Case Overview, Modifications to the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over modification to the Food Quality Protection Act of 1999. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

          Pesticides can be dangerous to our health, but they are necessary to the health of many fruit and vegetable crops. Deciding just how much exposure humans can tolerate by ingesting food that was earlier treated with pesticides is a particularly difficult regulatory problem. The Environmental Protection Agency has the responsibility for setting standards for pesticide compounds, determining just how much (if any) of a commercial product can be used by farmers to eradicate pests that would otherwise damage their crops.

          The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA) replaced a regulatory framework that had been in effect since 1958. The FQPA law created new procedures to determine exposure levels, replacing an outdated and unsatisfactory process that had long been a problem because it ostensibly forbid any exposure to a carcinogen. Pesticide manufacturers were concerned, however, that under the new law EPA would create unreasonably low exposure levels, thus hurting their business as new products were rejected before they could earn back their research and development costs. As one lobbyist noted in an interview, "Companies like ours spend $60 to $100 million on the first package submitted to the Office of Pesticide Programs."

          The pesticide manufacturers along with farm groups and food processors began lobbying EPA to try to persuade it to adopt an implementation process that was satisfactory to them. The industry organizations formed the Implementation Working Group to coordinate their advocacy. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the Western Growers Association, and the Cotton Council were among the many organizations active on this side of the issue. Working on behalf of consumers were the Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

          Concerned about what EPA might do, the industry coalition lobbied Congress to pass legislation requiring the agency to substantiate the science behind any rejection of an application for a particular compound. Representatives Richard Pombo (R-CA) and Edolphus Townes (D-NY) spearheaded the drive in the House, attracting 220 co-sponsors in the House. The Republican leadership in the House decided to kill the bill, however, likely worrying about a public backlash that could easily taint sponsors as favoring corporations and indifferent to the health and safety of their constituents. The administration was also opposed to the legislation. "We felt these [proposed] changes to FQPA would undermine the agency's ability to protect the public's health," said one EPA source.

          The legislation was not reintroduced in the 107th Congress. Industry concerns were surely diminished by the victory in the 2000 election by the avowedly pro-business George W. Bush. There was a widespread belief that the influence of environmentalists on the Bush-led EPA would be less than it had been under the more liberal Clinton administration.