Pesticides are bad for the environment. We know this.
But it seems that the U.S. is much less willing to confront the reality of this fact than the European Union, China, and Brazil. According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health, over 25% of pesticides currently used in the U.S. are banned in the EU. Over 3% used in the U.S. are banned in China, and 2% are banned in Brazil. Overall, study author Nathan Donley at the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 10% of the total pesticides used in the U.S. have been either prohibited or not approved for use in these three other regions. For perspective, the U.S. agriculture industry used approximately 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides in 2016, so this is no small matter.
Why is this the case? In the study, Donley points out that the EU, China, and Brazil have much stricter regulations in place around pesticides, and rely on this top-down approach to stamp out the use of harmful products. In the U.S., on the contrary, the number of mandatory restrictions on types of pesticides enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency has declined in recent years. Instead, the country relies on actors in the agricultural and pesticide industry to voluntarily cancel the use of chemicals known to cause harm.
Donley writes: “Voluntary cancellations ultimately create bias toward pesticides that are easier to cancel because their use has dropped so much that they have become less economically viable to pesticide makers. They can also lead to a significantly longer phase-out period than the typical one-year period for most non-voluntarily cancelled pesticides.”
While the U.S.’s approach might make sense economically, these findings show it’s certainly not the most environmentally protective.