Battle brewing over proposed US law that would protect pesticides

By Carey Gillam

Cancer patients are celebrating a string of courtroom victories after juries in three US states recently ordered Germany’s Bayer to pay more than $500 million in damages for failing to warn about the health risks of its Roundup herbicides. But the consumer wins come as proposed federal legislation backed by Bayer and the powerful agricultural industry could limit similar cases from ever going to trial in the future.

Dubbed the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act, the proposed measure would provide sweeping protections for pesticide companies and their products, preempting local governments from implementing restrictions on pesticide use and blocking many of the legal claims that have been plaguing Bayer, according to the American Association for Justice (AAJ) and other critics.

The measure, which was introduced over the summer, has been gaining traction as a potential amendment to the pending Farm Bill. More than 360 agricultural organizations are throwing their support behind the measure, which was introduced by US Reps Dusty Johnson and Jim Costa. Lobbying disclosure records show that Bayer and the industry-funded CropLife America have made passage a top priority.

The new law is needed because pesticides are “paramount to growing our food and keeping communities safe,” according to CropLife.

In response, on Oct. 27, more than 150 US lawmakers signed a letter to the leadership of the House Committee on Agriculture expressing “strong opposition” to the preemption measures, saying they would overturn “decades of precedent” and have a “significant impact” on public safety.

Local laws that could be in jeopardy include many that restrict pesticide use near schools, parks, and playgrounds, and protect drinking water supplies and wildlife. Preemption of state and local authority would additionally “limit accountability for manufacturers who fail to adequately warn consumers about the hazards posed by certain high-risk pesticides,” the letter warns.

Sen. Cory Booker dubbed the legislation “reckless” and “irresponsible” in a press call on Thursday. “People are making this a priority in the upcoming Farm Bill, and frankly to me it is outrageous,” Booker said.