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Roundup: A Wake-up Call on Pesticide Regulation

By Aimee Code
The Oregonian

In the June 20 editorial "Re-evaluate Roundup," the Oregonian editorial board exposes a potential risk posed by the pesticides our government regulates.

Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, responded to the editorial June 28 with a description of the detailed and lengthy process the federal government undertakes to regulate pesticides. 

Sometimes federal regulation is not enough. Oregon has a history of going the extra mile when it comes to doing the responsible and right thing. Think about our spectacular protected public coastline, smoking bans or the bottle bill. The current regulatory process that evaluates and prepares pesticide products for market release is detailed, but it does not ensure our safety. 

Indeed, the recent report "Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?" spotlights the nation's most widely used herbicide. The report provides evidence that glyphosate, the active ingredient in products including Roundup, could cause greater risk than previously disclosed by its manufacturer, Monsanto. 

This report is a wake-up call. Our government's system to evaluate and regulate pesticides needs an overhaul. The Oregonian editorial board is correct, we do "deserve a transparent look into the exact side effects of glyphosate and other chemicals." This is an opportunity for our Oregon leadership and public agencies to do the right and responsible thing and better protect our families and our quality of life from harm. 

Coba says, "Rest assured, glyphosate has gone through the same rigorous registration evaluation process that has been used for all pesticides available for use in Oregon and the U.S." 

Unfortunately, the track record of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency charged with regulating pesticides, does not instill confidence. Too many products have been allowed on the market, only later to be pulled after people and the environment have suffered. Just in the past decade numerous pesticides have had their uses severely limited because of the risk to children, farmworkers and wildlife. 

For decades, chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic insecticide, was commonly used in homes to control a variety of unwanted insects. After significant outcry from the public and nonprofits, including the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, household uses of chlorpyrifos were banned in 2001 because of its risk to children. Among other studies, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found a clear-cut association between exposure to chlorpyrifos and a delay in childhood mental and motor skill development 

The "rigorous registration evaluation" of numerous other pesticides -- azinphos methyl, brodifacoum, bromadiolone, diazinon, difethialone, difenacoum and endosulfan, to name a few -- have failed to keep us out of harm's way. All these pesticides have been or are under scrutiny because of the problems they pose. In each instance, and only after public outcry, the government has taken steps to protect the public. 

It is time to take action yet again. Glyphosate is regularly used by many families in Oregon, as well as by city parks departments, schools, farmers and others. In 2008, the last year that Oregon collected pesticide use data, it was reported that 1.9 million pounds of glyphosate were used. It was the second most heavily used pesticide in Oregon, making up 10 percent of the reported pesticide use. 

Both Washington and California have curtailed harmful pesticide uses when federal regulation was insufficient. It is now time for our Oregon leadership to place more responsibility with Oregon agencies to protect the health of people, waterways and wildlife from overused and underregulated pesticides. 

Aimee Code is environmental health associate at the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides in Eugene. 

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