Fifty-one years ago, chlorpyrifos was introduced to farmers as a way to stop the spread of agricultural and household bugs. Since then, it has proved to be effective in protecting crops such as corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees and row crops such as broccoli and cauliflower.
What it was not effective against is politics, as last week’s move by the Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency shows.
Both the administration and the EPA pride themselves on “following the science” on all issues ranging from climate change to pesticide registrations. In the case of chlorpyrifos, however, politics appears to be the dominant factor.
The beginning of the end for chlorpyrifos dates back to 2007, when a couple of environmental groups, the Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council, petitioned the EPA to stop its use on food crops. The petition was based on the fear that eating food with trace amounts of the pesticide could potentially cause brain damage in children. Never mind that foods are washed before they are eaten.
Household uses of chlorpyrifos had already been banned in 2000, along with all of its uses on tomatoes and most uses on apples and grapes.
Two years later, the EPA required buffer zones, more protective equipment for farmworkers and lower application rates for such crops as corn and citrus.
These steps addressed the uses posing the greatest risks for children, according to the EPA in a 2006 memo.
One would think that since “the science” found the remaining uses of chlorpyrifos to be safe, that would be it.
The Obama and Trump administrations’ EPAs both found that, as long as the required precautions were taken, chlorpyrifos was OK to use. They refused to ban it.
In the meantime, the environmental groups’ petition remained in the court system. The 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled that the groups were right and pushed the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos.
Last week, EPA decided not to follow the science and ban chlorpyrifos. The reasoning: The agency said it couldn’t determine whether it met federal safety standards.
Pardon us, but we thought EPA’s job was to determine whether pesticides meet safety standards, not shrug and say, “I don’t know.” Isn’t 51 years enough time to figure that out?
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall correctly characterized the Biden EPA’s decision.
“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 said in a statement.
One wonders what other non-scientific decisions the EPA has in store for America’s farmers.