By Mike Barnett

Guess what? Fighting pests on the farm might become a lot harder.

Texas AgricultureThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to change the way you spray pesticides. Changing the rules to correct a wrong is right. Changing the rules just to change the rules, or to satisfy the agenda of an unrelated group, is wrong. The unintended consequences can be a killer.

In the current Pesticide Registration Notice (PRN), the Worker Protection Standard for agricultural products directs the applicator to not apply the product in a way “that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift.” The proposed change from the EPA to the PRN adds the following statement: “In addition, do not apply this product in a manner that results in spray drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or other non-target organism or site.”

In other words, don’t apply the pesticide if there’s any chance of drift that might cause a problem with people, pets, property, aquatic life, wildlife or the environment. Under a strict interpretation, be safe and don’t spray anything.

Looks to me EPA would rather you not use pesticides, which is fine, I guess if the aim is to wreck a system of checks and balances used to safely produce our nation’s abundant food supply. You have to wonder about the intent of their proposals and/or who is pushing EPA in this direction.

There is so much wrong with this action that it’s hard to know where to begin. EPA and state pesticide policies have acknowledged for years that some small level of pesticide drift is unavoidable and does not pose “unreasonable adverse effect.”

The new proposal basically sets a zero drift standard, which any farmer or rancher will tell you cannot be achieved. Wind and temperature can change in a moment’s notice, many times during an application. Even following application guidelines to the letter will result in some drift.

The real kick in the butt, however, is the “could cause harm” proposal, which is a senseless shift from the “unreasonable adverse effect” doctrine and would be a legal tinderbox for agriculture. A simple headache—even non-related allergies—could subject a farmer to a lawsuit, just because someone claimed it was caused by the farmer’s use of a pesticide. For all intents, the “could cause harm” proposal might as well read “might cause harm,” there is a “remote possibility of harm” or “there’s a billion to one chance it may result in harm.” “The language is that vague, and changes the function of an enforcer to a risk assessor. The safety of a pesticide application will be subject to the interpretation of an untrained farm cop. The legal and regulatory ramifications will make farming even riskier.

Current standards for protecting human health and the environment belong with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) approved and enforced labels for pesticide products. This pesticide labeling—developed from years of testing to determine the adverse effects the pesticide might hold for humans, wildlife and the environment—include directions for use which are based upon risk assessment and which incorporate mitigation and application techniques that are specifically designed to minimize drift.

EPA is dreaming the impossible dream with their new no drift and “could cause harm” proposals, which could produce vivid nightmares for agriculture producers. If adopted, the potential for heavy-handed regulation and frivolous lawsuits is all too real.

EPA will accept public comments until March 5. Folks, this is one issue you should probably talk to them about.

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Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
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