EPA bans chlorpyrifos on food crops, due to neurological health concerns

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A picture of a farm on a sunny day.

*Updated 8/23

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Aug. 18 that it will no longer allow the pesticide chlorpyrifos to be used on food, due to health concerns.

Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on crops including soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower and other row crops, in addition to some non-food uses. But it has been connected with potential neurological damage, particularly in children, the EPA said.

“Today, EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health. Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide,” said Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement on the decision.

Background

The decision comes in response to an order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for the EPA to issue a final rule on the petition that Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council filed in 2007, which asked EPA to revoke all chlorpyrifos “tolerances,” saying those tolerances were not safe. Tolerances are an amount of a pesticide that is allowed on food.

The EPA denied the petition and the objections that followed in 2017 and 2019. A coalition including farm worker, health and environmental groups challenged the denials in 2019, eventually leading to the Ninth Circuit Court’s 2021 order for EPA to grant the petition and issue a final rule that either modified or revoked the tolerances.

The EPA determined the current tolerances for chlorpyrifos don’t meet legal safety standards, which require reasonable certainty that no harm will result from exposures. Several states and other countries have already restricted the pesticide on food.

Response

In an Aug. 18 statement, American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said the EPA’s decision strays from the administration’s commitment to abide by science, and “takes away an important tool to manage pests and insects.” The farm bureau urged the EPA not to make decisions on pesticides outside of the regular registration review process.

Some others, including the American Soybean Association and Republican ranking members of the U.S. Senate and House ag committees Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas, and Rep. Glenn Thompson, Pennsylvania, also expressed disappointment.

The EPA noted in its announcement that while farmers have relied on the pesticide, its use has declined because of other restrictions and reduced production, and because some alternatives have been registered recently. EPA plans to review replacements and alternatives for the pesticide.

Kristin Schafer, executive direction of the Pesticide Action Network, called the decision “long overdue” in an Aug. 18 statement. Schafer noted the EPA will be reviewing non-food uses of the pesticide in the coming months, and urged the EPA to withdraw those uses, as well.

“For too long the pesticide industry’s interests have been prioritized over protecting children’s health or the health of those on the frontlines of industrial agriculture — farmworkers, farmers, and rural families. It’s time for this to change,” Schafer said.

Other groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and United Farm Workers, also expressed support for the decision.

Next steps

The pesticide will be officially banned from use on food crops six months after the rule is published in the Federal Register.

The EPA is continuing to review public comments on chlorpyrifos and will continue registration review for non-food uses of the pesticide after considering public comments. For more information on that process, visit epa.gov/pesticide-reevaluation/registration-review-process.

For more information on the pesticide and the final rule, visit epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/chlorpyrifos.

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