With one-third of approximately 9,700 food tolerances to be reviewed by August of this year, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, at a hearing today sharply criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not establishing policies based on sound science and adequately considering transition periods for new pesticide tolerances as required by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996.
The most significant improvements in food safety and pesticide law in decades were made when the Food Quality Protection Act was passed in 1996. It requires the EPA to reassess one-third of the 9,700 existing food tolerances for pesticides by August 1999 and all existing tolerances in ten years. FQPA directs EPA to base risk assessments on the "best available" data on pesticides. However, EPA's implementation has been inconsistent and absent of meaningful public review and comment opportunities. The purpose of today's hearing was to provide oversight and hold the EPA accountable for its actions.
"If not done right, the implementation will result in a harmful impact on nutrition — especially that of children," Goodlatte said. "Likewise, random and unjustified revocation of pesticide tolerances will wreak havoc in rural America as food production shifts to foreign countries."
Much uncertainty remains about how the law will be implemented and whether a consistent, science based framework will be employed. It is important that EPA implement FQPA in a manner that will avoid the drastic impacts from sudden pesticide losses, as well as from unintended effects resulting in pest resistance. In addition, it is imperative that the re-registration process allows adequate time for pesticide users to make a reasonable transition to alternative products and practices when existing product tolerances are revoked.
"The frustration of this Committee is bipartisan," Goodlatte said, noting that Committee Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Eva Clayton (D-NC) joined in requesting today's hearing. "EPA's refusal to base decisions on the best available scientific evidence and their unwillingness to call for additional reliable data to meet new requirements is intolerable."
"Many stakeholders have told me that they are willing and able to submit accurate and actual data. EPA, however, either refuses to accept these data or refuses to tell the stakeholders what data they need," Goodlatte said. "If these complaints sound familiar, they are. They were a focus of the hearing last June. The only difference is now we have proof."
"The bottom line is this: FQPA can be implemented in such a way that it works. By the same token, it can be implemented in such a way that it won't work," said Committee Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX). "We must all work together to ensure proper implementation of this law and, as long as sound science is driving the process, everybody wins."
"The expressed testimonies of EPA and USDA demonstrating an openness and willingness to work with farmers, industry, environmentalists and others to address their fears and concerns over implementation of FQPA was most reassuring," said Subcommittee Ranking Member Eva Clayton (D-NC). "The FQPA is good legislation. Safe food and public health protection are good for both farmers and consumers."
"I am committed to a science-based, accessible, predictable and transparent regulatory process that assures public health and safety," Goodlatte said. "Anything less violates the letter and spirit of the FQPA. Providing a safe food supply is the most important job of the Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The Food Quality Protection Act need to be implemented as Congress intended to protect the food supply."