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FDA bans use of carbofuran on crops

By Staff | May 22, 2009

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week announced its final decision to revoke all food tolerances for the pesticide carbofuran, which is sold under the name Furadan by FMC Corporation.

The agency’s announcement confirms a proposed action first announced in July 2008. FMC will have the opportunity to challenge the decision within 90 days with a petition to stay the rule. When the rule becomes final, the EPA said it will proceed with the cancellation of registration for all uses of the pesticide.

One use in Iowa is to treat corn rootworm on refuge acres.

“Carbofuran causes neurological damage in humans, and one of the most deadly pesticides to birds left on the market. It is responsible for the deaths of millions of wild birds since its introduction in 1967, including bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and migratory songbirds,” said Dr. George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. “This EPA decision marks a huge victory for wildlife and the environment.”

This rule becomes effective Dec. 31 to allow for commodities in storage to be used. Most uses of carbofuran on food crops were voluntarily cancelled in March 2009, effective immediately, so that most uses of the pesticide have been cancelled for the 2009 growing season.

However, Bill Northey, Iowa secretary of agriculture, warned of a deeper impact on agriculture if furadan is banned. “It is vital that farmers understand what these actions by EPA mean,” Northey said, “and the potential impact on their ability to market crops treated with these products.”

Specifically, the EPA’s actions prohibit crops that contain even trace residues of carbofuran from being used after Dec. 31, unless it can be proven that the crop was treated before that date. EPA is also in the process of canceling the remaining carbofuran registrations that permit its use.

“It’s unique that EPA revoked tolerances for a pesticide before revoking its registration,” Northey said.

“The revocation of all food tolerances has international implications, as imports of rice, coffee, bananas and sugarcane were previously allowed to contain residues of carbofuran,” said Dr. Michael Fry, ABC’s director of conservation advocacy. “After this revocation, countries wishing to export these foods to the U.S. must stop using carbofuran on these four major crops.”

Rice and coffee are particularly important, as many U.S. birds over-wintering in Latin America use coffee and rice fields as winter habitats, Fry said.

In its 2005 ecological risk assessment on carbofuran, the EPA stated that all legal uses of the pesticide were likely to kill wild birds. If a flock of mallards were to feed in a carbofuran treated alfalfa field, EPA predicted that 92 percent of the birds in the flock would quickly die. EPA analysis has also confirmed that carbofuran is a threat to human health through contaminated food, drinking water, and occupational exposure.

Carbofuran first came under fire in the 1980s after an EPA special review estimated that over a million birds were killed each year by the granular formulation. Many of these die-off incidents followed applications of carbofuran that were made with extraordinary care.

The granular formation was cancelled in 1994, but the liquid form has remained on the market.

The American Bird Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned EPA to cancel all import tolerances for pesticide residues on food.

Incidents of bird poisonings by carbofuran are documented in the Avian Incident Monitoring System (visit www.abcbirds.org/aims) operated by the American Bird Conservancy in cooperation with the EPA and state and federal wildlife agencies.

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