Warning: Many of the everyday products that keep our homes and workplaces clean and healthy are being threatened by the U.S. Senate.
The federal government requires disinfectants, sanitizers and insecticides to be registered as pesticides. That means the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must review their effectiveness, safety and health implications before they can hit store shelves. These products are the first line of defense against the spread of dangerous bacteria, the flu and insect-borne diseases such as West Nile, Zika and Lyme disease.
The program that authorizes and funds this process is the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act or PRIA. The Pesticide Registration Improvement Act must periodically be reauthorized by Congress. This year, unfortunately, the Senate Agriculture Committee has so far let partisanship get in the way of this much-needed and non-controversial legislation. PRIA reauthorization has been used by Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, and other Democratic senators as a bargaining chip in other matters unrelated to PRIA. The result has been stalemate in the Senate, though senators on both sides of the aisle still have time to break the logjam.
The Pesticide Registration Improvement Act reauthorization was wisely included in the House version of this year’s Farm Bill. But the Senate Agriculture Committee has chosen not to include it in its version. The Senate committee could revisit this decision as early as the week of June 11. Let’s hope the panel goes along with the House.
At the moment, though, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s inaction on the topic creates uncertainty for product manufacturers and is a loss for the business owners, consumers and workers who rely on the vital PRIA registration process.
For the time being, the lack of a clear path to the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act reauthorization has undercut confidence in the program, which has always had strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.
Regulatory certainty is needed to ensure that investment in new products continues unabated. Without the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, companies won’t move forward with enhanced or innovative formulas, ultimately costing jobs.
The impending expiration of the program on September 30 of this year and the resulting lapse in EPA’s authority to collect industry user fees will significantly slow the review of new products, which, before the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, took five to six years to complete.
Reverting to a years-long wait for new products and losing the ability to reevaluate existing products is unacceptable, especially when a proven and industry-funded program is permitted to wither on the legislative vine.
Consumers stand to lose the most. Over the past decade or so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that diseases carried by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas — the kind that insecticides counteract — have tripled, requiring even more intensive solutions. Manufacturers of trusted insecticides know that Americans are counting on them to protect their families.
That’s why a long-term reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act is needed.
The Pesticide Registration Improvement Act has already been reauthorized twice, in 2008 and 2012. Roughly 180 bills have been signed into law in the 115th Congress and PRIA could have been among them. The Senate Agriculture Committee now has one more chance to remedy this situation by putting what is commonly called PRIA 4, a bill that it has already voted unanimously in favor of, into its version of the farm bill.
Continued inaction will leave all Americans vulnerable to insect-borne diseases. The Senate Agriculture Committee must put partisan politics aside and adopt the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act reauthorization. It’s time to do what’s right for the health and safety of the American public.
• Steve Caldeira is president and CEO of the Household & Commercial Products Association.
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