Protecting Idahoans from Pesticide Industry Influence

(By Christina Stucker-Gassi, Healthy Food and Farms Program Manager)

I come from an Idaho farm family and have become a US pesticide policy expert. It is my job to lay bare the industry motives behind House Bill 653 and urge our supporters to actively oppose it.This bill would shield pesticide manufacturers from lawsuits when users of their products are injured. Legislation like this is popping up around the country and is unfair to people who have been harmed, despite their compliance with product labels.


HB 653 is the industry's version of a compromise bill after SB 1245 was rejected by the Idaho Senate two weeks ago. SB 1245 did not restrict lawsuits against pesticide manufacturers for a number of claims, including product defects, drift or misapplication, or if the manufacturer fraudulently concealed known facts about the product, but it did specially include protections against "failure to warn" liability.

Other legal causes of action are often pursued by plaintiffs, though the overwhelming majority of successful cases for pesticide injury lawsuits fall under “failure-to-warn" claims. Brigit Rollins, a staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center, describes this liability framework as, “a type of civil tort that is frequently raised in product liability cases…". While HB 653 doesn't specially mention "failure to warn" it sets up a functionally identical scenario, which is to prevent these cases from moving forward in "state tort law or common law" which are mentioned in the bill text. Bayer, who acquired Monsanto in 2018, must have been forced to concede behind closed doors that by attempting to remove "failure-to-warn" liability, SB 1245 sought to remove Idahoans right to legal recourse.


The trouble is HB 653 effectively makes it so that Idahoans won't be able to make claims in Idaho court. 


As you know, numerous cases against Bayer have been settled at the state level. Bayer has appealed these verdicts to the U.S. Supreme Court twice and is also lobbying in DC for expanded protections. We can not allow the Legislature to make it easier for them. This bill is part of a corporate strategy that is not fair to Idahoans who are sick despite following the label.

Well-meaning farmers believe this is needed to protect glyphosate as an essential tool and to fend off a “Chinese takeover”. But I'm here to tell you that this narrative, though appealing, simply isn't true. There are still Trillions to be made. Many companies now manufacture glyphosate since Bayer's patent went generic in 2000, including US owned ones.

Bayer and the Chinese Communist Party have a shared interest in this bill. Party backed ChemChina has paid significant settlements related to the herbicide paraquat. Paraquat is banned in China and 58 other countries because it causes Parkinson’s disease, but is nevertheless approved by the EPA and the label does not warn farmers of the Parkinson’s disease risk.

Use of paraquat is increasing because it has the other of two known modes of action. This means the EPA has deemed it a critical tool for American farmers dealing with glyphosate resistant "superweeds". As glyphosate resistance becomes an even more pressing issue in Idaho, farmers will be forced to abandon its use. Using a pesticide like paraquat or pursuing non-chemical alternatives will be their only options. 


The EPA’s process is broken.


A former EPA scientist has gone on report describing a culture of “regulatory capture”. This legislation would rewrite Idaho law on pesticides to say “Trust the EPA to protect Idaho Farmers.” We can't assume the EPA will protect Idahoans. Even when the EPA tries to ban a product, it can’t. Dow Chemical has paid settlements to families for failing to adequately warn about an increased risk of severe neurological injuries for babies exposure to chlorpyrifos. When the EPA tried to ban chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical sued and overturned the EPA's 2021 ban. Now, food residues are again common despite the known and acknowledged neurological risks to children.

Glyphosate, paraquat, and chlorpyrifos are the three pesticides that have resulted in the most settlements, but as the pesticides justice movement grows there will be more. Think of the Idahoans who are in experimental treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the early stages of Parkinson's disease, or the children facing unnecessary challenges right now because these substances accumulated in their growing brain. We can not let their power be given away. We must protect their legal rights, and the rights of people on neighboring farms, farmworkers and bystanders, consumers of contaminated food and water, and the biosphere. 


As someone who works to identify, develop and promote alternatives to chemical management of unwanted species, I hope this can be a fertile ground for positioning Idaho's agricultural sector as a leader in that space.

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  • Christina Stucker-Gassi
    published this page in BLOG 2024-03-08 12:03:06 -0800