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Daily News Blog

16
Jan

Take Action: EPA Challenged for Not Assessing Claimed Pesticide “Benefits,” Opens Public Comment Period

Insect damage soybean - EPA must require submission of efficacy data and make findings based on evidence that benefits outweigh risks before registering a pesticide.

(Beyond Pesticides, January 16, 2024) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long been criticized for its failure to evaluate the effectiveness (or efficacy) of all the pesticides it registers. A petition, for which there is now an open public comment period (submit comments by January 22, 2024), challenges what advocates call a basic failure of the agency to evaluate the claimed benefits of pesticides. Because of this long-standing situation, those who purchase pesticides do not know that the pesticides they buy will meet expectations for control. For farmers, that means that EPA has not evaluated whether the pesticide’s use actually increases productivity of the treated crops and/or whether over time the target pest (weed, insect, fungus) will become resistant. For consumers, it also means that there is not an independent analysis of whether the pesticide products work. As EPA implements the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), not only is there no agency assessment of whether the pesticide’s use will achieve its intended purpose, there is not a determination as to whether there is a less toxic way of achieving the pest management goal.

As Beyond Pesticides cited last year, a piece published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal (2020) sums it up well: “[N]eonicotinoid [widely used insecticide] exposure is far higher than necessary to achieve plant protection and yield objectives. Neonicotinoid seed coatings rarely improve crop yield, and neonicotinoids are applied preventively to vast areas of turf, which cover more land in the United States than any other irrigated crop, even when pests are absent or below thresholds. . . . Risks to many terrestrial, aquatic, and detrital organisms and ecosystems have been documented. Considering these risks, advocacy groups have frequently promoted outright bans on all neonicotinoids in all circumstances, and this stance seems easy to justify.” Nearly ten years agon, “Heavy Costs—Weighing the Value of Neonicotinoid insecticides in Agriculture” (Center for Food Safety, 2014) concluded that, “EPA should suspend all existing registrations of neonicotinoid seed treatment products whose costs and benefits have not been adequately weighed until this accounting is completed.

The petition open for public comment is requesting the adoption of rules that require efficacy data be submitted for systemic insecticides by manufacturers registering these pesticides with EPA.   

>>EPA must require submission of efficacy data and make findings based on evidence that benefits outweigh risks before registering a pesticide.

Petitioners ask that manufacturers of neonicotinoids (neonics) or other systemic insecticides be required to prove that they work as intended and do not “subject species, ecosystems, and people to abject devastation with no benefit to users.” In fact, Section 3(c)(5) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires that EPA determine whether the pesticide will perform its intended function, when used “in accordance with widespread and commonly recognized practice,” without “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” “Unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” means “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide.” 

The petitioners submit support for their contention that systemic insecticides are not effective and that they cause widespread harm to the environment, including birds, honey bees, aquatic ecosystems, and wildlife. The petition says, “The species impacted include all amphibians, and the majority of endangered fish, birds, and mammals, as well as pollinators and the plants they pollinate.”  

The petitioners also point to results showing lack of benefits—including a report by EPA’s Biological and Economic Analysis Division (BEAD) showing that systemic insecticides generally do not provide benefits when used to protect soybeans. 

Thus, the petitioners make a case that registration should be denied to these systemic insecticides, since FIFRA Section 3(c)(6) requires EPA to deny registration if “the Administrator determines that the requirements of paragraph (5) for registration are not satisfied.” 

But how can EPA make any determination without efficacy data? The petitioners say that because the case they make shows that systemic insecticides do not meet the criteria for registration, EPA must request efficacy data for those pesticides. However, the same is true for all pesticides. EPA cannot meet the statutory prerequisite for registration without weighing data on both risks and benefits. Instead, as pointed out by the petitioners, EPA says, “rather than require efficacy data the Agency presumes that benefits exceed risks.” 

In 2021, a coalition of groups, including PEER and Beyond Pesticides, issued a scathing critique of the performance of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs — embedded in the groups’ advocacy for a series of 25 reforms. The petition tackles one specific aspect of EPA’s process on one class of insecticides. The agency’s track record, on so many pesticides, is to deal with one compound (under a narrow range of circumstances and/or narrow time frame and/or specific exposure levels) at a time. Beyond Pesticides has dubbed this the “whack-a-mole” struggle on pesticides. 

Each regulatory baby step at EPA represents small, incremental advances on a pesticide problem that is vast in scope—an approach that is wholly inadequate to the devastation that toxic pesticides are causing, and it continues the “collision course” we are on re: human health and well-being, biodiversity collapse, and the climate crisis. A precautionary approach—captured in organic, regenerative agriculture and land management protocols—is far more suited to the task of genuinely protecting public health and the environment than EPA’s current, industry-friendly, piecemeal approach. 

The availability of alternative materials and practices that prevent (or vastly reduce) toxic hazards, as are used in organic management, makes the dependence on synthetic chemical pesticides even more reprehensible. A genuinely protective approach to pests (floral or faunal) in agriculture and land management starts with transitioning from chemical dependency to organic land management in food production, and parks, playing fields, and all recreational and public spaces. In the meantime, efforts to push EPA will continue to move the needle, however slowly and haltingly. EPA should take seriously its mission: to protect human health and the environment. 

>>EPA must require submission of efficacy data and make findings based on evidence that benefits outweigh risks before registering a pesticide.

The target for this Action is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency via Regulations.gov.  

Letter to EPA

I am writing to support the petition  asking that manufacturers of neonicotinoids (neonics) or other systemic insecticides be required to prove that they work as intended and do not “subject species, ecosystems, and people to abject devastation with no benefit to users.” In fact, Section 3(c)(5) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires that EPA determine whether the pesticide will perform its intended function, when used “in accordance with widespread and commonly recognized practice,” without “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” “Unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” means “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide.”

It has been shown that systemic insecticides are not effective in soybean production and that they cause widespread harm to the environment, including birds, honey bees, aquatic ecosystems, and wildlife. The petition says, “The species impacted include all amphibians, and the majority of endangered fish, birds, and mammals, as well as pollinators and the plants they pollinate.” The petitioners point to results showing lack of benefits—including a report by EPA’s Biological and Economic Analysis Division (BEAD) showing that systemic insecticides generally do not provide benefits when used to protect soybeans.

Thus, the petitioners make a case that registration should be denied to these systemic insecticides, since FIFRA Section 3(c)(6) requires EPA to deny registration if “the Administrator determines that the requirements of paragraph (5) for registration are not satisfied.”

But how can EPA make any determination without efficacy data? The petitioners say that because the case they make shows that systemic insecticides do not meet the criteria for registration, EPA must request efficacy data for those pesticides. The same is true for all pesticides. EPA cannot meet the statutory prerequisite for registration without weighing data on both risks and benefits. Instead, as pointed out by the petitioners, EPA says, “rather than require efficacy data the Agency presumes that benefits exceed risks.”

Each regulatory baby step at EPA represents small, incremental advances on a pesticide problem that is now vast in scope—an approach that is wholly inadequate to the devastation that toxic pesticides are causing, and it continues the “collision course” we are on re: human health and well-being, biodiversity collapse, and the climate crisis. A precautionary approach — captured in alternatives like organic, regenerative agriculture and land management protocols — is far more suited to the task of genuinely protecting public health and the environment than EPA’s current, industry friendly, piecemeal approach. This approach is viable under the “unreasonable adverse effects” standard of review under FIFRA.

The availability of alternative materials and practices that prevent (or vastly reduce) toxic hazards, as are used in organic management, makes the dependence on synthetic chemical pesticides even more reprehensible and “unreasonable.” A genuinely protective approach to pests (floral or faunal) in agriculture and land management starts with transitioning from chemical dependency to organic land management in food production, and parks, playing fields, and all recreational and public spaces. In the meantime, the petitions request for efficacy review will push the pesticide registration review process to move the needle, however slowly and haltingly. EPA should take seriously its mission: to protect human health and the environment.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

Share

5 Responses to “Take Action: EPA Challenged for Not Assessing Claimed Pesticide “Benefits,” Opens Public Comment Period”

  1. 1
    Linda L Granato Says:

    please help properly protect people, animals and planet!!!!

  2. 2
    Lora Steiner Says:

    Please do what is right and best for the environment and for people

  3. 3
    Darla Says:

    STOP PESTICIDES!!

  4. 4
    steve Savitz Says:

    What’s the point of killing “pests” when it also harms human health (diminishing quality of life and plaguing the economy with missing work days and disability payouts? Poison is poison.

  5. 5
    Joseph Quirk Says:

    I am writing to support the petition asking that manufacturers of neonicotinoids (neonics) or other systemic insecticides be required to prove that they work as intended and do not “subject species, ecosystems, and people to abject devastation with no benefit to users.” In fact, Section 3(c)(5) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires that EPA determine whether the pesticide will perform its intended function, when used “in accordance with widespread and commonly recognized practice,” without “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” “Unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” means “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide.”

    It has been shown that systemic insecticides are not effective in soybean production and that they cause widespread harm to the environment, including birds, honey bees, aquatic ecosystems, and wildlife. The petition says, “The species impacted include all amphibians, and the majority of endangered fish, birds, and mammals, as well as pollinators and the plants they pollinate.” The petitioners point to results showing lack of benefits—including a report by EPA’s Biological and Economic Analysis Division (BEAD) showing that systemic insecticides generally do not provide benefits when used to protect soybeans.

    Thus, the petitioners make a case that registration should be denied to these systemic insecticides, since FIFRA Section 3(c)(6) requires EPA to deny registration if “the Administrator determines that the requirements of paragraph (5) for registration are not satisfied.”

    But how can EPA make any determination without efficacy data? The petitioners say that because the case they make shows that systemic insecticides do not meet the criteria for registration, EPA must request efficacy data for those pesticides. The same is true for all pesticides. EPA cannot meet the statutory prerequisite for registration without weighing data on both risks and benefits. Instead, as pointed out by the petitioners, EPA says, “rather than require efficacy data the Agency presumes that benefits exceed risks.”

    Each regulatory baby step at EPA represents small, incremental advances on a pesticide problem that is now vast in scope—an approach that is wholly inadequate to the devastation that toxic pesticides are causing, and it continues the “collision course” we are on re: human health and well-being, biodiversity collapse, and the climate crisis. A precautionary approach — captured in alternatives like organic, regenerative agriculture and land management protocols — is far more suited to the task of genuinely protecting public health and the environment than EPA’s current, industry friendly, piecemeal approach. This approach is viable under the “unreasonable adverse effects” standard of review under FIFRA.

    The availability of alternative materials and practices that prevent (or vastly reduce) toxic hazards, as are used in organic management, makes the dependence on synthetic chemical pesticides even more reprehensible and “unreasonable.” A genuinely protective approach to pests (floral or faunal) in agriculture and land management starts with transitioning from chemical dependency to organic land management in food production, and parks, playing fields, and all recreational and public spaces. In the meantime, the petitions request for efficacy review will push the pesticide registration review process to move the needle, however slowly and haltingly. EPA should take seriously its mission: to protect human health and the environment.

    Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

    Joseph Quirk

Leave a Reply

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