Ag Pushes Back on Chlorpyrifos Ban

Ag Groups Say EPA Chlorpyrifos Ban Would Cause Economic Damage to Several Crops

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Agricultural groups, in a formal objection to EPA, defend the industry's use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos after the agency moved in August to ban its use for feed or food crops. The political and legal wrangling over the health effects of the pesticide goes back decades. (DTN file photo, EPA logo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- More than 80 agricultural groups are asking EPA to delay any attempt to revoke the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos as agricultural groups criticized EPA's move to ban the pesticide for use on food and feed crops.

Laying out a formal objection sent Tuesday to EPA, a coalition of "growers, retailers, co-ops, applicators, refiners, crop consultants, and other agricultural stakeholders" told EPA the agency should stay, or delay, then eventually rescind the rule that revokes the use of chlorpyrifos on food and feed crops. The agricultural groups stated they believe the agency's decision to revoke all tolerance levels for chlorpyrifos "is inconsistent with federal statute, the agency's own record on chlorpyrifos, and sound, science-based and risk-based regulatory practices."

The force and the extent of the coalition's letter is likely to be used to help make the case for litigation against the rule, especially if EPA does not move to halt the rule or rescind it. As of now, EPA's final rule goes into effect on Oct. 29, and the food residue tolerance levels of chlorpyrifos would be formally revoked on Feb. 28, 2022, making the herbicide illegal to use on food or feed crops.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide better known to farmers and pesticide applicators by various brand names such as Lorsban and Vulcan. While it was once more widely used, Corteva Agriscience had already voluntarily stopped production of Lorsban in February 2020 because of low demand for the product.

EPA's rule makes it illegal to use chlorpyrifos on food or feed crops. EPA also will review the use of chlorpyrifos for non-food uses, such as mosquito control, next year. The agency's decision came after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling ordered EPA to issue a rule on safe chlorpyrifos levels. EPA stated that, based on available data, the agency was unable to conclude that risk of aggregate exposure to the pesticide meets the safety standards of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, leading EPA to revoke all tolerance levels for chlorpyrifos.

In their letter, agricultural groups stated the pesticide "holds a unique and significant value for many agricultural producers." The pesticide is used on numerous crops to protect them from pest damage, with the greatest use on soybean acres against soybean aphids. The agricultural groups called on EPA to delay implementation of the rule until the agency can respond to objections from the industry.

Agricultural groups raised concerns over how FDA would handle any food with a long shelf life after February 2022 if traces of chlorpyrifos are found on them. The products could end up being destroyed for having residues. "This will potentially result in millions of dollars in additional food waste losses and further irreparable harm to agricultural supply chains," the letter stated.

There is also a lack of clarity about the continued use of existing stocks that will be effectively prohibited. The agricultural groups noted there was no clarity on what to do with potentially "millions of gallons" of chemicals in storage.

The agricultural groups also objected to EPA labeling the rule as "not economically significant" for regulatory action before the White House Office of Management and Budget. That designation changes how OMB treats the rule. Agricultural groups stated there are scenarios where crops could suffer more than $100 million in losses, the threshold for a rule being considered economically significant. Agricultural groups suggest there are going to be "hundreds of millions of dollars" in lost agricultural benefits and "tens of millions of dollars in additional costs to supply chains and the environment."

In the letter, the agricultural coalition pointed to Michigan cherry producers that rely on chlorpyrifos to deal with American Plum Borers and Peachtree Borers. The pests can destroy trees by boring into their trunks.

"It is upsetting that EPA has revoked such an important chemistry without input from USDA or other stakeholders," said Mike Van Agtmael, a west Michigan cherry grower and chairman of the Cherry Marketing Institute. "Chlorpyrifos is critical to the Michigan and Wisconsin cherry industries, as there are no other products that effectively control trunk borers. With more than 4 million cherry trees, Michigan grows 75% of the total U.S. production of tart cherries and roughly 20% of the total U.S. production of sweet cherries. Without this product, our growers risk losing a lot of trees, potentially jeopardizing their family farms."

The letter also cited the value of chlorpyrifos to sugarbeet growers in dealing with the sugarbeet root maggot. Without the insecticide, the maggots in some cases can bring down yields 45%.

For soybean growers, the pesticide is used to deal with two-spotted spider mites and soybean aphids. The pests can lower yields 60% if left unchecked, the coalition cited in its letter.

"Chlorpyrifos is a vital tool in the soybean grower's toolbox, one which EPA has itself said poses no food or environmental risk of concern," said Kevin Scott, a soy grower from Valley Springs, South Dakota, and American Soybean Association president. "Without it, many farmers may have to increase the amount of alternative pesticides they apply, as there are no one-to-one replacements for several pests chlorpyrifos helps control. EPA's action -- counterproductive to the agency's intended mission -- is undermining the ability of growers to be good environmental stewards."

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall called the EPA action shortsighted, saying, "Taking care of the land and our natural resources is a top priority for farmers, and this revocation rule actually makes it harder for us to do that. EPA veered from its own scientific evidence in a decision that could be damaging to the land, to farmers and to our efforts to fight food insecurity."

Duvall's view is countered by United Farm Workers, which pushed for EPA to ban the pesticide. Groups such as the Pesticide Action Network pushed the litigation that forced EPA to hand down a decision on chlorpyrifos.

As DTN has noted, chlorpyrifos has a long history of battles over its safety. Dow Chemical was fined $807,000 in 1995 for neglecting to inform EPA about reports of adverse human health effects going back two decades. By 2002, products using chlorpyrifos were no longer sold for household use. In 2007, environmental groups petitioned EPA to ban it, citing research showing neurotoxic effects, including affecting infants. EPA initially moved to limit chlorpyrifos in 2015, but the agency then reversed course in 2017. The Ninth Circuit finally ordered EPA to create a rule that ensured safe use of the chemical or revoke its food-residue tolerances.

Agricultural groups' letter to EPA on chlorpyrifos:…

Five Things Farmers Need to Know About EPA's Ban on Chlorpyrifos:…

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Chris Clayton