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Web Date: July 29, 2008

Carbofuran Faces Ban

EPA decision could speed up removal of food pesticide from the U.S. market
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
DANGEROUS HARVEST
A worker in Puerto Rico readies bananas for shipment at a packing shed, potentially exposing himself to the neurotoxic pesticide carbofuran.
Credit: Scott Bauer/USDA Agricultural Research Service
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DANGEROUS HARVEST
A worker in Puerto Rico readies bananas for shipment at a packing shed, potentially exposing himself to the neurotoxic pesticide carbofuran.
Credit: Scott Bauer/USDA Agricultural Research Service

In a move that caught industry and environmental groups by surprise, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed on July 24 to ban residues of the neurotoxic pesticide carbofuran on all foods sold in the U.S., regardless of whether the food is imported or domestically grown. The proposal is contrary to EPA’s prior position, announced earlier this year, that would have allowed residues of the pesticide on imported foods and, if implemented, will expedite the elimination of carbofuran from the U.S. market.

EPA will now accept comments on its proposal for 60 days, beginning on July 30, before putting in place a final rule. FMC Corp., the sole manufacturer of carbofuran in the U.S., has indicated that it plans to respond. “This does give us an opportunity to prove this product is safe from a dietary risk standpoint,” said John Cummings, North America regulatory manager of FMC Agricultural Products Group. “FMC believes strongly that carbofuran residue on food does not pose a threat to human health.”

In the U.S., carbofuran is used primarily as a “last-ditch rescue attempt” on crops that have been attacked by pests, says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has petitioned EPA to ban carbofuran residues on food. “By the time you are trying a last-ditch attempt to save your crop from a pest, you are really only saving a small percentage of your crop anyway,” she adds.

In January, EPA signaled that it would not allow future uses of carbofuran because of significant health risks to humans and wildlife and because of negligible economic benefits (C&EN, Feb. 18, page 26). As a result, FMC sued EPA claiming that the agency had not proven that the chemical is unsafe. Specifically, FMC is asking EPA to reconsider its position on carbofuran for five major crops—corn, potatoes, sunflowers, melons, and cotton—for which the company says no viable alternative pesticides exist. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Although FMC claims that only 75,000 gallons of carbofuran would be applied annually in the U.S., the chemical is widely used in developing countries on a range of crops including bananas, coffee, sugar cane, and rice.

 
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ISSN 0009-2347
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