March 14, 2016

REGISTRATION KERFUFFLE: Bayer Fights EPA over Use of Pesticide


For what is believed to be the first time ever, Crop Science, a division of Bayer, has refused a request by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to voluntarily cancel the uses of a crop protection tool in the United States, and is calling for a review of the product’s registration in an administrative law hearing.

Company spokesman Jeffrey Donald said the firm understands that EPA’s response will most likely be to begin proceedings for a mandatory cancelling of the product, which the chemical giant will fight.  “This is a science-based dispute,” he said, noting that no one at the company can ever remember refusing a similar EPA request for a voluntary cancellation of a product.

The product in question is flubendiamide, which is sold in the United States by Bayer under the trade name Belt.  While it is approved for use on more than 200 crops because of its strong pest performance, Donald said in the specialty crop sector nut crops are a specific area where it is heavily relied upon.  In fact, in the Bayer press release announcing its spurning of the EPA request, Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers, stated: “This would be a significant loss for growers of pistachios.  The loss of this chemistry would make it more difficult than ever to control pests like the navel orange worm and the peach twig borer which are now significantly impacting pistachio production in California.  What’s ironic and unfortunate is this would force tree nut growers to resort to older, less effective, but more potentially disruptive chemistries to manage these same pests.  Growers need more innovative tools to help them manage destructive pests to produce healthy and abundant crops, not less.”

Donald said Bayer believes the methods used by the EPA to judge the concerns of the product exaggerate its environmental risk and would deny farmers access to a critical pest management tool that has a favorable environmental and toxicological profile, and is an excellent fit in integrated pest management (IPM) programs.

He added that the EPA used theoretical computer models to claim that uses of flubendiamide may harm benthic organisms that live in the sediment of waters near agricultural fields.  However, he noted that Belt has been used commercially for seven years without any evidence of harm.  Bayer relates that years of water monitoring studies have shown residues of flubendiamide and its metabolite are well within safe levels established for aquatic invertebrates.

In its press release, Dr. Peter Coody, Bayer’s vice president of environmental safety, said: “We are disappointed the EPA places so much trust on computer modeling and predictive capabilities when real-world monitoring shows no evidence of concern after seven years of safe use.”

Dana Sargent, Bayer’s vice president of regulatory affairs, added: “Denying a product’s registration and ignoring its safe use history based on unrealistic theoretical calculations calls into question the EPA’s commitment to innovation and sustainable agriculture.”

Hank Giclas, senior vice president of strategic planning, science & technology for Western Growers, said the organization has been working closely with Bayer in an attempt to keep Belt on the market.  He said the grower community supports its continued use and is supportive of the concept of using real-world data rather than theoretical computer models to assess the risk of any crop protection tool.  Giclas said Western Growers is currently assessing the Belt situation and determining the role it can take in helping to keep this product registered.  From a 40,000 foot view level, he said it is always important to fight for the continuation of registrations when the science shows that the product can be used effectively and safely.  He added that in this world of shrinking crop protection tool options, the Western Growers Science & Technology Department continually looks for opportunities to stem that tide.

Donald said that while under review, the ag community can continue to buy, sell and use Belt in their operations.