pesticides

EPA decision hailed as victory for Minnesota farmers

In a landmark victory for Minnesota soybean farmers who rely on chlorpyrifos to protect crops from damaging insect pests, the Environmental Protection Agency reversed course Wednesday and concluded it would not proceed with revoking all tolerances for chlorpyrifos.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.” 

Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) Director Kurt Krueger applauded the EPA’s ruling as sensible and measured. 

“It’s very good news, and I think this matter was handled very responsibly,” Krueger said. “This is one of the things we need to be viable in agriculture. The EPA didn’t overreact to special interest groups, and I’m very glad they thought before they reacted. That hasn’t always been the case.”

The ruling came after a robust push from MSGA’s innovative Phone2Action text messaging campaign. Phone2Action allowed concerned farmers to directly contact the EPA and Minnesota congressmen Tim Walz and Colin Peterson and express the importance of this crucial pesticide.

“Phone2Action is about as user friendly as it gets,” Krueger said. “It really uses technology in a way that makes it so easy to get reach out to the people who have input on these decisions.” 

The chlorpyrifos campaign generated the largest number of advocates of any single Phone2Action campaign. MSGA also coordinated with industry partners and University of Minnesota extension agents to communicate with legislators and the EPA’s pesticide re-evaluation division. 

Chlorpyrifos is used in about 100 countries to protect more than 50 crops. In Minnesota, it’s often employed to fight outbreaks of soybean aphids and spider mites, two of the major pests threatening soybean yields in Minnesota. Aphids can affect yields by up to 40 percent; spider mites can inflict even more damage. The decision by the EPA reversing the Tolerance Revocation process allows Minnesota soybean farmers to keep chlorpyrifos in their dwindling inventory to battle pests.

Chlorpyrifos had been under EPA scrutiny since October 2015, when the Obama administration proposed to revoke all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos. The proposal was issued in response to a 2007 petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America, before the EPA had finished its formal health and safety evaluations of the product underway in registration review.

“This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.”