Shortage of herbicides highlights its importance

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April 9, 2022

By BILL WIRTZ

The United States faces a historic shortage of weedkillers due to ongoing supply chain issues. Manufacturers are struggling to get their hands on some of the inert chemicals needed to make herbicides, as well as cardboard boxes and plastic jugs for caps. Glyphosate is one of the chemicals most affected by these supply chain issues, with farmers scrambling to find alternative products to control unwanted weeds.

This is accompanied by a regulatory and legislative crackdown on a wide range of herbicides across the country, limiting farmers’ ability to control weeds this year.

The fact that rules vary from county to county further complicates the matter, with agricultural professionals unsure of which ingredients remain legally accessible and needing the help of weed specialists to sift through the regulatory jungle. This is particularly problematic because many farmers have land that spans different counties.

While shortages affect the daily lives of farmers, the long-term actions of lawmakers have bigger consequences.

The weedkillers have been criticized by activist groups opposed to the use of crop protection, accusing it of harming endangered species. Preventing these species from becoming extinct is guaranteed by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), problematic legislation due to its obtuse standards as to what exactly constitutes an endangered species in the first place.

As Science 2.0’s Hank Campbell explains, the ESA has been hijacked by litigators, who use the law to arbitrarily meet their litigation needs, and perpetuate definitions of “endangered” that are very far removed from what the general public understands by this term. In fact, Campbell shows that the number of ESA threatened species skyrocketed under the Clinton and Obama administrations. As a result, we have seen a large number of chemical companies being sued, and then settled, with environmental groups for their manufacture of pesticides.

As a consumer, why care? As consumers, we need to realize that crop protection plays a role in our daily lives, not the way activists and, too often, the media portray it. When news outlets run articles with the headline “Weed killer glyphosate found in German beers, study finds,” it makes sense to read the entire article and understand that a single person would need to ingest 264 gallons of beer per day for it to be harmful to health. Let’s agree that someone ingesting 264 gallons of beer in one day will supposedly have bigger problems than exposure to weedkiller. In turn, the herbicides that are so fiercely attacked for unscientific reasons offer essential benefits to farmers.

We were using pre-herbicides to weed by hand, a practice so painfully visible in developing countries that still practice it. Herbicides lighten the burden on women and too often children who must weed by hand. In fact, 80% of hand weeding in Africa is done by women, and 69% of farmers’ children aged 5-14 are forced to drop out of school to work in agriculture during peak weeding periods. , leading to long-term problems. spinal deformities.

Herbicides have also increased our agricultural production and ensured food security. Food safety – how immense the technological advancement is that we don’t even think about the possibilities of food products not being available on our shelves.

That said, the current food price inflation shows how vulnerable our system can be. Agriculture is more than putting a seed in the ground and hoping it grows. Agriculture has become a complex orchestra of actors, all interdependent, all supported by modern technology and science. As consumers, if we want safe, available and affordable food options, we must recognize the incredibly important work that farmers do and trust their professional rigor.

Bill Wirtz is a senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center

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