The Environmental Protection Agency will prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops grown in the U.S., the agency announced Wednesday, complying with a federal appeals court order issued in April.

EPA is revoking all food tolerances for the chemical, which is used on dozens of food crops, “to better protect human health, particularly that of children and farmworkers,” EPA said in a news release.

In addition, the agency will issue a notice of intent to cancel registered food uses of chlorpyrifos associated with the revoked tolerances, EPA said. The agency has posted its final rule online; the language goes into effect 60 days from its publication in the Federal Register. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled EPA had to revoke or modify food tolerances to comply with a federal food safety law.

“EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos’s ill effects and has repeatedly determined, based on that record, that it cannot conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances are causing no harm,” the court said in a 2-1 decision.

The insecticide, which has been under fire for many years because of its neurotoxic effects, especially on infants and children, has increasingly been the subject of state bans, including in California, in the absence of federal action. Major manufacturer Corteva Agriscience stopped making the insecticide at the end of 2020.

Chlorpyrifos “has been found to inhibit an enzyme, which leads to neurotoxicity, and has also been associated with potential neurological effects in children,” the agency said. Environmental groups have been fighting to get the product off the market for decades.

Groups representing growers and pesticide manufacturers, however, argued to the court in an amicus brief that “without chlorpyrifos, some crops, and hence their growers, would be left without a viable replacement option, putting the crops and growers’ livelihoods at risk.”

“Today EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said. “Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide.”

The Ninth Circuit order was the final step in a process that began in 2007 when Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition seeking revocation of the tolerances.

Under then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, EPA denied the petition in 2017 as well as subsequent objections in 2019. Those denials were challenged in the appeals court.

“EPA has determined that the current aggregate exposures from use of chlorpyrifos do not meet the legally required safety standard that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from such exposures,” the agency said in its release. “A number of other countries, including the European Union and Canada, and some states including California, Hawaii, New York, Maryland, and Oregon have taken similar action to restrict the use of this pesticide on food.”

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NRDC said “farmworkers and farmworker families who are predominantly Latinx are most exposed, and consumers across the country are at risk, too, given the widespread use of chlorpyrifos.”

“Science has clearly shown that chlorpyrifos is too dangerous to be used to grow our food,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at NRDC. “The Trump EPA had allowed the continued use of this toxic pesticide, even though they knew it is damaging to human health — especially the developing brains of children. This will ensure that kids can eat fruits and vegetables free of this neurotoxin.”

However, CropLife America President and CEO Chris Novak said EPA's decision "does not live up to" the standard of “Science over Fiction” espoused by President Joe Biden during his campaign.

"Decades of review by EPA career staff and independent scientific advisory panels have repeatedly supported safe uses for this product, yet this decision comes without a full scientific review or a thoughtful assessment of the beneficial uses of this product," Novak said. "Farmers need tools to fight insect pests, but the agency has taken an overly broad action that will cause significant problems for our industry’s farm customers.”

Corteva also pushed back against the decision. A company spokesperson said even though it no longer produces chlorpyrifos, "the company stands by [its] safety ... and its value for the grower community. This action effectively removes an important tool for farmers and, while Corteva continues to review the order, it appears that the rationale used by the Agency is inconsistent with the complete and robust database of more than 4,000 studies and reports that have examined the product in terms of health, safety and the environment."

The Agricultural Retailers Association also criticized the decision for its precedential impact. “ARA urges EPA to reconsider this decision and use every legal avenue available [to] reassert its statutory authority to be the regulator of these products," President and CEO Daren Coppock said. "If not, this will result in a flood of additional lawsuits by anti-chemical activists seeking the same end-run that will jeopardize the continued use of other essential pesticides."

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