Agriculture’s ongoing disagreement with the direction EPA seems to be taking in registering pesticides took another turn Thursday (June 2) when the agency released its Draft Triazine Ecological Rick Assessments.
Farm organizations and pesticide manufacturers quickly criticized the document, saying the “flawed logic” used by the Environmental Protection Agency in compiling the report could lead to a de facto ban on atrazine, the most widely-used corn and grain sorghum herbicide.
Among the most heated responses were those by the Triazine Network, a national coalition of farm organizations representing 30 agricultural crops in 40 states. Gary Marshall, executive director of the Missouri Corn Growers Association in Jefferson City, is the chairman of the Triazine Network.
“EPA’s flawed atrazine report is stomping science into the dirt and setting farmers up for significant economic hardship,” said Marshall. “We challenge this latest proposal and insist EPA abide by federal law that requires the agency to make determinations based on credible scientific evidence.” To see the Triazine Network’s letter to EPA, click on http://agsense.org/articles/triazine-network-sends-letter-to-epa-fighting-for-atrazine/.
Such criticism reflects a growing number of complaints by farm organizations and trade groups that EPA is increasingly making decisions outside the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the law which governs regulation of crop protection chemicals.
Some observers say that as the Obama administration nears the end of its second term in office, EPA has become more political and more driven by the threat of legal action by environmental groups rather than following the law.
Public perception not science
“They seem to be responding more to public reaction – which we all know is not necessarily science-based or risk-based,” said an official with the National Cotton Council. “The EPA seems to be in a posture now where they’re trying to respond to public perception and setting science aside.”
In the latest action, EPA said it is reviewing the pesticide registrations for atrazine, simazine and propazine to ensure they continue to satisfy the FIFRA standard for registration; that is, they can still be used without unreasonable adverse effects on human health or the environment.
But the organizations are concerned about the methodology the agency apparently intends to use to conduct the reviews, which are mandated to occur every 15 years under FIFRA’s Section 3 (g).
“It is particularly concerning that EPA has chosen to base the ecological risk assessment for atrazine on studies their own Science Advisory Panel deemed 'flawed' just 4 years ago,” said Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association.
“This undermines public confidence in the review process and goes against the mission of using the best available science,” said Bowling, a corn producer from Maryland, who described atrazine as a safe and effective management tool for farmers. To read the NCGA statement, visit http://bit.ly/1RUOYDv.
“No one cares more about the safety of agricultural pesticides than farmers. Farmers make use of pesticides on their farms to ensure an abundant, affordable food supply of foods for consumers all over the world. We care about keeping land, rivers, and ponds safe for our families, our neighbors, and our communities.
Numerous data, methodology errors
Syngenta, one of the triazine product registrants, said EPA’s draft report on the ecological assessment of the herbicide atrazine “contains numerous data and methodological errors and needs to be corrected.
U.S. corn, sorghum and sugarcane growers have depended on the herbicide to produce food sustainably for more than 50 years. The company said Atrazine enables no-till farming and conservation tillage. To read more, visit http://www.atrazine.com/atramain.aspx.
“We’re troubled the draft assessment discounted several rigorous, high-quality scientific studies and didn’t adhere to EPA’s own high standards,” said Marian Stypa, head, product development for Syngenta in North America. “The draft report erroneously and improperly estimated atrazine’s levels of concern for birds, fish, mammals and aquatic communities that are not supported by science.”
For example, data presented in the 2012 SAP demonstrated the level of concern (LOC) for atrazine could be more than six times higher than the conservative number proposed in EPA’s preliminary report, and still be protective of aquatic communities. “Together with numerous errors in EPA’s modeling, the agency drew scientifically unsound conclusions, based on flawed assessments that need to be corrected,” Dr. Stypa said.
“Assessments, even ones that are drafts, with such far-reaching consequences should only be based on the best, highest quality science to ensure farmers have this critical and irreplaceable tool for U.S. agriculture,” said Vern Hawkins, president, Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, and North America region director. “We’re confident that when given a thorough science review, atrazine’s continued, longstanding safety will be confirmed.”
Sorghum Producers disagree with data
“National Sorghum Producers strongly disagrees with the methodology the EPA used to arrive at these results,” said Past Chairman J.B. Stewart, a sorghum farmer from Keyes, Okla. “We feel the agency has abandoned a science-based approach even including studies in the review that the agency's own 2012 Scientific Advisory Panel said were flawed.
“The EPA has ignored years of analyses that show atrazine is safe,” said Stewart. “It’s one of the most studied chemicals in the U.S. and has been a proven and dependable herbicide for more than 50 years.”
National Sorghum Producers will soon be actively seeking input from its grower community once the draft ecological assessment is published in the Federal Register in the next few days, he said. To read more, visit http://sorghumgrowers.com/sorghum-growers-epa-risk-assessment-for-atrazine-departs-from-science/.
“This is a tool our farmers cannot stand to lose,” said NSP CEO Tim Lust. “The EPA continually brings forth challenges for the farm community and chooses to ignore the science, underscoring the importance to have a united and vocal showing from our farm community about the importance of this important crop-protection tool.”
Lust said NSP will continue to work with the EPA, Congress and the White House to help bring logic and science back to the assessment process.
“In the coming weeks, we will be urging farmers and others who care about our rural economy to contact the EPA, and tell them to base their decision on sound science,” said the National Corn Growers Bowling.
To view EPA’s preliminary risk assessment, visit https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/preliminary-ecological-risk-assessment-atrazine.pdf.