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EPA Bans Carbofuran Pesticide Residues on Food
WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2009 (ENS) - Traces of the pesticide carbofuran can no longer remain on food sold in the United States, whether domestic or imported, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

The agency has revoked regulations that until now have permitted small residues of carbofuran in food, saying, "All products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards, and therefore are ineligible for reregistration."

Carbofuran is an N-methyl carbamate insecticide and nematicide that has been registered by the environmental agency to control pests in soil and on leaves in a variety of field, fruit, and vegetable crops. No residential uses are registered.

Now, EPA has concluded that "dietary, worker, and ecological risks are unacceptable for all uses of carbofuran."

The agency's action will eliminate residues of carbofuran in food, including all imports, in a move to protect people, especially children, from dietary risk. EPA said today that "ultimately" it will act to remove this pesticide from the market but gave no target date.

EPA is canceling all remaining carbofuran registrations, or licenses, which will address risks to pesticide applicators and birds in treated fields.

Pesticide sprayed onto a field in Illinois (Photo by Ken Hammond courtesy USDA)

While the registered manufacturer, FMC Corporation, voluntarily withdrew 22 uses of this pesticide effective March 18, 2009, this action "does not address all carbofuran risks," said the EPA.

Carbofuran first came under scrutiny in the 1980s after EPA estimated that more than a million birds were killed each year by the granular formulation that looked like seeds to birds. It was banned by the agency in 1994. The liquid form has remained on the market.

FMC, which manufactures and sells carbofuran under the brand name Furadan, maintains that EPA has exaggerated the risks of the pesticide and ignored the best available science.

"EPA has asserted that carbofuran poses an unacceptable risk to birds and to humans, yet in order to reach these conclusions EPA must, and does, reject the results of nearly all of the scientific studies that show carbofuran's risks to be quite small for the limited uses that the registrant seeks to retain," FMC said in comments filed with the agency.

"FMC believes the proper use of Furadan does not create a risk to human health, wildlife, or the environment, and we will continue to promote its responsible use," the company says on its website.

Last week, Bush-era Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was elected to the FMC Board of Directors.

Furadan is the same chemical that is responsible for the poisoning of lions in Kenya.

At an April 15 meeting at the Nairobi offices of Dr. Richard Leakey's organization WildlifeDirect, FMC expressed concern about the potential impact of Furadan on lion populations in Kenya.

FMC officials said that after the initial reports of lion poisoning in the Masai Mara Reserve last year, no product was sent to Kenya. Withdrawal of the pesticide and buy back of existing supplies is taking place in Kenya, the company said, although local areas report Furadan is still on the shelves. No more product is being distributed to Tanzania and Uganda.

Conservationists warned that the availability of Furadan is tipping the balance for lions, a species that is rapidly declining partly due to poisoning. One poisoned carcass can have devastating local impact as a range of species feed on the poisoned meat.

Kenyan lion falls to Furadan. (Photo courtesy WildlifeDirect)

FMC said its buy back decision was based on the judgment that "Furadan has the potential to cause major damage to lions."

FMC made this judgment following the airing of a documentary on CBSs 60 Minutes on March 29, which reported that the death of about 75 lions had been linked to Furadan poisoning in the Masai Mara.

Dr. Leakey, founder and chairman of WildlifeDirect, says it is "encouraging that FMC has finally taken action to prevent further poisoning of wildlife using this highly potent pesticide."

As of December when the new carbofuran tolerance rule takes effect in the United States, the pesticide will still be registered for four food crop uses - field corn, potatoes, pumpkins and sunflowers - and two non-food crop uses, pine seedlings and spinach grown for seed.

Sunflower growers, in particular, are reliant on the pesticide, and the impacts of a carbofuran ban could mean a 10 to 15 percent drop in grower net operating revenues, said the EPA.

EPA is encouraging growers to switch to safer pesticides or other environmentally preferable pest control strategies before the final carbofuran tolerance rule becomes effective in December and most federally registered uses of carbofuran will be canceled.

EPA has proposed that existing stocks of carbofuran be relabeled to direct them to "uses with the highest benefits," giving those crop producers more time to find alternative pest control methods.

In eliminating carbofuran, the EPA is confirming and upholding work on this pesticide that began in 2006 in the Bush-era EPA.

In 2006, EPA identified significant dietary, ecological and worker risks from the use of carbofuran and concluded that all uses must be cancelled.

In January 2008, the EPA submitted to other agencies for review a draft Notice of Intent to Cancel carbofuran.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture replied that the pesticide is economically important, and that some uses, at least, qualify for reregistration.

The USDA complained that EPA evaluated benefits of carbofuran on the national level and risks at the local level.

The agricultural agency said the EPA understated the benefits of using carbofuran by ignoring effects on consumers and/or trade and by ignoring issues of pest resistance.

The EPA failed to consider the potential risks of alternative chemicals in the impacts of cancelling carbofuran, said the agriculture department.

And finally, EPA failed to conduct a crop-by-crop risk-benefit analysis, including alternative risk management strategies, which could indicate that some uses still qualify for reregistration.

After considering agency responses and comments, EPA has determined that cancellation of all carbofuran licenses is still warranted.

Not being able to use carbofuran will mean some adjustment on in the fields. The pesticide has been widely used for control of soil-dwelling and foliar-feeding insects such as wireworms, white grubs, millipedes, symphylids, frit flies, bean seed flies, root flies, flea beetles, weevils, sciarid flies, aphids, thrips and nematodes in vegetables, ornamentals, beet, maize, sorghum, sunflowers, oilseed rape, potatoes, alfalfa, peanuts, soya beans, sugar cane, rice, cotton, coffee, cucurbits, tobacco, lavender, citrus, vines, strawberries, bananas, mushrooms, and other crops.

Selected tradenames with the names of the manufacturers in parentheses: 'Curaterr' (Bayer); 'Furadan' (FMC); 'Agrofuran' (Sanonda); 'Carbodan' (Makhteshim-Agan); 'Carbosip' (Sipcam); 'Cekufuran' (Cequisa); 'Chinufur' (Agro-Chemie); 'Furacarb' (Aimco); 'Fury' (Nagarjuna Agrichem); 'Terrafuran' (Sanachem).

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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