Pay to Spray

Campaign Contributions and Pesticide Legislation

June 2, 1996

Pay to Spray: Foreword

Guess what's coming to dinner? And to breakfast and lunch?

More pesticides, that's what.

Fully 241 members of the House of Representatives have signed on to the pesticide industry's dream bill, which will severely weaken America's already weak federal laws to keep high-risk pesticides out of food, water and air. As this report goes to press, the House Commerce Committee is preparing to approve, and send on to the full House, H.R. 1627, the Pesticide Deregulation Act. (Official title: "Food Quality Protection Act.")

What kinds of pesticides can we look forward to getting more of in our food if this bill becomes law? Precisely the kinds of pesticides that have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. A court victory by the Natural Resources Defense Council threatens finally to make the government enforce a law long on the books that prohibits cancer-causing pesticides in certain foods. The pesticide industry's bill would nullify that law and render the court decision moot. How's that for "Food Quality Protection"?

But we'll also be eating (and sometimes drinking) more pesticides that have other disturbing properties, such as the capacity to disrupt delicate hormonal systems. A recent, widely publicized study found that when some pesticides occur in combinations, they can disrupt hormone systems with 1,000-times greater potency than the same pesticides would have individually. And combinations of pesticides are what the average American already eats every day, and very nearly in every meal. Tests by USDA last year found 9 pesticides in a single sample of apples. When we studied computer records from the Food and Drug Administration's pesticide testing program, we found that 108 pesticides were detected in just 22 fruits and vegetables over a 2 year period.

It's obvious why major pesticide and food companies and farm groups want to weaken federal pesticide laws. Pesticide companies will sell more of their highly profitable products, food companies won't be bothered by "burdensome" pesticide standards, and farmers will face much less regulatory pressure to cut back on pesticide use.

But why would members of Congress side with pesticide and food companies and against their constituents? Why would someone vote to serve up more pesticides in food when the vast majority of Americans consistently say they want less?

One factor may well be the $13.4 million appetizer of campaign contributions that food, pesticide and farm interests have ladled out to current members of Congress since November, 1992. Siding with the pesticide deregulatory crowd seems to pay off nicely in campaign cash. House members who now co-sponsor H.R. 1627 on average received more than twice as much in campaign funds from pro-pesticide political action committees (PACs) as those who do not co-sponsor the bill ($28,400 vs. $12,800). Senate co-sponsors of S. 1166, the Senate version of the Food Quality Protection Act, likewise were handsomely rewarded compared to those not co-sponsoring ($55,421 vs. $33,973 from pro-pesticide PACs).

Most Americans don't have thirty or forty thousand bucks lying around to help them express their opinion to Congress about pesticides in food. With this report, at least the public will know who did have that kind of cash to kick into this latest bid to weaken pesticide regulation, and who in Congress took them up on the offer.