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Farm Groups Rip Into EPA With Claims Agency Failed To Use Best Available Science in Latest Herbicide Evaluation

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released an environmental impact evaluation of commonly used products such as glyphosate, atrazine and  simazine. The report released Nov. 12 is part of the agency's endangered species biological evaluations (BE) regarding herbicides. The report has several agricultural groups frustrated, even questioning "the science" used by EPA.

The report by EPA sparked frustration and concern from several grower groups, including American Soybean Association (ASA) and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). Both groups say the agency failed to use "the best available science and data," saying it's "the standard on which the fate of farmers across the country and their continued ability to use vital crop protection tools hinges."

In the report, EPA said the evaluation found "the 'likely to adversely affect' (LAA) determination means that EPA reasonably expects  that at least one individual animal or plant, among a variety of listed species, may be exposed to the pesticide at a sufficient level to have an effect, which will be adverse."

But EPA went on to say, "As a result, there is a high number of  'may affect' and LAA  determinations in these BEs. An  LAA determination, however, does not necessarily mean that a pesticide is putting a species in jeopardy."

But farm groups say using this evaluation also creates too broad of a standard, and actually inflates the numbers of species impacted, while also assuming growers reapply glyphosate seven days after the original application.

“The law is clear EPA must use the ‘best scientific and commercial data available’ for its endangered species assessments, but the agency has indicated it has no intent of doing so," says Kevin Scott, a soybean farmer from South Dakota who's also serving as the current president of the ASA. "What is more frustrating is that growers shared with EPA better and credible data, which it chose to ignore. These unrealistic findings will only fuel public distrust and risk grower access to glyphosate and other essential tools.”

AFBF didn't hide the organizations' displeasure, with AFBF president Zippy Duvall saying, “We are disappointed that the Environmental Protection Agency was presented with real-world evidence of limited pesticide use but failed to use the most accurate data in its biological evaluations. By overestimating the use of these crop protection tools, the EPA also overestimated the impact on species."

Both ASA and AFBF pointed out that herbicides are a vital tool in what USDA has dubbed "climate-smart farming," and without those tools, more tillage and other production methods will be required.

The EPA decision comes as farm groups say they provided a long list of data that supports the use of products like glyphosate. ASA and AFBF released a joint statement, giving some examples of the comments that were submitted to EPA under the draft BE. Those included:  

The final BE for glyphosate also continues to assume soybean growers use 3.75 lbs./acre of glyphosate per application, whereas market research data and USDA survey data show the number is 1.00 lb./acre – nearly four times less than the BE assumes.

The final BE for glyphosate also assumes growers reapply chemistry a mere seven days after an initial application. This extraordinarily unrealistic assumption for any producer increases model exposure risks for species.

The groups say those comments were submitted by growers, but claimed EPA chose not to incorporate that data into its final BE released last week.

The next step is for EPA to formally consult with the Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on hundreds of additional species, but ASA says it also has concerns with this next step.

In a statement, ASA said consulting groups like Fish & Wildlife “would have been unnecessary had EPA used the best available data. This extra burden will likely further strain resource-strapped agencies, expand regulatory time frames, and result in additional product restrictions that may do nothing to protect species.”

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