The version of the farm bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives is bad in a number of obvious ways, such as the effort to replicate Maine’s misguided food-assistance reforms nationwide.

But also in the huge bill is a provision that would prevent Maine cities and towns from taking steps to keep their residents safe.

If passed, the House farm bill would give the federal government sole purview over regulating pesticides. It would roll back the restrictions and outright bans on pesticides put in place by 30 Maine communities that want to limit exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Use of synthetic pesticides has been linked to a number of health problems. Chronic exposure to low doses of pesticides – such as that experienced by farmworkers – has been linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, among other ailments.

Fetuses, infants, children and pregnant and nursing mothers are at the highest risk, given their size and the vulnerabilities inherent in development. A long-term study of the children of farmworkers found they suffered from respiratory complications, developmental disorders and lower IQs. Another study of children who were not connected to farm work found an increase in instances of attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In light of that evidence, it makes sense that some communities would decide they didn’t want any part of pesticides.


And that is how it often works with environmental regulations – the federal government sets the floor, and local or regional authorities can set guidelines that are more strict but not less, making sure there is at least a minimum of protection while also allowing for an expression of local values.

But it’s backward in this case. Instead of setting the floor, the House farm bill would pull out the rug. Instead of allowing local communities to protect themselves from the ill effects of pesticides, it would protect pesticide companies from the sharp eye and pen of local elected officials.

It’s the pesticide companies that spent tens of millions of dollars in lobbying to get this provision included in the farm bill. It is those same companies that are lobbying President Trump to end the ban on chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide linked to developmental disorders in children.

And it was those same companies that unsuccessfully pushed twice, with the backing of Gov. LePage, to have the ability to ban pesticides taken from Maine communities.

This is not an attempt to make sure that pesticide deployment is based on science, as backers of the House bill have said – it’s an attempt to force pesticides on communities that don’t want them, all for the enrichment of the companies that produce pesticides.

The mayors of Portland and South Portland, where the most stringent bans have been enacted, made the case against the provision in a recent commentary in The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-based political newspaper and website. Congress should listen, and not include the provision in the final farm bill, now the subject of negotiation between the House and Senate.

Maybe it’s because we’re from the oldest state in the nation, but we’re happy to tell the federal government to get off our lawn.

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