Archive for February, 2017

Foreign Invasion threat to farming

In honor of #NationalInvasiveSpeciesAwarenessWeek

A Plant Doctor's House Calls

Creeping MenaceForeign terrorists have been invading our farms and environment for a long time. These terrorists are called Invasive species. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species); and has a tendency to spread, which is believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy and/or human health. Species that are moved or migrate to an area where they have not been to before can disrupt the ecology of an area because the native species have not evolved to interact with the newcomer. There may be no natural predators to keep the new species in check or the new species may find a food source that has no defense against the newcomer. There are invasive pests that have invaded our forests, waterways, homes and fields.

The following are just a few I’ve chosen to highlight from the USDA APHIS…

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Why Keep the E.P.A?

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On February 3, 2017 Rep. Matt Gaetz [R-FL-1] introduced a bill titled H.R.861 – To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. There are certainly plenty of people, mainly business owners and some farmers, who are pretty fed up with the layers and layers of regulations and associated paperwork that keeps them from doing the work they want to be doing. Many farmers see some of the EPA’s regulation as vastly overreaching to the point of threatening to put them out of business. Rep. Gaetz wrote in a letter to colleagues about his bill stating that “Our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans,” and that “It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently.” I certainly do not deny that there are problems regarding how regulations affect people and businesses. The language Gaetz’s bill states that the EPA will terminate at the end of 2018. There seems to be no plan on what happens to all the laws the EPA is currently administrating. There is certainly a lot of uncertainty about the future of the EPA under the current administration. There are many reasons why we should keep the EPA. For a reminder, read Why We Need the EPA. My concern is what will happen to our crop protection industry if the EPA suddenly disappears?

The federal law that directly affects pesticide use is called the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). After World War II there was a sharp increase in chemical use in many industries, including farming. This act was passed back in 1947 and was enacted “to address the growing issue of potential environmental damage and biological health risks associated with such widespread use of insecticides”1. FIFRA’s basic function is to “govern the registration, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides in the United States2. The original act required anyone selling pesticides in interstate commerce to register them with the USDA and there was very little required to get a product registered.

In the early 1960’s after the break through publication of Rachael Carson’s book Silent Spring, many people became more aware of the problems pesticides were causing to the environment and potential hazard to human health as well. Many issues started to get noticed, not just environmental and threats to public health but also safety issues for agricultural workers. When the EPA was formed in 1970 the administration of FIFRA was moved to that agency.

Making sure that our crop protection products are safe and effective is an essential role that the EPA has for farmers. We need products that are proven to work, that they can be used safely by our workers and, also,  around our homes, since many of us live on our farms. dreamstime_xxl_83065129We need to make sure our products are safe for our consumers and that our land and water are safe for the future generation that we will be passing our farms down to, not to mention just being good stewards of the land in general. These are all goals that farmers and the EPA have in common. The data the EPA collects and reviews from registrants and the data that the agency produces through their own scientific reviews are essential in order to defend the use of products, easing fears made by those that make false claims of health and environmental harm, and justifying the need to stop using products that no longer fit the safety goals stated above. Without the science done at the EPA, crop protection products are at risk from lawsuits by groups trying to ban any pesticide use and new products that we need will not be able to get registration.

FIFRA does not mandate that the EPA should be the agency in charge of administering the act but it is uniquely qualified to do so. The program could be moved to the FDA or back to the USDA but those agencies are not set up to do the environmental science needed to evaluate crop protection products.  Since science being done on air, water and other areas the EPA regulates ties in closely to all aspects of farming, keeping the regulation of pesticides at the EPA would keep the science needed all under the same agency and allow for better communication and shared resources. If anything the EPA needs more funding, upgraded technology to do better toxicology screening faster, more scientists with the needed expertise and, hopefully, more with a background in crop protection and agriculture.

Another idea of getting the federal government out of what the EPA does and let the states run their own programs is also highly problematic. Now the EPA does the bulk of the work sifting through the data and approving product registration, safety and use regulations. Many states do look at the EPA registration packages and make changes for their local conditions but if each state had to do the entire task of registering a product the costs would be astronomical and the potential for conflicting regulations across state lines could make interstate commerce of crop protecrtion products unmanageable.

Science is the backbone of every aspect of agriculture. We rely on it for almost everything we do.  We should be working on making the EPA better at what they do, not getting rid of it entirely. The EPA has plenty of experience in place to continue to do the work we need in the area of crop protection products. Regulations should be based on sound science but not just when the regulations fall in our favor. We can’t defend sound science on one hand when we are trying to save a product under registration and throw it out when a regulation restricts us. A hearing held February 7th by the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology promised to focus on “Making the Environmental Protection Agency great again” got off on the wrong foot, in my opinion, when the committee chair Lamar Smith suggested that the agency had “relied on questionable science based on nonpublic information that could not be reproduced, a basic requirement of the scientific method” 3. Trying to label science you may not agree with as “questionable” in order to shape policy is what is being done and threatens to be the “nail in the coffin” for the EPA.

Limiting the type of science the EPA can use by suggesting they are using “questionable science” and not following the basics of the scientific method because it can’t be “reproduced” will limit the science needed by the EPA. Only using public information would greatly limit what science can be used or evaluated. Only using science that can be “reproduced” also limits science as it does not allow for scientists to look at changes in methodology or allow for other scientific designs to be used to study the same issue. Not all lab studies can be reproduced, especially if you are trying to transfer what you see in the lab to field conditions.

Weakening the EPA is not in our industry’s best interest. Changes in how regulations are made should be focused on using the science with local stakeholders to craft programs and best use practices to make sure all of the goals of safe farming for agriculture and the environment are met. We should be looking to strengthen EPA regional offices so that they have the staff and funds needed to work with local stakeholders. Legislation like the Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act4, introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), calling for the closure all of the EPA’s regional offices is not the way forward. Focused, targeted, well thought out programs with input from all sides should be the way forward. People have lost trust that science is being used to make regulations that will benefit them. Only by working together and actually listening to each other can regulators and stakeholders rebuild trust in the system.

Footnotes

  1. History of the EPA.” Wikipedia. Accessed February 09, 2017. .
  2. Summary of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.” EPA. January 10, 2017. Accessed February 09, 2017. .
  3. Harvey, Chelsea. “The hearing was titled, ‘Making EPA great again.’ Scientists are afraid the opposite will happen.” The Washington Post. Accessed February 09, 2017.
  4. H.R.2111 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2015.” H.R.2111 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2015 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress. April 29, 2915. Accessed February 11, 2017.