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Wheat Embargo in Kansas Raises Concerns About Pesticide Residues

(Beyond Pesticides, June 26, 2008) Over 7,500 acres of winter wheat in 15 Kansas counties were sprayed improperly with the fungicide Quilt, forcing the Kansas Department of Agriculture to put an embargo on harvestable wheat from these fields pending further tests. Farmers are legally required to wait 45 days between spraying Quilt and harvesting wheat, but this spring’s wet weather encouraged many to ignore the rules. The problem was discovered during a paperwork check of custom applicators, which revealed that some fields had been sprayed as recently as early June.

Quilt, manufactured by Syngenta and registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2003, is a combination of the two active ingredients azoxystrobin and propiconazole. Propinconazole is a fungicide and antimicrobial with registered uses on food and feed crops, turf and ornamentals, as well as wood and material preservation. It is estimated that 1.7 million acres of wheat alone is treated with propinconazole each year. Azoxystrobin was first conditionally registered with the EPA in 1997 for use on turf. Information on the usage of the combination of these two fungicides is unavailable because of the recent registrations. Unfortunately, the USDA has cut funding for pesticide reporting (see Daily News of May 22, 2008), which means usage data will not be available unless funding for this program is reinstated.

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polansky has said, ‚ÄúThis is a very safe fungicide and its active ingredients have low toxicity for humans, and the residues from those ingredients break down fairly quickly within the 45-day time frame.” However, the metabolites of propinconazole (the chemicals made when the pesticide breaks down) are suspected of having endocrine-disrupting effects, contradicting the statement that this fungicide is safe, and also illuminating the fact that pesticides often remain toxic even after they have broken down. (For more on endocrine effects and the EPA, read our article in Pesticides And You).

The wheat is undergoing testing for residue levels, and if it passes the EPA‚Äôs guidelines for allowable levels, it will be harvested and sold for human consumption. Although these residue levels may be allowable under federal law, promoting them as ‚Äúsafe‚ÄĚ is misleading when low (allowable) levels of various pesticides have been shown to have negative health and environmental effects (see the example of atrazine). If the residue levels in the wheat are determined to be too high for human consumption, Mr. Polansky has said it will be used for animal feed.

This improper spraying raises questions about label compliance for pesticide use‚ÄĒnot only in residential settings where users are often unfamiliar with regulations and the dangers of using pesticides, but for professional applicators and farmers who should be well-informed about the regulations pertaining to the chemicals they are using.

TAKE ACTION: Organic agriculture presents and alternative to growing methods that can produce food laden with toxic pesticides. In organic wheat production, synthetic fungicides and herbicides are not allowed, and certifying agents inspect farms to ensure compliance with the regulations. Consumers can encourage more farmers to go organic by buying organic wheat and refusing to purchase potentially contaminated conventional products.

Sources: The Wichita Eagle, The Hays Daily News


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