would completely retool how America approves and licenses the use of pesticides and import a “precautionary” approach that has so far stunted innovative agriculture in Europe.
In 2019, activists sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the insecticide sulfoxaflor that helps farmers protect their crops from insects. The activist groups claimed that the substance harms pollinators, despite recent evidence showing the contrary. When used correctly, the chemical yields no major impact on honeybees, which is why the EPA has demanded that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reconsider its existing restrictions.
These activists belong to the same environmental groups that sought to ban pesticides like the neonic class of pesticides they blamed for the “bee-pocalypse.” Sulfoxaflor was once lauded as an alternative to neonic insecticides, but it now faces similar criticism.
In 2015, the Washington Post published “Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high,” an article highlighting the fact that bee populations are on the rise. And USDA numbers confirm that there is no worrying trend related to honeybees. Yet, the notion that chemical pesticides harm bees is so ingrained because it has been consistently repeated to further the goals of environmental activists. These activists aim, not to reduce pesticides by fifty percent by 2030—a goal the European Union is aiming to hit, but to achieve one hundred percent organic agriculture as soon as possible.
The fact that consumers, when presented with the choice between organic and conventional agriculture, choose the latter and not the former, plays no important role in the views of these activists. There is no attempt to inform consumers about the facts of organic food—that it is not healthier or more nutritious than conventional food, that they do indeed use a wide array of pesticides, or that an all-organic shift would increase greenhouse-gas emissions by up to seventy percent.
Premiums on organic food products are upwards of one hundred percent, and environmental groups work closely with organic lobby groups to push for a mandated increase in organic food production. This push will only cause grocery bills to rise.
While some farmers might benefit from a shift to organic food, many others won’t. In Europe, farming representatives have criticized the push to increase organic food production from the current eight percent to twenty-five percent by 2030 because it can lead to a significant market imbalance. If consumers are presented with twenty-five percent organic but continue buying based on their existing preferences, then what happens to the excess seventeen percent? Will the government compensate farmers if prices drop because of deficient demand?
A European model of agriculture in which farmers are significantly more subsidized than their American counterparts might be appealing to some stateside farmers, but is that really the future of agriculture that Americans want? Do Americans want a model in which farmers are forever dependent on the federal government as opposed to a market economy where the relationship is between consumers and farmers?
U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack explained to the European Parliament in a virtual appearance that the differences in how Europe and the United States treat crop protection and genetic engineering are an obstacle to the two blocs trading. But civil society and legislative pressures are building, and they must be resisted.
American agriculture is an asset too precious for lawmakers to succumb to the pressure of people who would rather see the industry disappear than use the benefits of modern agricultural technology.
Of course, improvements can still be made. According to USDA, the number of pesticides used in the United States has been reduced by forty percent since 1960 and pesticide persistence has been cut in half. Innovative technologies such as smart sprayers help farmers use crop protection tools more efficiently to the benefit of their own balance sheets. Empowering farmers to innovate and consumers to be informed about farming realities and the food on their tables should be the goals for which we strive.
Bill Wirtz is a political commentator and policy analyst in Europe.