Submitted electronically via www.regulations.gov
March 26, 2019
Environmental Protection Agency Docket
Mail Code: 28221T
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20460-0001
Re: Petition Seeking Rulemaking or a Formal Agency Interpretation for Planted Seeds Treated with Systemic Insecticides; Docket No. EPA-HQ-2018-0805, 83 Fed. Reg. 66260 (December 26, 2018)
Dear Sir or Madam:
On behalf of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), please accept the following comments in response to the petition filed by Center for Food Safety (CFS) requesting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) either initiate a rulemaking or issue a formal Agency interpretation for planted seeds treated with systemic insecticides (referred to as “treated seeds” or “seed treatments”). The petition was submitted after CFS and other plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed in a court case, which similarly accused the EPA of improperly applying the treated article exemption to treated seed.
American agriculture is a modern-day success story. America’s farmers produce the world’s safest, most abundant food supply for consumers at prices far lower than the world average. Farmer cooperatives are an important part of the success of America’s agriculture supply chain.
Since 1929, NCFC has been the voice of America’s farmer-owned cooperatives. NCFC members include regional and national farmer cooperatives, which are in turn composed of over 2,500 local farmer cooperatives across the country.
NCFC values farmer ownership and control in the production and distribution chain; the economic viability of farmers and the businesses they own; stewardship of natural resources; and vibrant rural communities. We have an extremely diverse membership, which we view as one of our sources of strength – our members span the country, supply nearly every agricultural input imaginable, provide credit and related financial services (including export financing), and market a wide range of commodities and value-added products. Earnings from these activities are returned to the co-op’s farmer members on a patronage basis, helping to improve their income from the marketplace. These earnings are then recycled through rural communities as farmers and ranchers purchase goods and services from local businesses, thereby sustaining rural America.
American farmers are dependent upon the integrity of their soil and other natural resources for their livelihoods. For generations, they have worked tirelessly to protect and improve the land. They also understand that satisfying the demands of a growing world population must not come at the expense of ecological health, human safety or economic viability. Accordingly, farmers have adhered to a principle of continuous improvement and an incessant pursuit of greater efficiency for decades. They are committed to leaving the environment in better shape than it was found.
Farmer cooperatives have been at the forefront of proactive work to improve the environment in the communities they serve. Our goal is to support science-based, achievable and affordable environmental policies and initiatives. From pest management to nutrient management, from the development of cutting-edge technologies to implementation of area-wide conservation practices, farmer cooperatives have the expertise and the credibility to serve as the best source for information regarding production practices.
NCFC strongly supports the long-established, rigorous, and science-based pesticide registration review process established under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Unlike other federal environmental statutes, FIFRA requires EPA to engage in a risk-benefit analysis in its regulation of pesticides. A thorough and holistic approach that relies on sound science and robust data ensures that risk conclusions are as closely tied to real-world conditions as practicably possible.
NCFC fully agrees with the concerns raised in comments submitted by Pesticide Policy Coalition, of which we are a member. Provided below are our additional comments and observations to the petition.
EPA regulates pesticides, including those used as seed treatments. Seed is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and individual states. A seed may not be treated with a pesticide unless EPA has specifically approved the pesticide for use as a seed treatment on that crop. EPA often requires more than 100 safety assessments be completed prior to approving a new pesticide product, including for its specific use on seed. Yet, CFS believes that the Agency has improperly applied the “treated article exemption” in exempting these products from registration and labeling requirements under FIFRA.
EPA regulations include the concept known as the “treated article exemption,” which has historically been applied to include treated seed as it is appropriate and avoids unnecessary duplicative regulation. Specifically, an article is exempt from regulation as a pesticide by virtue of the treated article exemption if the following three conditions are satisfied: (i) the article contains or is treated with a pesticide; (ii) the pesticide is intended to protect the article itself; and (iii) the pesticide is registered for this use. The treated seeds referenced in the petition meet all of these requirements, and therefore the petition should be denied by the EPA.
When seed treatment pesticide products are approved, the EPA makes an express determination that the products meet EPA’s safety standard. The EPA assesses the potential risk for seed treatment products from treating and planting the seed (i.e., environmental fate, ecotoxicology and operator exposures), to the consumption of the harvested commodity (i.e., human health). Labels approved through EPA’s registration process include seed treatment uses that, when their instructions are followed, do not pose an “unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits.” Finally, bags of treated seed are tagged with treatment information and any associated restrictions.
The petition seeks to impose a regulatory process upon agriculture that would entirely duplicate EPA’s existing exercise of its authority under FIFRA while having no positive impact on human health or environmental safety. For example, seed treatment facilities and farms where seeds are treated would likely be required to register with EPA as pesticide manufacturing facilities, subjecting them to extremely burdensome regulations for registration, reporting, recordkeeping, and other requirements totally inappropriate to their operation.
Furthermore, each batch of seed applied with a unique combination of seed treatments, inoculants, colorants, polymers, etc. may need to be registered as a pesticide product pursuant to FIFRA regulatory requirements (i.e., product chemistry and acute toxicity data). Flexibility in tailoring applications to local needs would be extremely burdensome, and therefore extremely unlikely, as each seed treatment recipe would need to be individually approved. Similarly, state registrations for the sowing and movement of treated seed would be required, with accompanying duplicative regulatory requirements and registration fees.
In conclusion, it is important to note that seed treatments offer benefits to U.S. agriculture by delivering a precise application that shields seeds from insects and diseases during early developmental stages, especially below the ground, and by protecting and in some cases increasing crop yield, providing growers an economic return on investment. As a critical component of integrated pest management (IPM), seed treatments reduce non-target exposure and allow for lower application rates, reducing the environmental impact of pest control and decreasing the need for supplemental foliar applications.
For the reasons stated above, we request that the EPA deny the petition as it lacks merit and would result in unnecessary and overly burdensome requirements to an already scientifically rigorous and resource-intensive registration review process.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our comments. Please contact NCFC Staff Lisa Van Doren (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions or would like any additional information.
Charles F. Conner
President & CEO