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Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (phone), 202-543-4791 (fax)

Contact: Jay Feldman or Jessica Lunsford
202-543-5450, [email protected]
July 3, 2002

EPA Allows Use of Banned Insecticide, Deadly to Birds, on 10,000 Acres,
Will Decide Whether to Allow the Program to Go Forward This Week

Washington, DC, July 3, 2002 - In a move that reinstates use of the banned insecticide carbofuran (Furadan), EPA has allowed farmers in the state of Louisiana, under an emergency provision in federal law, to begin spraying 10,000 acres for rice weevil. After 2,500 acres were sprayed in June and existing stocks of the highly hazardous chemical product ran out, EPA initiated a 5-day public hearing process and will decide whether to let the program proceed on Friday. The manufacturer, FMC, is gearing up production to meet the new demand since the cancellation and phase-out were announced in 1991.

The chemical came under fire in the 1980's after EPA estimated that one to two million birds were killed each year by granular carbofuran use. According to scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "There are no known conditions under which carbofuran can be used without killing migratory birds. Many of these die-off incidents followed applications of carbofuran that were made with extraordinary care." The pesticide has also been associated with the death of threatened and endangered species.

Environmentalists have called the agency action to allow granular carbofuran irresponsible in light of the documented hazards and the availability of alternatives. According to Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, "The continued use of carbofuran after a lengthy national debate and phase-out is irresponsible, given the known and documented hazards. The granting of an emergency permit to use carbofuran is an abuse of public trust and the law."

Since the banning of carbofuran, researchers have found that a combination of cultural practices and chemical controls in conventional operations have yielded adequate insect management. Currently, there are four registered chemical alternatives to carbofuran for use on rice weevil. They are fipronil (Icon), lambda-cyhalothrin (Karate), zeta-cypermethrin (Fury), and diflubenzuron (Dimilin). Icon is a prophylactic seed treatment; Karate, Fury and Dimilin are applied to the foliage of rice plants, with Karate and Fury targeted at weevil adults and Dimilin targeted at eggs. There are also several cultural practices that can further decrease the potential damage caused by the rice weevil. In field studies, delaying the flooding of rice fields by just two weeks reduces the number of larvae in the field and dramatically diminishes the susceptibility of young rice to a weevil infestation. Early planting of rice can prevent loss to weevils. Organic rice growers in California have found that their practices have prevented weevil problems due to a two-year rotation from rice to oats or vetch. In addition, weed control methods in organic production that dry out the fields have the added benefit of controlling weevils and other insects.

Despite their support for the emergency permit, Louisiana State University (LSU) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists at the Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station in the Winter 2002 issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine, "When used correctly, these newly registered insecticides control rice weevils as well as or better than Furadan (carbofuran) at the same or lower cost."

EPA in 1991 issued what it described as a "total ban" on the use of granular carbofuran to take effect in 1994 and then extended the phase-out through the 1996 growing season. The state of Louisiana, in its emergency application, says that the current pesticide of choice, fipronil, is not working. The application also says that five other states (Arkansas, California, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas) will be seeking to reinstate the use of carbofuran under a special local needs provision of federal law.

In its application, the state of Louisiana cites the 1991 carbofuran cancellation agreement between FMC, the manufacturer, and EPA, which says that the agency "must consider, on a case-by-case basis (a) requests, if any, for emergency uses of granular carbofuran under FIFRA Section 18 and (b) special local needs registration, if any, submitted by a state under FIFRA Section 24(c). But environmentalists say that approving such use would violate federal law, citing federal rules (40 CFR 164.130) that an emergency application on a cancelled pesticide constitutes a "petition for reconsideration of such order" and requires substantial new evidence that materially affects the prior cancellation.