A series of actions by EPA during the Obama administration appeared to indicate a bias for decisions that were not science-based. In response, NPC and other organizations in agriculture grew increasingly concerned about the EPA’s approach to pesticide policy as registrations were facing an unpredictable and non-scientific review process.
As the Trump administration took office, their intention to implement a “regulatory reset” across a variety of federal agencies including EPA became clear. Part of that policy shift includes returning EPA to a standard of sound science, not popular opinion, as the basis for making decisions on pesticides.
In the development of the case for the cancellation of Chlorpyrifos, the Obama EPA discarded thousands of laboratory studies that supported the safety of the product, in favor of epidemiological studies that lacked similar scientific rigor. In taking this action, neither EPA nor the public were able to review the data that the epidemiological studies were based upon.
In response to this action, NPC took strong exception and indicated that when laboratory studies are available they should be given priority by federal agencies, policy review panels and government experts. Ultimately, the EPA under the Trump administration reversed the action to eliminate the tolerances for Chlorpyrifos and instead implemented the comprehensive reviews that NPC, CropLife and a variety of other industry experts advised. Returning to this balanced approach for pesticide regulation is a very positive step that will reinforce the strength of the regulatory process and restore confidence by the registrants and end-users.
NPC has also been active in pressing for full funding of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and for the full reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA). That office and its supporting legislation are essential to ensuring that pesticide registrations and their required reviews are completed in a timely manner, so that farmers maintain access to safe and vital crop protection tools. The PRIA reauthorization bill has received bipartisan approval in the House. Unfortunately, it has not been considered in the Senate due to a “hold” placed on the bill by a Senator with concerns about an unrelated trade matter. The ongoing lack of a fully reauthorized PRIA will hamper EPA’s ability to devote the necessary resources to the registration and review processes.
Government officials at the EPA are under ongoing pressure from environmental activists to curtail the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture, claiming that they are primarily responsible for declining health in pollinators. Scientific evidence points to the fact that a number of stress factors may be impacting the health of pollinators and that the impact of pesticide use on bee health is being overstated. The potato industry and pesticide registrants understand the importance of pollinators and are taking actions to address the factors that may be impacting pollinator health.
Scientists at USDA and EPA jointly reviewed the status of pollinators and sponsored a conference for all stakeholders. In the Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health issued in May 2013 following the conference, the agencies identified four categories of pollinator stressors: 1. nutrition; 2. pesticides; 3. parasites and pathogens (including the Varroa mite); and 4. genetics, biology and breeding. Loss of habitat and poor hive management has also been identified as stressors of pollinators.
Increasingly, the facts point to decreased high quality forage available to pollinators and the presence of the Varroa mite in U.S. bee populations as the key stressors. Potato growers across the U.S. are responding by including plants that are pollinator food sources in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plantings and working with the Feed a Bee Initiative, in a partnership with NPC, to plant forage plots for pollinators near or adjacent to production fields.
During the Trump administration the White House has not made reducing or eliminating the use of neonicotinoids a priority. The current pressure on EPA is largely a result of court cases and other actions initiated by environmental groups.
Endangered Species Act (ESA) Reform
Given the Trump administration’s focus on regulatory reform, there is general optimism that some positive progress can be made in regard to the Endangered Species Act. The negative impact that environmental activist lawsuits and adverse regulatory decisions have generated under ESA are substantial and constraining reasonable activities by the agriculture industry in managing its natural resources.
For this effort to be successful, a two-pronged effort is generally assumed to be necessary that will involve regulatory reform primarily within EPA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, along with legislative reforms undertaken by Congress.
It is anticipated that the ESA reform proponents may seek to utilize the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill as a possible vehicle. There is an active outreach underway to determine the size of a reform package that the Farm Bill might be able to support and still gain the necessary votes for passage.
POTATO SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVE
The Potato Sustainability Initiative (PSI) is a partnership of growers, grower organizations, processors, potato product buyers, the National Potato Council, the Canadian Horticultural Council and the IPM Institute of North America, working to improve the sustainability of potato production. For more information, please visit the PSI website at: http://potatosustainabilityinitiative.org/.
NPC applauds the use of the Potato Sustainability Initiative (PSI) techniques, which enable growers to improve their pest management decisions by monitoring fields for the presence of pests, establishing thresholds for treatment, and applying pesticides to targeted problem areas. NPC partners with potato growers, processors and retailers in administering the potato industry PSI Survey, which measures the use of techniques that improve pesticide management decisions over time. The survey is intended to encourage growers to strive for improved adoption of PSI techniques. For more information, please visit the PSI website.
Updated March 20, 2018