Washington Insider-- Tuesday

EPA Review Likely to Indicate Glyphosate Safe

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Grassley, Ernst Seek Information on CRP

Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, last week sent a letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for information on the administration of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

In their letter, they ask if a competitive analysis is conducted before enrolling acres in CRP and whether there is an emphasis on signing up entire farms versus just the marginal acres of a farm.

Grassley and Ernst cited concerns raised by farmers in recent months about entire farms, composed of productive farmland being enrolled in CRP at rental rates many farmers cannot compete with. As landowners decide to enroll more acres in CRP, farmers have lost opportunities to farm some highly productive land. This has hit some young and beginning farmers especially hard.

Grassley and Ernst wrote, “CRP is an important program that offers land owners alternative ways to derive value from their land while providing environmental benefits to the surrounding area. However, we must ensure the program is properly administered and stays true to its original intent while using taxpayer dollars in the most effective manner possible.”

Grassley: Justice Department, FTC, USDA to Collaborate on Proposed Agricultural Sector Mergers

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also released a statement after receiving responses from both the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that they would be collaborating with each other and USDA, where appropriate, regarding their work to analyze proposed mergers in the seed and agrochemical industries.

In its letter to Grassley, the Justice Department said, “The Department will coordinate and collaborate with the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Trade Commission, as appropriate, on the impact of this and other proposed mergers in the agricultural sector.”

Grassley is holding a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee today on the consolidation and competition within the seed and agrochemical industry.

“Iowa farmers are concerned about rising input prices in a struggling agriculture economy that doesn’t look to be turning around anytime soon,” Grassley said in his statement. “Commodity prices are already at or below the cost of production. The consolidation trend we’re seeing in the seed and agrochemical industries has all of us concerned that less competition will mean increased prices for seeds, chemicals and fertilizers for farmers. The pledge from the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission for collaboration where appropriate is reassuring for those of us concerned about the current trend.”

Washington Insider: EPA Review Likely to Indicate Glyphosate Safe

DTN and Bloomberg are reporting this week that EPA has “formally” concluded that glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in the world, is unlikely to cause cancer, according to documents EPA released last Friday.

Turns out, though, there are still steps to be completed. The agency is convening a meeting next month so independent scientists can review the evaluation of any of the pesticide’s threats to human health.

In advance of that meeting, the agency released a 227-page issue paper that summarizes all available research on the chemical, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. Bloomberg says the EPA’s “ultimate conclusion” in that issue paper, which the scientists will review, is that glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic at “relevant doses.”

That final caveat is very important because “health advocates” frequently argue that pesticides that can cause dangers at any dose should be tagged as carcinogenic. Critics suggest that similar thinking led the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization to class it as a likely carcinogen without linking the recommendation to dosages.

Then, in a major bureaucratic blunder, EPA then “accidentally” posted online and then withdrew a report from its own cancer review committee that found that glyphosate likely does not cause cancer.

The new finding could have major financial and legal implications for all agrochemical companies, as the chemical is widely used across the industry, but especially for Monsanto. The company, which just announced a $66 billion merger with the German firm Bayer, is the subject of numerous lawsuits from plaintiffs who allege glyphosate gave them cancer.

Given the breadth of the science featured in the newest issue paper, Monsanto believes the upcoming scientific panel “is an unnecessary use of resources,” company spokeswoman Charla Lord told Bloomberg BNA. “Nonetheless, we are fully confident that if the [panel] follows sound scientific principles and reviews the overwhelming weight of evidence, it will reaffirm that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.”

The panel meeting will take place at the EPA's Arlington, Va., headquarters on Oct. 18. After the panel releases its final report early next year, the EPA will make its long-awaited determination as to whether glyphosate should stay on the market and, if so, under what conditions.

The findings of the World Health Organization are seen by some as re-igniting the food industry’s fights decades ago over the Delaney Clause, a provision by Congressman James Delaney of New York in 1958, that directed the Secretary of the Food and Drug Administration not to approve for use in food “any chemical additive found to induce cancer in man, or, after tests, found to induce cancer in animals."

When the law was passed, neither advocates nor opponents of the policy, including FDA of�cials, believed it would have broad application, for only a handful of chemicals had then been shown to be animal carcinogens.

However, as analytical chemistry became more powerful and able to detect smaller quantities of chemicals and as chemicals became more widely used, regulatory agencies had an increasingly difficult time administering the provision as it recognizes no distinctions based on carcinogenic potency and, at least in theory, applied equally to additives used in large amounts and to those present at barely detectable levels, and thus takes no account of the actual risk a carcinogenic additive might pose.

Currently, U.S. federal agencies use highly sophisticated measurement techniques that specifically take into account many aspects of the chemicals to be evaluated including dosage and concentration, exposure period and many others. Monsanto and others point to independent tests that say glyphosate is among the safest pesticides available when used according to the label. Still, evaluations of this nature clearly take place in highly politicized worlds, and the days of the Delaney restrictions are not all that long in the past, so producers need to watch this review closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

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