Bayer Files Appeal

Company to Challenge EPA on Belt

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The western bean cutworm is one of the insects targeted by Bayer CropScience's pesticide Belt. (Photo courtesy of Purdue University)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Bayer CropScience has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Administrative Law Court to undertake a full review of the agency's decision to pull the conditional registration for Belt SC Insecticide, the company announced on its website.

Conditional registrations are essentially agency approvals to sell a pesticide if certain conditions are met. EPA officials asked Bayer in early February to voluntarily cancel the 2008 conditional registration for pesticide flubendiamide, marketed in the U.S. as Belt SC Insecticide. The company refused and the agency moved to cancel anyway.

In a Q&A posted on Bayer's website, Dana Sargent, the company's vice president for regulatory affairs, said EPA's standard practice is that EPA's environmental appeals board reviews such EPA orders after an administrative law judge makes an initial determination.

The potential 75-day length of the entire process along with a 30-day public comment period, will allow ag retailers to keep selling Belt SC and farmers can continue using it.

In the news release Sargent said the science continues to show Belt is safe in the environment.

"Over the course of five years, we conducted real world monitoring to study Belt's impact in the one area in which EPA raised a question," she said. "The results were clear -- residues of Belt were below levels EPA said may pose harm. Unfortunately, instead of accepting that real-world data, EPA based its decision on theoretical computer modeling which is, of course, dependent on many assumptions and inputs."

Belt is specific to caterpillar pests and it allows farmers to target when they have a particular pest pressure. Belt is not systemic and has a different mode of action than alternative chemistries, which makes it an important resistance management tool.

About 50% of all agriculture uses of flubendiamide are on soybeans, according to EPA. The pesticide is used on only about 1% of soybeans in the United States, which would equate to roughly 820,000 acres.

EPA's environmental concerns rest with benthic organisms -- worms, clams, crabs, lobsters and other tiny organisms that live in the bottom sediments. Apart from this concern, Sargent said, the product has a good safety profile for birds, fish and all other mammals.

When the EPA approved the conditional registration, it did so with what Sargent told DTN was a unique agreement with Bayer that the company would stop selling flubendiamide if EPA wasn't satisfied with the Bayer's scientific data.

Bayer agreed to EPA's conditions because the company was confident it could and did meet the conditions of the registration, Sargent said.

Sargent added that Bayer is still entitled to a proper hearing even if the company agreed to cancel flubendiamide. The hearing is required by EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA.

Conditional registrations have faced much scrutiny. Recently the Canadian government announced it was ending its program to approve conditional registrations for pesticides.

Following the 30-day public comment period, the administrative court will view all data from both Bayer and EPA -- either way the court has to render a decision within 75 days.

The Belt label requires applicators utilize buffer strips to protect water and Sargent said the company's monitoring and studies by the U.S. Geological Survey have at most detected only minute residues -- in parts per trillion -- that fall well below risk levels established by EPA.

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Todd Neeley