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EPA Chlorpyrifos Ban: The Good and Bad

What does the ‘zero tolerance’ ruling for chlorpyrifos insecticide residual mean for food crop production?

On August 18, 2021, the EPA evoked all tolerances of chlorpyrifos pesticide on food crops after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals order directed the agency to issue their final ruling from a petition originally filed in 2007.  This ruling means that although the long-debated pesticide is not technically banned, a zero-tolerance policy makes it impossible for farmers to use chlorpyrifos spray on food crops without risking their whole harvest being deemed unsellable.

The History and Science Behind the Chlorpyrifos Ban

First adopted as a common agricultural pesticide in 1965, chlorpyrifos—commonly known as the former product Lorsban® among farmers—has both ag and non-ag uses. For agriculture, it is a powerful defense against pests and insects that threaten crops like soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower, and various row crops. However, the petition filed in 2007 argued that there was enough scientific data to confirm that the negative side effects of chlorpyrifos exposure outweighed the benefits of its strength as a pesticide. Over the years, regulations have been put in place to protect against adverse effects on humans and our environment.

A Brief Timeline of Regulatory Reform for Chlorpyrifos

  • 2000: Chlorpyrifos registrants can voluntarily enter into agreements that discontinue chlorpyrifos use in most household products along with tomatoes, apples, and grapes.
  • 2002: EPA revises safety measures to include buffer zones that protect water quality and wildlife, reduced application rates on various crops, and increased PPE use for farmworkers.
  • 2007: A petition filed in September by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) aims to revoke all tolerances and cancel registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
  • 2012: EPA lowers aerial application rates substantially and creates “no-spray” zones to protect schools, homes, and other sensitive areas from potential effects.
  • 2015: EPA proposes a ban for chlorpyrifos use on food crops in response to the 2007 petition.
  • 2017: Under a new administration, the EPA reverses course by denying the 2007 petition.
  • 2020: Based on new findings, the EPA concludes that the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos remains unresolved and further evaluation of science is warranted.
  • 2021: EPA releases its Final Tolerance Rule, revoking all tolerance for chlorpyrifos use on food production.

The science behind this ruling was brought into question by several major agricultural groups, including the American Soybean Association (ASA), the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), and the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA). According to ARA CEO and President Daren Coppock, the EPA made this decision based on a ten-year-old epidemiology study that only showed correlation and did not provide raw data from its findings. To prove causality, Coppock said the EPA would have to conduct a hard toxicology test.

“What I would like to see happen, is for EPA to do what they’ve promised they will do, and that is to make these regulations based on science and that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would get out of their way so they can do that.”

Daren Coppock, President and CEO of ARA

What’s Next for Chlorpyrifos-Less Food Crop Production

This new rule could impact how farmers across the nation provide pest-free products, however, not all farmers will be affected. While American farmers have historically relied on chlorpyrifos, its use has been in decline due to restrictions at the state level and reduced production. In fact, several countries, including the European Union and Canada, and states, including California, Hawaii, New York, Maryland, and Oregon, have already taken similar action to restrict chlorpyrifos use. Because of this increasing number of regulations, chlorpyrifos alternatives have been registered in recent years for most crops.

While these alternative solutions exist, industry leaders argue that the alternatives lack the efficacy and affordability that chlorpyrifos provides and will place additional pressure on farmers who are already facing a year of escalating input costs due to logistical bottlenecks and recent supply constraints from COVID-19 disruptions. That’s why more than 80 agricultural organizations have filed formal objections to the ruling due to a lack of due process and scientific basis.

“Taking care of the land and our natural resources is a top priority for farmers, and this revocation rule actually makes it harder for us to do that. EPA veered from its own scientific evidence in a decision that could be damaging to the land, to farmers and to our efforts to fight food insecurity.”

Zippy Duvall, President of American Farm Bureau Federation

The chlorpyrifos ban is particularly concerning for specialty crop growers who rely on the pesticide to protect asparagus, onions, turnips, cherries, and other crops against maggots. Without these protections in place, many U.S. farmers will face additional challenges in meeting buyer standards and implementing conservation techniques. For example, some farmers who practice conservation tilling methods could be pressured to till ahead of planting season for weed and pest control, according to a letter sent to the EPA on December 9, 2021, from 12 U.S. Congress members.

Through ongoing uncertainty, AgAmerica remains committed to providing valuable resources and flexible financing to support American farmers through the tides of legislative change and regulatory reform. If you are searching for additional capital to manage increasing costs on your operation, we can help.

Contact us today to learn more about our cash out and line of credit loan programs.

This article was last updated on October 26, 2021.

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