U.S – Agricultural groups are seeking a court directive against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) August 2021 ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide associated with neurodevelopmental problems and impaired brain function in children.

The groups representing thousands of farmers and farmer-owned cooperatives that say they will be harmed by the EPA’s ruling  to revoke all tolerances of chlorpyrifos are taking legal action against the agency.

They say their challenge is over “EPA’s disregard for its own science, confirming the crop protection tool can be used safely, effectively, and without dietary or environmental risk.”

In October 2021, more than 80 agricultural groups filed formal objections to EPA’s rule revoking all tolerances of chlorpyrifos.

By law, stakeholders can object to pesticide tolerance changes or cancellations, and the EPA Administrator must then respond. The groups asked EPA for evidentiary hearings and to stay implementation of the rule until objections could be formally considered and addressed by the agency.

Nevertheless, the objections, hearing requests, and stay requests have not been addressed by EPA to date.

EPA’s concern is possible neurological damage chlorpyrifos may cause, especially in pregnant women.  However, agricultural interests say it can be applied safely and alternatives don’t exist.

Without effective pesticides, American agriculture would likely have to step back to the day when farm jobs included pulling weeds out of the fields by hand, which was known as “walking the beans”, according to Food Safety News.

“EPA’s proposed interim decision back in December 2020 for the re-registration of chlorpyrifos found 11 high-benefit, low-risk crop uses that the agency was confident ‘will not pose potential risks of concern.’ How can they now deny all uses, even when the court gave them options for keeping those found safe?” Brad Doyle, a soy farmer from Arkansas and President of the American Soybean Association said.

Ban could impair agriculture

The agricultural stakeholders say they are taking legal action by  first seeking an injunction of the rule to prevent the first wave of significant, irreparable damage the chlorpyrifos revocation would cause if it were to take effect on the Feb. 28 implementation date.

The groups are ultimately seeking an annulment of the rule where it conflicts with what they describe as well-established, properly developed science — specifically, the 11 uses found safe.

Earlier in the week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a guidance document to help food producers and processors who handle foods that may contain residues of the pesticide chemical chlorpyrifos.

FDA’s new guidance is for the period after the EPA tolerances expire. Therefore, when a food that contains chlorpyrifos residues is not deemed unsafe solely based on the presence of the residue, as long as the chlorpyrifos was applied lawfully and before the tolerance expired, and the residue does not exceed the level permitted by the tolerance that was in place at the time of the application.

Farmers prioritize safe use of pesticides for a multitude of reasons related to safe food production and stewardship. According to advocates the revocation rule undermines their efforts by removing a critically needed tool.

American Farm Bureau President, Zippy Duvall said farmers are highly motivated to use pesticides judiciously as part of their commitment to produce safe, nutritious foods while also being good stewards of the land.

“Taking away this tool takes us backward by increasing the use of less effective pesticides to compensate and, in some cases, sacrificing crops that supply our food when no other defense exists against certain pests,” he said.

Stakeholder groups have filed formal objections highlighting the significant harms that would result from the rule and have asked for formal hearings and a stay of the rule until these objections can be addressed.

They say EPA’s failure to consider these concerns or rescind the rule would have major consequences for growers and the food, fuel, and fiber they supply across multiple crops.

For many growers, chlorpyrifos is the only, or one of very few, tools to protect crops from certain pests. Losing chlorpyrifos would expose those growers to hundreds of millions — to billions — of dollars in potential damages.

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