The US EPA announced that a Final Rule will be issued for chlorpyrifos, revoking all crop tolerances for residues of it on specific food and animal feed commodities. The action comes 14 years after environmental groups first petitioned for the action and was criticized by agricultural groups stating EPA did not follow science in its decision.
The decision comes in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which on April 29, 2021, which granted petitions previously filed by activist groups and ordered EPA to either reach a new safety finding for the presence of chlorpyrifos on food items or revoke the tolerances.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide used for a large variety of agricultural uses, including soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower, and other row crops, as well as non-food uses. As a seed treatment, chlorpyrifos is used by seed producers and also vegetable farmers and is particularly effective and necessary in situations where there is significant pest pressure. As no or reduced-till production systems have become more prevalent due to their soil benefits, the corresponding insect pressures have also increased.
In the announcement, EPA says chlorpyrifos “has been found to inhibit an enzyme, which leads to neurotoxicity, and has also been associated with potential neurological effects in children.” However, the EPA will continue to allow certain non-food uses of chlorpyrifos, such as on golf courses.
“Today, EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health. Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide,” says Administrator Michael Regan. “After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first.”
Under the Trump administration, EPA denied the petition in 2017 and denied the subsequent objections in 2019. These denials were challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 by a coalition of farmworker, health, environmental and other groups. Agricultural groups had been supportive of the Trump-era EPA’s attempts to block the ban.
In April 2021, the Court found that “...EPA had abdicated its statutory duty under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act...” to “conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances caused no harm.” In its decision, the Court ordered EPA to grant the petition, issue a final rule in which the agency either modifies the chlorpyrifos tolerances with a supporting safety determination or revokes the tolerances, and modify or cancel food-use registrations of chlorpyrifos.
Chris Novak, CropLife America president and CEO, says President Biden campaigned with the slogan of “science over fiction,” but the EPA’s decision to cancel all tolerances of chlorpyrifos does not live up to that standard or to the EPA’s commitment to scientific integrity.
“Decades of review by EPA career staff and independent scientific advisory panels have repeatedly supported safe uses for this product, yet this decision comes without a full scientific review or a thoughtful assessment of the beneficial uses of this product,” Novak says. “Farmers need tools to fight insect pests, but the agency has taken an overly broad action that will cause significant problems for our industry’s farm customers.”
Kevin Scott, soybean farmer from Valley Springs, South Dakota and American Soybean Association president, also notes a pledge was made at the beginning of this administration that regulatory decisions would be based in sound science.
“EPA’s decision to revoke tolerances of chlorpyrifos has given us great reason to question that promise,” says Scott. “The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gave EPA the opportunity to preserve uses of chlorpyrifos if human health could be protected. EPA’s career scientists have indicated they believe that is possible, yet EPA decided to revoke all ag tolerances regardless.
“As a result, our nation’s agricultural producers and related environmental outcomes will suffer. It is disappointing EPA has allowed the fear of litigation to eclipse sound science and its regulatory responsibilities,” Scott adds.
Agricultural Retailers Association President and CEO Daren Coppock says the ARA is extremely disappointed in the decision to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos. “This product has been an essential tool for growers who need to control insect pests so they can deliver the quality produce consumers expect to grocery shelves,” Coppock says.
Coppock adds EPA has been following a time-honored statutory process for the registration review of chlorpyrifos. Farmers, retailers, and the public all benefit from, and have the right to expect, a science-based process for reviews of pesticide products. “In this case, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has substituted its judgement for the scientific expertise of the Agency and dictated to EPA a demand to revoke tolerances,” he says.
“Not only is this an unjustified usurpation of the Agency’s authority and expertise, but canceling tolerances for a product that remains registered for use creates uncertainty for users,” Coppock continues. “The product is legal to apply for its registered use, but any residue means that the product that the application protected cannot be sold. By issuing this mandate, and EPA not fighting it, anti-pesticide activists have executed an end run around the statute that is supposed to govern these decisions. It’s a disturbing precedent from an Agency publicly committed to science-based decisions.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall says that farmers and ranchers care deeply about the quality of their crops - nothing is more important than producing safe, nutritious food. “So, we must be guided by the most reliable determinant of safety, which is science,” he says.
“This administration has repeatedly made commitments to abide by science, yet the EPA decision on chlorpyrifos strays from that commitment and takes away an important tool to manage pests and insects,” Duvall continues. “We urge EPA officials not to make determinations on pesticides outside of the regular registration review process already underway. The integrity of the registration review process and commitment to using sound science must be prioritized in a decision of such far-reaching consequences.”
Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook says, “The most important lesson for the public to take away from today’s decision is that the government insisted chlorpyrifos in our food was completely safe, right up until the moment when it was banned for being too dangerous.
“There are many, many other pesticides currently on the market with government approval that are manifestly unsafe and should be immediately banned or severely restricted,” Cook adds. “In the case of chlorpyrifos, we’re talking about 56 years of false assurances since the chemical was approved for use in 1965, including decades during which mounting scientific evidence made clear that it was harming the brains of generations of American children.”
Use already started to phase out
While chlorpyrifos has faced increasing pressure over the years, many crop protection suppliers had started to scale back or cease supply of chlorpyrifos products. A number of other countries, including the European Union and Canada, and some states including California, Hawaii, New York, Maryland, and Oregon have also taken similar actions to restrict the use of this pesticide on food.
All sales of chlorpyrifos products to growers in California were scheduled to end on Feb. 6, 2020, and Corteva Agriscience said due to reduced demand for the product it will completely phase out production of chlorpyrifos in 2020. Use of the pesticide dropped more than 50% from two million pounds in 2005 to just over 940,000 pounds in 2017, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
ADAMA, who previously distributed the pesticide, has stood behind the science underlying the registration of this valuable tool for growers. However, ADAMA had decided to cease supply of its chlorpyrifos products, Vulcan Insecticide and Chlorpyrifos 4E, for agricultural uses.
“Although Vulcan provided highly effective control of aphids, borers and worms, its popularity has waned in recent years,” says Jake Brodsgaard, VP, US - ADAMA. “The void is being filled by other chemistries, such as Silencer VXN, Fanfare ES, Diazinon AG500, Diamond, Cormoran, and Fulfill. The decision to discontinue supplying chlorpyrifos products was a strategic business decision that will allow ADAMA to focus on these and other newer products in its pipeline.”
According to EPA’s decision, growers must discontinue use of chlorpyrifos on registered food crops within 6 months. ADAMA says it understands that there will be many questions surrounding this “unexpected decree from our distributor and retail partners as well as growers who have used crop protection products containing chlorpyrifos.”
ADAMA says questions can be submitted using this form. As it gains clarity from the EPA on outstanding questions and concerns, it will post answers to the same page.