The leader of the world's largest voluntary organization of farmers and ranchers says the Environmental Protection Agency is "out of control" and determined to eliminate all use of chemicals from the nation's agriculture.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer and 12-year president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said during a stop in Utah Thursday that the EPA is interpreting the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act in a "dreadful way" and launching its first attack on the use of or-gan-ophosphates."We were very pleased with (the 1996 act) at the time, because we thought it brought common sense and balance to the EPA's efforts to ensure food safety," Kleckner said. "We believe that phasing out the use of (organophosphates) when, in many cases, there is no alternative is going to change agriculture in this country as we know it."
The head of the 4.8 million-member organization said organophosphates are used for pest control on fruit, vegetable and grain crops.
The EPA issued a preliminary risk assessment regarding the chemicals Wednesday, he said. And although he has not yet had a chance to study the report, he said he knows where the agency is headed.
"I believe, personally, that the EPA has a philosophy to move the country to be completely organic," Kleckner said. "(The report) is kind of a warning shot by our government agency that we have to take seriously."
He said the EPA contends that organophosphates are dangerous and are poisoning the nation's children, but he does not think the agency has scientific evidence to back up those claims.
Kenneth R. Ashby, a Delta farmer and 12-year president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said organophosphates originally were approved by the EPA. They are commonly used in insecticides in Utah, he said, and farmers would not use the chemicals if they thought their families could be hurt by them.
"There is no science behind these efforts," Ashby said.
Kleckner said U.S. agriculture now exports about 30 percent of all it produces. But if the EPA is successful in its efforts, he said, it will drive the United States out of the world market. It also could lead to higher prices for produce nationwide.
"In my view, (the EPA) is an agency out of control, like the (Internal Revenue Service)," Kleck-ner said. "Are we really benefiting our kids when we make the price of a peach $8?"
He said his organization is asking its members to talk to their representatives in Congress about the issue in the hopes of getting improved oversight of the EPA. Because even though Congress passes the laws, he said, government agencies like the EPA usually determine the details of how they are implemented.
While the EPA's efforts are tops on the American Farm Bureau's agenda right now, he said, the organization also continues to push for a vote on fast-track trade legislation this session, even though it is a political hot potato.