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Challenging the values of farm pesticides and bridging a gap

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Pesticides improve the quality of lives in urban and rural areas.

This year was a Roller Coaster of regulatory dips, dives and loops, and 2021 will see continued challenges to how farm pesticides are viewed.

There is an opportunity and need to bridge the gap of understanding between urban and rural areas when it comes to the wise use of pesticides, said Chris Novak, president and CEO of CropLife America, during his talk at the annual Southern Crop Production Association annual meeting, held virtually in November.

CLA is the national trade association that represents the manufacturers, formulators and distributors of pesticides.

One of the primary actions on this front sprang up in 2020 and will linger into next year: a push to revamp the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. All pesticides distributed or sold in the United States must be registered (licensed) by EPA. Before EPA registers a pesticide under FIFRA, the applicant must show, among other things, that using the pesticide according to specifications "will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment." That's a good thing.

In August, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced 'The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020,' touting it as the most comprehensive reform of U.S. pesticide rules in nearly 25 years.

The legislation targets FIFRA, and that's concerning.

As written now, the legislation would:

  • Ban organophosphate and neonicotinoid insecticides and paraquat herbicides;
  • Create a petition process to enable individual citizens to petition the EPA to identify dangerous pesticides so that the EPA would no longer be able to indefinitely allow dangerous pesticides to remain on the market;
  • Not allow the EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations, (which fall under FIFRA Section 18) to use pesticides before they have gone through full health and safety review by the agency;
  • Enable local communities to enact protective legislation and other policies without being vetoed or pre-empted by state law;
  • Suspend the use of pesticides deemed unsafe by the European Union or Canada until they are thoroughly reviewed by the EPA.

The legislation takes a precautionary principle, or a pre-emptive regulatory path to reduce environmental or human risks from pesticides based on suggestive evidence and not necessarily on immediate science-based evidence, an approach gaining solid traction in other parts of the world.

The co-sponsors of the Udall and Neguse legislation come from dominant urban centers across the country. That is a real challenge, but also offers an opportunity for agriculture and rural areas, Novak said. Continuing to reach out and engage urban areas and leaders will be a crucial step for 2021, reminding them that the U.S. FIFRA's current science-heavy approach is the gold standard for pesticide regulatory actions and should remain so, and that pesticides improve the quality of lives in urban and rural areas.

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