Sorghum farmers will soon have to cease use of chlorpyrifos, an ingredient in popular pesticides like Lorsban, following a federal appeals court ruling handed down Aug. 9.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said in the 2-1 decision that federal law requires the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of a pesticide on food if it finds any harm from exposure to it. The court said that scientists at the EPA had documented the likely adverse effects of chlorpyrifos on the mental and physical development of infants and children.
The EPA was given 60 days to comply with the order.
The EPA banned the use of chlorpyrifos in residential areas in 2000, and under the previous administration proposed to ban the use of the chemical altogether, but that plan was revoked under the direction of former EPA director Scott Pruitt.
"If Congress’ statutory mandates are to mean anything, the time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion," Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in the decision, speaking for the majority.
While the EPA examined studies from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University, the studies were deemed correlative, with no causal links to the mental and physical development of children.
The decision put U.S. sorghum producers and other farmers, in a tough spot. Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used insecticides in the U.S. It is used to combat several aphid species, sorghum midge, sorghum webworm and headworm. It is also applied to fruit and nut trees, cauliflower, broccoli and many more crops.
National Sorghum Producers pointed out that the chemical was evaluated and approved for use in 79 countries around the globe. NSP CEO Tim Lust said this was not a decision for the courts.
"This is exactly why we have the EPA and have laws and regulations for registering the use of pesticides," Lust said. "There are scientists at the EPA that have done this for most of their lives, and the judges have not."
Kansas Grain Sorghum agreed with Lust, deferring to his comment.
Chlorpyrifos isn’t the only agriculture chemical discussed in a courtroom recently. Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million to a man who alleged its glyphosate-based weed killer, Roundup, caused his cancer. Monsanto is appealing the decision.
Lust said these decisions should be left to the agencies, like the EPA, which were tasked with making sure safe herbicides and insecticides are being used.
Environmental groups have hailed this as an opportunity to use safer herbicides and pesticides, but NSP said chlorpyrifos is among the safer options, due to its short residual activity. Lust said other options are available for controlling insects in sorghum, but none are as efficient.
"It is a product with multiple uses and several insects it controls in sorghum," he said. "There are other options, but we hate to use a less effective, less efficient chemical."
NSP is strongly encouraging the EPA to appeal the process and keep chlorpyrifos an available option.