Sunday, June 25, 2017

Benefits of neonic seed treatments on soybeans sparks debate between EPA and USDA

A pesticide seed treatment has recently sparked conflict between the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The pesticide class known as neonicotinoids inhibit the central nervous system of pests, causing paralysis or death. Treating seeds in these chemicals has been a controversial practice, due to its unintended consequences on the environment, the scope of which is debated.

A recent EPA report found that soybean crops were not meaningfully benefitting from the neonicotinoid seed treatments. In response, the USDA characterized the EPA’s study as “premature” and too narrow in scope to be well-informed about the impacts of seed treatments.

The USDA’s report suggested that the ecological impacts of neonicotinoids are far lower than other forms of pesticide, especially when it comes to the hazard to beneficial insects. In regard to soybeans, the USDA found the neonicotinoids do not persist in soybeans to the point they would endanger most beneficial insects.

Further, the USDA report said soybeans themselves are not a good test subject for research on neonicotinoids.

“If you look at corn, particularly, (seed treatments) have really changed the whole way that corn can be grown,” said Iain Kelly, Regulatory Policy and Issue Management director for Bayer CropScience. Not only do the treatments protect the seeds from pests, continued Kelly, but they allow planting earlier in the season.

Corn is only one crop impacted in addition to soybeans. Others include canola, cotton and wheat.

This is one of seven points used in the USDA report to refute the EPA’s assertions. Others include a lack of consideration of neonicotinoid benefits on soybeans, the limited scope of EPA’s cited data and that such a limited analysis is atypical for EPA’s assessments under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

“There’s a fairly compelling data base now saying that with honeybees, which we know the most about, we’re not seeing effects on pollinators,” Kelly said.

Kelly also pointed to the effects of the ban on neonicotinoids in Europe.

In 2013, citing presumed effects on pollinators, the European Union banned neonicotinoid treatment of seeds. Since the European ban, there have been no substantive changes in the health of the honeybees and rates of pest infestation have soared.

“We are going through the registration review process of these products and I think there’s a lot of data that’s being produced at the request of registering authorities,” Kelly said, “I think a lot of that data will assuage a lot of concerns people have.”

The EPA and USDA have worked together on the subject of pollinator health extensively recently, testifying before Congress this week on those efforts. Their division over this issue is a part of this collaborative process, designed to produce the most effective solutions to pollinator health concerns.

Organizations in this story

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC 20460

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