Nav: Home

EPA's Plant-Pesticide Policy Threatens To Stifle Development Of Pesticide Alternatives And International Trade

July 29, 1997

CHICAGO--Members of an 11-society scientific consortium reiterated grave concerns last week about the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) proposed policy to regulate the traits in plants that make them resistant to pests. Not only does the policy threaten to stifle the development of alternatives to chemical pesticides, it may contribute to a mounting trade war in Europe and other countries over genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

At a workshop in Washington, D.C., July 17-18, the EPA restated that it seeks to regulate substances that plants produce to protect themselves against pests and diseases according to the definition of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodencide Act (FIFRA) section 2 (if they are "...intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest" or "...intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant").

The 11-society consortium, which issued a report in July 1996 called "Appropriate Oversight for Traits in Plants That Make Them Resistant to Pests," finds EPA's proposed policy "scientifically indefensible." All plants produce traits to protect themselves against pests and diseases, and in many cases, the mechanisms of resistance in plants are unknown, said Roger N. Beachy, Ph.D., of Scripps Research Institute. Regulating these traits would be like trying to regulate the human immune system without knowledge of the genetic information involved.

Since all plants are resistant to some pests, the term "plant-pesticide" implies that all plants contain pesticides and therefore, so does food made from plants, Beachy added. This implication will not serve American exporters well in trying to ship crops overseas, where many countries have sought to ban GMOs or called for mandatory labeling of them.

If the EPA's policy is finalized, "plant-pesticide" labeling will be required for all GMOs regulated under FIFRA. According to the EPA's Nov. 23, 1994 Federal Register, "Labeling includes both written material accompanying the pesticide and labels on or attached to the pesticide, its container, or wrapper," such as a sack of seeds.

The EPA said during the workshop that the public's trust must be earned through policies that ensure no more than a negligible risk. As GMOs do not pose any greater risks to human health or the environment than plants that are crossbred through traditional techniques, the EPA's plant-pesticide policy is unnecessary, Beachy noted. In fact, it will only reduce U.S. public confidence in GMOs, such as strawberries, corn, and wheat, by implying that fruits, vegetables, and grains contain pesticides.

"Are these products safe? Some of the best science in the world has determined yes," stated U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman in a July 17 speech. "As long as these products prove safe, we will not tolerate their segregation... The stakes for the world are simply too high."

Moreover, by imposing regulatory costs of $60,000 to $1 million per registration, the EPA's policy will hinder small to mid-sized companies and publicly-funded institutions such as the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) from developing alternatives to chemical pesticides.

Wheat production, for example, depends heavily on pest-resistant varieties developed by state agricultural experiment stations and the USDA-ARS. In 1996, it accounted for the largest acreage of crops (76 million) in the U.S. and more than 550 varieties.

"In the U.S., wheat varieties are selected for the highest yield without chemical pesticides," said R. James Cook, Ph.D., research plant pathologist of USDA-ARS. "There are probably more pests and diseases controlled by breeding in wheat than in any other crop."

However, the economic and regulatory burdens of EPA's policy will greatly discourage the use of genetic alternatives to develop pest-resistant varieties of wheat. This will leave wheat farmers more dependent on chemical pesticides to deal with pests that cannot be controlled through conventional breeding, Cook noted.

"This policy creates a major disincentive for all but a few companies, and will force most companies to abandon efforts to develop genetic alternatives to chemical pesticides," stated John Sanford, Ph.D., president of Sanford Scientific, Inc. (SSI), during the workshop. SSI is a small biotech company that develops pest-resistant ornamental plants such as roses and turf grass.

The EPA plans to regulate all pest-resistant plants and create broad categories of exemptions under FIFRA and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Scientists, however, feel that the policy should be structured in the reverseóall plants should be exempt from regulation except those whose pest- resistant substances can be extracted and are toxic when reapplied, like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and pyrethrins.

"To safeguard the public, transgenic plants should be regulated as is already being done via the FDA and the USDA," Sanford stated. "However, EPA's policy does not seem designed to protect the public from pesticides, but seems only to serve the combined interests of the EPA bureaucracy and the major chemical companies, who are the producers of real pesticides. The consequence of this policy will, without question, be greater public exposure to synthetic chemical pesticides in the coming decades."

"If it can't be supported by the economics, if it isn't supported by the science, and if it doesn't address a specific risk, what is the basis for the rule?," concluded Daniel Haley, president of Haley & Associates law firm, during the EPA workshop.

Despite these grave concerns, the EPA intends to finalize its plant- pesticides policy by the end of 1997.
-end-

Founded in 1939, IFT is a non-profit scientific society with 28,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues.

Members of the 11-society consortium include the American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Phytopathological Society, American Society for Horticultural Science, American Society for Microbiology, American Society of Agronomy, American Society of Plant Physiologists, Crop Science Society of America, Entomological Society of America, Institute of Food Technologists, Society of Nematologists, and Weed Science Society of America.

Institute of Food Technologists

Related Pesticides Articles:

Nanozymes -- efficient antidote against pesticides
Members of the Faculty of Chemistry of the Lomonosov Moscow State University have developed novel nanosized agents -- nanozymes, which could be used as efficient protective and antidote modalities against the impact of neurotoxic organophosphorous compounds: pesticides and chemical warfare agents.
Study examines pesticides' impact on wood frogs
A new study looks at how neonicotinoid pesticides affect wood frogs, which use surface waters in agricultural environments to breed and reproduce.
USDA announces $1.8 million for research on next generation pesticides
The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced $1.8 million in available funding to research new, environmentally friendly pesticides and innovative tools and strategies to replace an older treatment, methyl bromide.
Light therapy could save bees from deadly pesticides
Treating bees with light therapy can counteract the harmful effects of neonicotinoid pesticides and improve survival rates of poisoned bees, finds a new UCL study.
The effects of pesticides on soil organisms are complex
There are significant interactions between soil management factors, including pesticide application, with respect to effects on soil organisms.
More Pesticides News and Pesticides Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...