Don't Poison the Farm Bill (or Endangered Species)

What do the survival of our country’s most vulnerable species and the health and economic well-being of farmers have in common? They’ve both been put in jeopardy by the pesticide industry’s decision to insert a major Endangered Species Act loophole for pesticides in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is a critical piece of legislation that provides stability to farmers and our economy. But because of a push from special interests like the pesticide industry, the partisan rancor that has divided the nation is now engulfing the Farm Bill, too. That’s because, on top of drastic cuts to food stamps, which protect our nation’s most vulnerable from hunger, and cuts to programs that support conservation on farmland, the Farm Bill contains a provision that exempts pesticides from the Endangered Species Act.

Why does this matter? Because iconic species like the Bald Eagle and Black-Footed Ferret were driven to near extinction by pesticides. Yet, the current version of the Farm Bill would make it legal to kill an endangered species with a pesticide. And it would give EPA a free pass from the law’s requirement that it consider the effects of pesticides on endangered species—a free pass that no other federal agency, from the Federal Highway Administration to FEMA, gets.

And that’s just not right. Pesticides are poisonous by design, and we know they pose serious threats to wildlife like birds, bees, fish, and butterflies. In fact, pesticides have been cited as a major cause of the recent massive bee die-offs and the dramatic decline of the iconic monarch butterfly. With the very existence of endangered species like the whooping crane and the rusty patched bumble bee at stake, we simply can’t allow EPA to turn a blind eye to the dangers caused by the pesticides it approves.

This pesticide free-pass also threatens the Farm Bill as a whole. Historically, the Farm Bill has passed with overwhelming support from both parties. But special interest giveaways, like this exemption for the pesticide industry, threatens that bi-partisan support. We need to let the Farm Bill be the Farm Bill, and get it passed without these destructive provisions.

About the Authors

Rebecca Riley

Legal Director, Nature program

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