When weeds resist, insects bite and yields need to increase, farmers rely on innovation to take them to the next level. Some recent decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, have led some of agriculture’s most impactful companies to question the agency’s understanding of farmers’ needs and acceptance of modern farming practices. After Bayer in February rejected EPA's request to voluntarily pull its Belt insecticide off the market, the agency on Tuesday issued a notice of intent to cancel the product's registration. Belt was approved in 2008. Bayer, however, stands by the product, which it says is backed by sound science. “We believe it is an important tool for farmers and can be used safely and effectively,” says Dana Sargent, Bayer’s vice president of regulatory affairs.
EPA clearly disagrees. In an email response to Farm Journal questions, EPA says Belt was issued a time limited registration so Bayer could quickly take the product off the market if environmental concerns arose. During the time-limited registration EPA tracked Belt’s environmental impact and concluded it needs to be canceled. Bayer isn’t the only company with chemicals under review. Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo herbicide and sulfoxaflor insecticide have both been under increased scrutiny from EPA despite prior approvals. Dow declined to comment. Monsanto Company’s dicamba formulation (Roundup Xtend herbicide) has been under U.S. regulatory review for six years, even though the active ingredient has been sprayed on U.S. crops for 40 years. “EPA is like any organization, some people understand farmer issues like herbicide resistance, while there are others that might not be as supportive,” says John Foresman, Syngenta’s production lead for herbicides. “We’re watching those situations closely to understand the implications they have on our products.” Monsanto offered a different take on EPA’s recent decisions. “I think it can stifle innovation,” says Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs and sciences. Companies invest nearly $250 million and typically perform more than 200 studies for each new active ingredient they bring to market, according to Bayer. Consistency in the U.S. regulatory environment is important for companies to have confidence products will make it to market. “The key thing is, regulatory systems should encourage, not restrict, innovation and being timely and science-based helps society maintain confidence in the process,” Miller says. “It shouldn’t take a decade to get something approved.” The science-based approach is what makes the U.S. system efficient, or it used to, according to many in the industry. “Denying a product’s registration and ignoring its safe-use history based on unrealistic theoretical calculations calls into question EPA’s commitment to innovation and sustainable agriculture,” Sargent says. “It makes it a lot harder to bring innovation forward,” she adds. “We spend $1 billion each year toward innovation. We need to know EPA will rely on a sound-science system” and not allow other considerations to interfere. “EPA takes very seriously our duty to ensure pesticides can be used according to the label directions with a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health and without posing unreasonable risks to the environment,” EPA says in an email response. “The specific (testing) data requirements vary depending on the characteristics of the product, the use, etc.” If you’re concerned about the regulatory approach, speak up. “You have the right and opportunity to share your story with EPA,” Miller says. “Help society understand the benefits of technology on your farm and how it translates to them.”