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Pesticide risk assessments seen as biased, experts advise

September 3, 2014
American Institute of Biological Sciences
The Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide toxicity assessments often rely heavily on industry-funded studies and may omit research that could lead to different findings. The assessment process should be reformed in order to eliminate conflicts of interest and include a wider breadth of available information, experts say.

In the October issue of BioScience, a group of ecotoxicologists argue that the US Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) current practices for evaluating pesticide safety are inadequate and likely to result in decisions biased toward industry interests.

In their article, Michelle Boone of Miami University and her colleagues note that most pesticide toxicity tests used in risk assessments are conducted by pesticide manufacturers themselves, which the authors believe can result in untenable conflicts of interest. Moreover, rigid inclusion criteria often mean that potentially relevant studies are barred from the USEPA's assessment process. The article highlights the case of atrazine, which the agency reassessed on the basis of a single manufacturer-funded study. The herbicide was ultimately deemed safe to amphibians, despite the existence of a number of studies that could have led to a different conclusion.

The researchers also cite other problems with USEPA risk assessment practices, including inconsistent application of criteria among taxonomic groups and an overreliance on laboratory studies, among others. Taken together, these problems result in a "presumption of innocence" that Boone and her colleagues maintain may be inappropriate for the evaluation of potentially harmful substances. The authors conclude that "the risk assessment process can and should be improved so that decisions are made with the best available data with an evidence-based approach."

The authors pose several recommendations for reform. Chief among them is the use of an independent third party to stand as a barrier between industry and research. This separation would serve to reduce concerns over conflicts of interest. In addition, they recommend a wider use of all available research -- particularly field studies -- and suggest that the assessment process should be made more transparent.

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Journal Reference:

  1. M. D. Boone, C. A. Bishop, L. A. Boswell, R. D. Brodman, J. Burger, C. Davidson, M. Gochfeld, J. T. Hoverman, L. A. Neuman-Lee, R. A. Relyea, J. R. Rohr, C. Salice, R. D. Semlitsch, D. Sparling, S. Weir. Pesticide Regulation amid the Influence of Industry. BioScience, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biu138

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American Institute of Biological Sciences. "Pesticide risk assessments seen as biased, experts advise." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2014. <>.
American Institute of Biological Sciences. (2014, September 3). Pesticide risk assessments seen as biased, experts advise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 12, 2024 from
American Institute of Biological Sciences. "Pesticide risk assessments seen as biased, experts advise." ScienceDaily. (accessed June 12, 2024).

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