May 11, 2021
EWG urges conventional produce support for chlorpyrifos ruling
Stephen Kloosterman

The Environmental Working Group May 10 urged the conventional produce industry to support a recent federal court ruling requiring the EPA to ban or severely restrict the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

EWG President Ken Cook urged industry groups to back the April 29 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a news release. EWG wrote an open letter to a dozen different groups, including the California Fresh Fruit Association, the California Strawberry Commission, the U.S Apple Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group advocates for “healthier lives in a healthier environment.” According to EWG’s reading, the April 29 court ruling “required the EPA to take immediate steps to protect children from further exposure to the neurotoxic organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos.”

Reviewing policy and cases on chlorpyrifos, the court ruled that “in derogation of the statutory mandate to ban pesticides that have not been proven safe, the EPA has failed to act, requesting extension after extension.”

According to the court’s majority opinion, according to a copy of the document posted online:

“In short, the EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos’s ill effects and has repeatedly determined, based on that record, that it cannot conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances are causing no harm. Yet, rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA can find are reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties. The FFDCA permits no further delay. Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, the Court grants the petitions for review and orders the EPA within 60 days after the issuance of the mandate either to modify chlorpyrifos tolerances and concomitantly publish a finding that the modified tolerances are safe, including for infants and children – or to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances. The Court also orders the EPA to correspondingly modify or cancel related FIFRA registrations for food use in a timely fashion consistent with the requirements of 21 U.S.C. § 346a(a)(1).”

“The presence of chlorpyrifos residues on conventionally grown produce has posed serious risks to public health, and especially children’s health,” Cook wrote, according to a news release. “We write today to urge your respective organizations to stand with consumers, parents and all Americans who want to eat healthy foods that do not put them at risk of dietary exposure to chlorpyrifos, and ask you to publicly support the federal court’s decision requiring the EPA to take immediate steps to protect children from this highly neurotoxic pesticide.”

While exposure to high levels of the pesticide has been linked to neurological damage in children, the EPA has tolerated some trace amounts of chlorpyrifos on produce, setting maximum residue levels or MRLs.

The most recent pesticide residue tests on conventional produce items conducted in 2019 by the USDA found traces of the insecticide on asparagus, hot peppers, basil, cilantro, radishes and frozen strawberries, according to EWG’s release. Previous tests by the USDA detected it on other produce items, including apples, fresh strawberries and grapes, according to EWG’s news release.

A federal chlorpyrifos ban was first proposed by the Obama administration, in 2015, but hasn’t been enacted. Produce powerhouse California has a statewide ban of the pesticide.

In his letter, Cook also expressed concern about another neurotoxic pesticide, aldicarb, which he said the EPA recently proposed should be allowed for use on orange and grapefruit crops in Florida.

“EWG has called on the EPA to revoke the use of aldicarb on citrus grown in Florida, and we call on those organizations that grow, ship and market the state’s citrus fruit to support ours and others’ efforts to end the use of this highly toxic pesticide,” Cook wrote. “The risks that chlorpyrifos and aldicarb exposure poses to the brain and behavioral development in young children should and must far outweigh any financial benefits these insecticides have for your conventional produce operations.”

On the other side of the issue, some conventional produce groups support the continued use of the pesticide.

Earlier this year, the National Potato Council joined dozens of other agricultural groups in submitting comments to EPA that supported the re-registration of chlorpyrifos for its currently registered uses, as well as retention of the initially established 1x FQPA safety factor for the final registration decision, and strongly opposed cancellation of the registration for chlorpyrifos.

According to a letter signed by numerous conventional agricultural groups, “the current body of available evidence demonstrates an inconclusive and tenuous link to neurodevelopmental risks beyond known acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition, and it certainly does not warrant restricting or canceling agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos.”

Above, the EPA building in Washington, D.C. Photo: U.S. EPA

Stephen Kloosterman is the managing editor of Organic Grower magazine.

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