Breath of Clarity

Discussion Post: FIFRA Export Rules

The FIFRA (Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act) provision permitting pesticides banned in the U.S. to be exported abroad is not smart considering the current global online marketplace. As the manufacturing is allowed while the consumption is not, it’s important to explore the purpose of the restriction. From there, do the current regulations fulfill the entire purpose? The purpose of FIFRA is to “protect public health and the environment against the misuse of pesticides” (Mugler 2020). As a result, all pesticide manufacturers are required to submit data regarding the safety and efficacy of their pesticides. The EPA needs to evaluate the data knowing the protection of all people is required to protect U.S. citizens.

Creating the substance increases the risk pesticides are going to be sold back to U.S. consumers online. According to EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick, “ EPA will continue to work hard to ensure these harmful products never reach the marketplace” (EPA 2018). Permitting sales of unregistered, illegal pesticides abroad interferes with certainty of not reaching the marketplace. The only way to be absolutely sure hazardous substances don’t return to the U.S. is to halt production in the manufacturing stage. While the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) gives the EPA authority to entirely ban a chemical or substance from all manufacturers or use, the definition of pesticide in FIFRA doesn’t allow the TSCA to regulate pesticides (Mugler 2020). Why does the exception exist? The name of the sector within the EPA responsible for handling the pesticide issue is called The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). So, why allow unsafe chemicals to be produced in the first place?

A free market needs to have unrestricted decision-making once a product exists. I don’t agree with continuing to allow manufacturing and attempting to tighten sale regulation. As long as its financially incentivized and the substance still exists, people are still going to exchange it whether the distribution is legal or illegal. Further, products cannot be tested and tracked as accurately when they are internationally exchanged online. The U.S. has the greatest chance at prohibiting illegal pesticides from being re-imported after initial exportation if they just don’t originally allow them to be manufactured. The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act tightened standards to protect infants and children (Mugler, 2020). It was based on studies showing pesticide residues get into breast milk and infant formula. This is another example showing that after pesticides are produced, it is impossible to flawlessly monitor where they go. Dear EPA, please address the problem at its source.

If the 1964 FIFRA amendment made it so the USDA could refuse to register a new pesticide or could cancel an existing registration, why do we still let them be manufactured? Clearly, there was a need to tighten the restriction, so why did the new laws only resolve the problem halfway? I was impressed learning pesticide product registration now requires 7-10 years, at least $100 million per product, as well as at least 120 safety evaluations. Still, though, the registration requirements (section 3 of FIFRA) say “based on the data submitted by the manufacturer on its registration application, EPA decides whether the pesticide poses unreasonable adverse effects to the environment. EPA takes into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the pesticides use”. The ambiguity of “unreasonable” is unacceptable, and I am afraid common law may just leave it up to the financial incentives large-scale businesses bring to the table. Another bureaucratic issue is the cancellation of a product is not necessarily a ban because the cancellation initiates a long legal review (Mugler 2020). A harmful product may be domestically manufactured and sold, exported to people overseas when it’s legal, be suspended and then subsequently sold online back into America. So, the outlawed product can reenter the U.S. even when it is newly found harmful. In Europe, lawmakers require substances to be proven safe before they’re allowed to be used, while, in the U.S. we allow things to be used until proven unsafe (Mugler 2020). Clearly, there are negative consequences to not being thorough from the get go.

Who monitors the overseas sales of pesticides that are harmful to human health? Is it a larger scope than the monitoring agency can handle? In Amazon’s case, the company completed four thousand violations dating back to 2013 (EPA 2018). So, unregistered and misbranded pesticide products were out of the regulation monitoring capacity for many years. In April 1977 “the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale or distribution of tris-treated baby sleepwear because the fire retardant was found to be carcinogenic. Several million dollars worth of the sleepwear was exported to foreign countries, primarily Third World nations, before the CPSC prohibited this practice a year later” (Kaikati 1984). Why do we repeatedly see products being allowed and then taken aback? There have already been so many signs showing a policy change is necessary. From here, at least we must focus on educating the product recipients.

While ingredient information is shared through the labels, it’s still not necessarily impacting use, public health and the environment. It was a major defect in the first 1947 version of FIFRA, and it is going to remain a problem in the case of exporting overseas. Back in the mid-1900s, even when a label said a pesticide couldn’t be used on grapes, without a comprehensive and effective entity monitoring use, placing use restrictions on the label wasn’t enough. In 1972, “400 Iraqis died and 5,000 were hospitalized after eating food contaminated by fungicide that had been banned in the U.S. then exported” (Kaikati 1984). Is the economic benefit worth killing other humans? Part of the issue with exporting pesticides overseas is people in developing countries haven’t received the health education to be eligible consumers. In the game of buying and selling, fair trade needs to have equipped players.

The spread of information to go with the international sale is crucial. When Silent Spring described the damage DDT does to birds, it alarmed and mobilized the entire country to do something about pesticides in general. However, the overseas purchaser of a U.S. manufacturer’s product only is required to sign a statement understanding it’s not registered for U.S. use. I wonder the degree of detail the document goes into about why it’s not registered for U.S. use. This is particularly interesting in the context of a difference in native language between the manufacturer and purchaser, as well as the incentive the manufacturer has to go into little detail in this section of the contract so the transaction can be complete.

In terms of solving the global program, I resonated a lot with the idea proposed in lecture that the focus needs to be on better plants instead of pest control. I was intrigued approaching it from the biotechnology lens. As a past World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms apprentice, my take away was to have a small, condensed garden full of different types of plants instead of a large plot of land because I saw the quality get compromised with a big quantity. However, plants can even be engineered to not need pesticides. As long as the better plants are regulated at the production and manufacturing level, it’s a phenomenal route.

I also agree with the online pesticide education course that Amazon agreed to develop under the terms of its agreement. I am glad it’s available in multiple languages, however, there also needs to be a clear outline of the consequences experienced by a seller who doesn’t obey. Either way, the “robust compliance program comprised of a sophisticated computer-based screening system backed up by numerous, trained staff” is a stellar model for online business monitoring strategy (EPA 2018). It is going to be needed as we move into an ever-increasing tech-based economy. Moreover, Amazon exemplified how to deal with the fact so many illegal pesticides have already been sold by committing to “communicate safety concerns and urge disposals” (EPA 2018). I also commend the EPA for targeting the specifically vulnerable non-English speaking Asian population at risk. In order to mitigate the health effects of pesticides and strengthen the international citizen collective power, we must do more than write product labels.

Simply informing developing nations of the health hazards can spark a burning desire to get rid of pesticides. Back in 1984, Kenya President Daniel arap Moi was “convinced that the Third World is being used as the dumping ground for hazardous products, and he is seeking to mobilize other leaders in the Third World to stop it” (Kaikati 1984). Moi’s statement is documented by a House subcommittee report in agreement with his opinion. I wonder whether the concern for one’s health coming from another country has a large impact on U.S. decision-making anyways. Rather, I would say the balance of domestic health and economic benefits is the only thing important. However, as Steffen mentioned, the health of all impacts America. Insofar as the U.S. does not realize and act on that, the exportation of hazardous products continues to damage the U.S. image.


Environmental Protection Agency. 2018. “Reference News Release: EPA Settles with Amazon for Distributions of Illegal Pesticides.” Accessed May 12, 2020. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Kaikati, Jack G. “Domestically Banned Products: For Export Only.” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 3 (1984): 125-33. Accessed May 13, 2020.

Mugler, Larry G. 2020. “Environmental Policy Law – Week 7 Pesticides Lecture.” Lecture, University College, Denver, CO, May, 2020.