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4 Before Love Canal, I also needed a 95 percent certainty before I was convinced of a result.1 But seeing this rigorously applied in a situation where the consequences of an error meant that pregnancies were resulting in miscarriages, stillbirths, and children with medical problems, I realized I was making a value judgment . . . whether to make errors on the side of protecting human health or on the side of conserving state resources. —Beverly Paigen, biologist with New York State Department of Health, 1982 As the preceding chapter showed, industries are not able to effectively control problems like pesticide drift on their own. State institutions are needed to serve that function. In this chapter, I discuss the ways that government agencies have intervened into agricultural pesticide use. California and federal pesticide regulatory agencies are some of the most advanced in the world. Yet the case of pesticide drift and illness presented in chapter 2 raises questions about how well regulatory agencies control pesticide drift. This chapter takes on this task. Through describing the history of pesticide regulation in the United States, I identify the material, cultural, and discursive factors that explain regulatory agencies ’ failures to adequately address the pesticide drift problem. As will become clear, this foray into the world of pesticide regulation is a story about agencies that are captured by industry and hobbled by internal dysfunctions, but at the same time, are pursuing a set of environmental protections that align with a particular vision of justice.2 I close the chapter with a section on pesticide drift activists’ efforts to reform U.S. and California pesticide regulation. First, however, to understand pesticide regulation today, we need to start at its inception over one hundred years ago. The Environmental Regulatory State 86 Chapter 4 The Early Years of Pesticide Regulation As environmental historians have shown, members of the public have periodically voiced concerns about pesticide residues in food, and agricultural community residents occasionally reported illnesses that they attributed to nearby pesticide use. Though these reports sometimes inspired state investigations of agricultural pesticide use practices, the state did not begin regulating pesticides to curb their environmental and public health impacts until well into the latter half of the twentieth century. In fact, pesticide regulation through 1970 was limited to protecting industry rather than public health or the environment. The nation’s first pesticide laws were crafted in response to growers’ complaints about pesticides that were ineffective and others that damaged crops.3 Consequently , throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Californian and U.S. authorities regulated agricultural pesticide use by requiring pesticide manufacturers to register their products and promise that they were safe and effective. To some extent, regulatory agencies’ apparent disregard for the environment and public health along with their protection of industry interests were rooted in the structure of the regulatory institutions. At the state and federal levels, pesticide regulatory responsibilities rested in the Departments of Agriculture, whose primary responsibilities were to promote and protect the agricultural industry. Although later regulations required the USDA to take input from the Public Health Service into consideration when regulating pesticides, the USDA itself maintained the sole decision-making authority with regard to agricultural pesticides at the federal level. The USDA’s conflict of interest—regulating and promoting the same industry—led regulators to rely on educational tactics, rather than direct punishment, for ensuring compliance with the minimal regulations. Historians have also shown that regulatory failure stemmed directly from malfeasance and corruption within regulatory institutions. Pete Daniels provides detailed evidence of the ways in which USDA regulators actively and publicly championed chemical solutions to agricultural problems, routinely ignored input from the Public Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration, and refused to cooperate or share information with any of those other agencies with which it was required to do so.4 The fact that state agencies protected industry interests so well stemmed to some extent from a long-standing revolving door between the The Environmental Regulatory State 87 two social worlds: industry representatives took jobs within regulatory agencies, and state scientists went on to start their own pesticide manufacturing companies.5 Yet the story of early pesticide regulatory priorities is not simply one of corrupt bureaucrats and interest group politics. Trends in pesticide policy and regulatory practice must be understood as shaped by the predominant social beliefs and issues of the day. In general, environmental historians have shown that pollution had long been perceived as central to progress, economic...


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