Environmentalists and the agricultural chemical industry yesterday agreed to ask Congress for changes in the nation's basic pesticide law, including provisions to restrict the marketing of untested chemicals.
In an unusual agreement that breaks a 13-year deadlock, the National Agricultural Chemicals Association (NACA) and more than 40 environmental, consumer and labor groups said they would draft language together to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) this session.
Nancy Drabble of Public Citizen said the agreement "represents the first time that the environmental and consumer community and a regulated industry have ever reached agreement on a major piece of environmental legislation."
NACA President Jack D. Early called the document "a very important first step" toward changing the pesticide law in a way that "will be in the best interests of the public and the pesticide industry."
The longtime adversaries said they reached agreement in nine major areas, including deadlines for reviewing the safety of older chemicals that were in wide use before the industry was regulated, and how to handle chemicals that were allowed to go on the market with inadequate or invalid safety tests.
But they were unable to negotiate agreement on the critical issue of pesticide contamination of ground water, a growing problem in some areas of the country.
Jay Feldman, head of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, said the agreement also does not directly address farm-worker safety issues, which have been a battleground in the past.
The agreement was welcomed on Capitol Hill yesterday, where lawmakers have wrestled unsuccessfully with the pesticide law for the last four years, but the praise was tempered with caution.
"We still have a long way to go," said Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.), a leader in past efforts to revise the pesticide law. "There are other interest groups affected, other issues not dealt with in this agreement, and a long legislative path to tread."
An aide to Rep. Berkley W. Bedell (D-Iowa), who chairs the House Agriculture subcommittee with jurisdiction over FIFRA, said the panel hopes to move ahead on the legislation next month.
"We're not hanging on everything in that compromise," the aide said. "They made clear to us that they don't pretend to be speaking for every actor. But given the controversy that's plagued the issue, this does mark progress."
Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) has agreed to sponsor the new agreement in the Senate, according to an aide.
The agreement includes provisions to speed cancellation procedures for chemicals found to pose unacceptable health risks, grant greater public access to health and safety data, and ban imported foods containing residues of chemicals illegal in domestic products.