Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. serves small, medium, and large pesticide product registrants and other stakeholders in the agricultural and biocidal sectors, in virtually every aspect of pesticide law, policy, science, and regulation.

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. BackstromLisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On July 12, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in a Decision Memorandum that it has registered new uses and restored previously registered uses for sulfoxaflor.  EPA has approved the use of sulfoxaflor on alfalfa, corn, cacao, grains (millet, oats), pineapple, sorghum, teff, teosinte, tree plantations, and restored the uses on citrus cotton, cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, watermelons, some gourds), soybeans, and strawberries.  EPA states that substantial data show that when sulfoxaflor is used according to the label, it poses no significant risk to human health and poses a lower risk to non-target wildlife, including pollinators, than other registered alternative products.  EPA’s registration decision is available at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0889-0570.

EPA’s decision follows an opinion issued on September 10, 2015, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacating EPA’s 2013 unconditional registration for the pesticide sulfoxaflor, and remanding the matter to EPA to obtain further studies and data regarding the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees and bee colonies.  That decision is discussed in our blog item available here. In response to that decision, EPA also issued a cancellation order that included provisions for the disposition of existing stocks of sulfoxaflor products.

After the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA reevaluated the data and on October 14, 2016, approved sulfoxaflor end-use registrations for limited uses that did not include crops that attract bees.  EPA also has been granting emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor since 2012, with the most recent emergency exemptions granted on June 17, 2019, for the use of sulfoxaflor to control tarnished plant bugs on cotton in 12 states, and to control sugarcane aphids on sorghum in 14 states.

In the July 12, 2019, decision adding new uses, restoring previous uses, and removing certain application restrictions, EPA states an unconditional registration under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 3(c)(5) for new uses of sulfoxaflor is backed by substantial data, including numerous pollinator studies submitted by the registrant, Dow AgroSciences (DAS).  With specific regard to sulfoxaflor’s impact on bees, EPA states the following:

Since the vacatur in 2015, DAS has submitted numerous additional pollinator studies. The pollinator data requirements listed in 40 CFR 158.630 have all been submitted or waived. EPA’s risk assessment process for pollinators has evolved since those data requirements were promulgated and now EPA generally assesses risks to bees using a three-tier process based on a more robust data set as described in two guidance documents: “Guidance for Assessing the Risks of Pesticides to Bees” (USEPA 2014) and “Guidance on Exposure and Effects Testing for Assessing Risks to Bees” (USEPA 2016). For sulfoxaflor, all Tier I data have been submitted. Three additional Tier II semi-field (tunnel) studies and two colony feeding studies have been submitted. Pollen and nectar residue data have been submitted for multiple crops. The submitted data covers all of the requested use patterns. For those crops that did not have data specific to pollen and nectar residues, data was extrapolated as appropriate from other crops. All regulatory data requirements for assessing pollinators have now been addressed and the EPA has adequate data to demonstrate that there will be no unreasonable adverse effects to honey bees resulting from the expanded registration of sulfoxaflor.

EPA’s decision also removes previously imposed application restrictions:

  • Removed the prohibition of use on crops grown for seed because EPA believes pollinator protection restrictions, including low use rates, will be in place regardless of whether the crop is grown for seed or for commodity harvest;
  • Removed the restriction to post-bloom application for bee-attractive crops only when there is low risk or limited potential for exposure to bees;
  • Removed the 12-foot buffer requirement because EPA believes the spray drift mitigation requirements on labels are adequate to limit drift; and
  • Removed the 2016 restriction against tank mixing because EPA states data show that there is no additional risk when sulfoxaflor is tank mixed with other compounds.

EPA’s decision includes the following crop specific restrictions:

  • Citrus: Only one application is allowed per year between 3 days before bloom and until after petal fall.
  • Ornamentals: Only one application is allowed during bloom, and that bloom must not exceed a rate of 0.071 lb ai/acre.
  • Pome Fruit, Stone Fruit, Tree Nuts and Pistachio: No application is allowed any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall.
  • Small Fruit Vine Climbing and Low Growing Berry, Tree Plantations: No application is allowed any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall.

EPA found that the FIFRA standard for registration is met for the registration of sulfoxaflor on the uses approved, and that the benefits of these uses outweigh the risks, but also set specific label requirements including restrictions to minimize potential exposure to bees:

  • Worker Protection:  “Applicators and other handlers must wear: Long-sleeved shirt and long pants, shoes plus socks, protective eyewear” and “Do not enter or allow worker entry into treated areas during the restricted entry interval (REI) of” 24 hours (for Transform WG label) and 12 hours (for Closer SC label).
  • Environmental Hazards Statement:  “This product is highly toxic to bees and other pollinating insects exposed to direct treatment or to residues in/on blooming crops or weeds. Protect pollinating insects by following label directions intended to minimize drift and reduce pesticide risk to these organisms.”
  • The RT25 (how long foliar residues of sulfoxaflor exhibit toxicity to honey bees):  “The RT25 for this product is less than or equal to 3 hours.”
  • Directions for Use:  “Notifying known beekeepers within 1 mile of the treatment area 48 hours before the product is applied will allow them to take additional steps to protect their bees. Also, limiting application to times when managed bees and native pollinators are least active, e.g. 2 hours prior to sunset or when the temperature is below 50°F at the site of application will minimize risk to bees.”

Commentary

This new decision by EPA may finally be the culmination of a long and convoluted process to register sulfoxaflor.  The litigation that resulted in vacatur of the initial registrations began in 2013.  At the time the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in 2015, vacatur was viewed by many observers as a novel and radical response to an EPA decision to register a new pesticide.  Since that time, registrants and users of newly approved active ingredients have encountered more aggressive litigation in which vacatur is often cited as a possible remedy.  This has created more uncertainty and concern about product availability, even after EPA approves an eagerly anticipated new product to meet a pressing pest control need.  In the case of sulfoxaflor, EPA has clearly determined that the data submitted by DAS demonstrate that any risks to pollinators presented by sulfoxaflor will be less than the risks presented by currently registered insecticides sulfoxaflor is likely to replace. This determination concerning relative risk based on review of additional data should address the deficiencies in the EPA rationale found by the Court when it vacated the 2013 sulfoxaflor registrations.

Interestingly, the current EPA decision may raise a similar issue concerning the sufficiency of EPA’s rationale concerning the effects of sulfoxaflor on endangered species.  EPA states the following in its Decision Memorandum:

Endangered Species

EPA has not made an effects determination for sulfoxaflor. EPA is currently focusing most of its resources for assessing impacts to listed species on its registration review program for currently registered pesticides. EPA believes that, as a general matter, older pesticides present a greater degree of risk to listed species than most new chemistries, including sulfoxaflor, and that it is therefore environmentally preferable in most circumstances for EPA to assess the impacts of existing pesticides sooner in the process than newer pesticides that are designed to compete with more risky alternatives. EPA believes that is especially true for sulfoxaflor, where the alternatives include organophosphates, neonicotinoids and pyrethroids. As a result, EPA does not believe the environment or the public would be best served by delaying the registration of new uses for sulfoxaflor to complete consultation. Focusing the limited resources of EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on completing a consultation on the effects of sulfoxaflor would by necessity come at the expense of putting more resources into evaluating – and consequently regulating, where appropriate – what EPA believes to be more toxic compounds, that, among other things, pose greater risk, to endangered species than does sulfoxaflor.

While it is clearly sensible for EPA and the Services to prioritize the limited resources available to make and to consult concerning effects determinations for endangered species by addressing existing pesticide classes that are likely to present the greatest risk before products with new chemistries that are intended to be more selective, it remains to be seen whether reviewing courts will be inclined to accept this type of rationale.  In particular, it will be interesting to see whether the sufficiency of this approach to endangered species determinations becomes an issue in any future litigation regarding sulfoxaflor or other newly registered active ingredients.


 

By James V. Aidala and Margaret R. Graham, M.S.

On March 21, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was updating its Residual Time to 25% Bee Mortality (RT25) Data Table with information it has collected since the table was first published in 2014.  EPA states that the “RT25 data help farmers and beekeepers know about how long a specific pesticide may remain toxic to bees and other insect pollinators following foliar application to crops,” and the new data “reflect the results of studies the agency has analyzed as part of [its] routine pesticide regulatory activities.”  One example that EPA provides regarding how this new data will work is that farmers can now “choose pesticides that quickly lose their toxicity to bees,” and that applying the products in the evening “helps ensure that by morning the pests have been dealt with and blooming crops are safe for bees.” 

EPA states that RT25 values are a function of a number of factors including application rate, physical-chemical properties, dissipation, crop, and pesticide formulation.  The values provided were compiled from registrant-submitted data submitted to fulfill the data requirement for Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Toxicity of Residues on Foliage study (OCSPP Guideline 850.3030).  EPA states that the honey bee toxicity of residues on foliage study “is a laboratory test designed to determine the length of time over which field weathered foliar residues remain toxic to honey bees, or other species of terrestrial insects” and, depending on the chemical tested, “either the technical grade active ingredient or a specific formulation was tested using either the honey bee, alfalfa leaf cutting bee, or alkali bee.”  The data table lists the test material, the species tested, and the plant species on which residues were aged.

EPA plans to update the table annually as it collects additional data going forward.  More information on EPA’s actions intended to protect pollinators is available on EPA’s website.

Commentary

In addition to providing the residual toxicity values, the table also illustrates the wide range of toxicity values among the various pesticides.  RT25 times for the different active ingredients can range between a few and over 500 hours to reach the RT25 threshold.  Even different formulations using the same active ingredient can have a significant difference in toxicity values.  This illustrates the importance of reading the specific label instructions for a pesticide, even one that might be generally familiar to the user.

EPA’s publication of this information online also imposes a duty for EPA to continually update the table, especially to capture any changes in the information appearing in an earlier listing of the data.  If, upon further review or later data submissions there are changes to the table for a product, EPA will need to alert users to potentially important changes in the information.  Again, this illustrates the need for reading the label for each pesticide at the time of application, since some important information may have changed.


 

By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell

On January 22, 2016, Ontario released for consultation a draft Health Action Plan (Plan) to reduce losses of honeybees and other pollinators caused by several “stressors” stated in the Plan to include: (1) reduced habitat and poor nutrition; (2) diseases, pests, and genetics; (3) exposure to pesticides; and (4) extreme weather and climate change.  This action plan is part of a broader strategy to protect pollinators, with Ontario’s aim, in part, to reach an 80 percent reduction in the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds by 2017.   Other actions taken by Ontario related to pollinators and the regulation of corn and soybean seeds treated with neonicotinoids are discussed in our blog item Canadian Province Finalizes Neonic Reduction Rule

Comments can be submitted through the Environmental Registry until March 7, 2016.

The Plan “identifies potential actions that have been informed through an ongoing consultation process with key stakeholders and the broader public.”  For each of the four stressors identified as a cause of the pollinator decline, the Plan summarizes what information Ontario has gathered, what potential actions it is considering, and what potential additional action areas exist.  With regard to the exposure to pesticides, the Plan states the following regarding potential actions for Ontario to take and additional measures under consideration.

Potential Actions by the Province:

  • Increase education and outreach activities to stakeholder groups on Best Management Practices (BMP) and integrated pest management to support the implementation of Ontario Regulation 63/09 under the Pesticides Act;
  • Support integrated pest management training for growers;
  • Enhance sector outreach to support beekeeper education around the use of appropriate pest treatments in-hive;
  • Continue to work with industry to support agricultural production and land stewardship practices that reduce pollinator pesticides exposure;
  • Explore opportunities to facilitate completion and launch of an e-tool to alert pesticide applicators of nearby beehives for the purpose of reducing bee exposures;
  • Provide financial support for producers to acquire dust deflectors for planting equipment through the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative;
  • Enhance provincial monitoring efforts to track changes in agricultural practices stemming from the implementation of Ontario Regulation 63/09; and
  • Monitor neonicotinoid concentrations in the environment.

Potential Additional Action Areas:                        

  • Profile and highlight BMPs for pesticide use in agriculture;
  • Improve beekeeper education on the effectiveness of honey bee pest treatments; and
  • Support research in selective breeding strategies for honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.

The Plan also discusses Ontario’s research and monitoring efforts, including its intent to align and leverage existing research programs and its consideration to launch a special “Call for Proposals” to “fund new pollinator health research projects to fill knowledge gaps for example, understanding how varroa infestations interact with other stressors, studying implications of climate change for Ontario’s pollinators and assessing the effectiveness of various land management practices.”

In addition to submitting comments on the Plan, Ontario also developed an online survey for input on what priorities should be the focus to improve pollinator health and what steps should be taken to improve pollinator health.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On January 6, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced the release of a preliminary pollinator risk assessment for the neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid (Preliminary Risk Assessment or Assessment).  In its assessment, EPA states that imidacloprid potentially poses a risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators. 

EPA coordinated efforts with Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PRMA).  PMRA simultaneously released the overview and science evaluation of its imidacloprid pollinator-only assessment, which reaches the same preliminary conclusions as set forth in EPA’s Assessment.  PMRA plans to release the complete assessment with appendices as a revised version on January 18, 2016, and to accept written comments until March 18, 2016.

EPA’s Preliminary Risk Assessment will be subject to a 60-day comment period commencing on the announcement of the Assessment in the Federal Register.  EPA did not indicate how long it will be before the Federal Register notice is issued. 

This Assessment is the first of four such assessments that will be prepared in 2016 under President Obama’s National Pollinator Strategy.  The other three assessments, for neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, are scheduled to be released for public comment in December 2016.  EPA also states that following the receipt of public comments on this Assessment by December 2016, it plans to issue a revised Preliminary Ecological Risk Assessment that will: “(i) consider any comments or information submitted in response to this bee-only preliminary risk assessment; (ii) incorporate additional data EPA anticipates to receive that is relevant to bees; and, (iii) assess the potential risks of all registered uses of imidacloprid to all taxa.”

EPA’s Preliminary Risk Assessment describes how EPA conducted a screening level assessment (Tier I) for the various uses of imidacloprid, with a stepwise, tiered risk assessment approach evaluating risks to individual bees first and, if needed, risks to the colony.  EPA has divided its risk findings for honey bees for the registered use patterns of imidacloprid into three categories:  (1) Crop Groups/Use Patterns that Present Low On-Field Risk; (2) Crop Groups/Use Patterns with Uncertainty in Colony (Tier II) Assessment; and (3) Crop Groups/Use Patterns with Colony (Tier II) Risk Indicated, with this last category including “Citrus Fruits (Oranges)” and “Oilseed (Cotton).”  EPA further states:  “Based on a tri-agency analysis of the statistical and biological considerations of the data, a NOAEC and LOAEC of 25 and 50 μg a.i./L in nectar were determined based on reductions of the number of adult workers, numbers of pupae, pollen stores and honey stores which persisted across much of the study duration.  The level of imidacloprid in nectar at or below which no effects would be expected to the colony is determined to be 25 μg a.i./L.”

Additional information regarding EPA’s actions regarding neonicotinoid insecticides and the National Pollinator Strategy can be found on our blog.  EPA stated its intent to hold a webinar regarding the imidacloprid Preliminary Risk Assessment in early February 2016.  More information can be found on EPA’s website.

Commentary

EPA’s statements about the assessment have indicated that imidacloprid uses on citrus and cotton are of greatest concern.  Not included in this assessment is what, if any, specific regulatory actions might be needed to reduce any risks to an acceptable level.  Regardless, the registrants, along with other stakeholders, will almost certainly comment on the assessment (likely to say that the risks are both overestimated, according to the registrants, and underestimated, according to environmental groups).

What may be of less notice is what EPA appears to conclude about the other uses of the pesticide.  Not long ago, many claimed that significant honeybee decline was due to planting crops, especially corn, with neonicotinoid seed treatments such as imidacloprid.  This assessment appears to contradict that assertion (along with other improvements that have been made in reducing fugitive dust exposures during application).  And, even if EPA is correct in its assessment that the citrus and cotton uses are of concern, there are many other uses of imidacloprid currently suspended from the market in the European Union (EU) -- where cotton and citrus are not widely produced.  This EPA assessment might become part of the debate about the rationale behind the current EU policies.  

The documents released today are long (the assessment is 305 pages with an appendix of 212 pages).  That EPA plans to complete its assessment within this calendar year indicates that current EPA leaders want any decision to be issued (or at least be framed) before the arrival of any new Administration.  That alone will cause some to question the degree to which any actions are based more on “science and data” or on the “politics” of pollinator protection.  


 

NAFTA TWG on Pesticides Meeting

By Lisa M. Campbell and Margaret R. Graham

On November 3-5, 2015, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Technical Working Group (TWG) on Pesticides, established in 1997 to streamline certain pesticide shipments between Canada (CN), Mexico (MX), and the United States (U.S.), held a meeting hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Durham, North Carolina.  NAFTA TWG states that its primary objective “is to develop relevant and cost-effective pesticide regulation and trade among the three countries and meet the environmental, ecological, and human health objectives of NAFTA.”  Further, TWG partners address trade issues, national regulatory and scientific capacity, governmental review burden, and coordination of regulatory decision making and industry burden reduction.

The topics discussed at its November meeting, a government-stakeholder meeting with the Executive Board, regulatory officials, and interested stakeholders such as growers, industry, and public interest groups, were:

     Five-Year Strategic Plan and NAFTA Industry Working Group (IWG) Updates.  The presentation was as follows:

      Science and Policy Initiatives:

  • Updates on Pollinator Protection in the U.S., CN, and MX.  The presentations were as follows:

          “Update on Pollinator Protection Activities in the U.S.” (Lead: U.S. - Rick Keigwin);

          “Pollinator Protection in Canada” (CN - Scott Kirby);

          MX’s input regarding “US EPA Guidance for Assessing Pesticide Risks to Bees” (Lead: MX -

          SEMARNAT or SENASICA);

          “Update on Mexican Project: Preliminary Study on Some Factors That Influence on Bee Colony

          Loss in Different Regions of Apicultural Importance in Mexico” (Lead: MX - Nelly Peña); and

          “Pollinator Update: US, CN, and MX” - Presentation on Behalf of IWG on Pesticides (Lead: CN -

          Maria Trainer, CropLife Canada).

  • Re-evaluation of Neonicotinoid Pesticides Update in the U.S. and Canada.  The presentation was as follows:

          “Update on Re-evaluation of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in the U.S. and CN” (Leads: U.S. -

          Don Brady and CN - Margherita Conti).

  • Minor Use Program Developments. The presentations were as follows:

          “Joint Minor Use Updates” (Leads: U.S. - Susan Lewis and CN - Margherita Conti); and

          “IR-4: Update on Local Minor Uses” (Leads: U.S. IR-4 - Dan Kunkel and MX - 

          Alma Liliana Tovar Diaz).

  • Maximum Residue Limits (MRL)/Codex.  The presentations were as follows:

          “MRL Alignment Activities Update” (Leads: U.S. - Susan Lewis and CN - Yadvinder Bhuller);

          “Benefits of Harmonized MRLs” (Lead: CN - Gordon Kurbis, Pulse Canada); and

          “Inadvertent Residues” (Lead: CN - Craig Hunter, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’

          Association).

    Stakeholder Presentations and Discussions:

  • Stakeholders’ Lessons Learned on Joint Reviews including Industry’s Experiences and Prospectives of Joint Reviews. The presentations were as follows:

          Lead:  CN - Tanya Tocheva, Syngenta Crop Protection Canada;

          Lead:  CN - Gordon Kurbis, Pulse Canada; and

          Lead:  MX - Hector Guillén, Avocado Growers Association, APAMEX.

  • Progress of the TWG’s joint action plan and receipt of input on the next phase of activities.
  • Discussion on Future Collaboration Regarding Joint Review.

The presentations, many of which address issues of significant controversy and debate, are of interest to many in industry and to other stakeholders.

 


 

By Timothy D. Backstrom, Lisa M. Campbell, and James V. Aidala

In an opinion issued on September 10, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unconditional registration for the pesticide sulfoxaflor and remanded the matter to EPA to obtain further studies and data regarding the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees and bee colonies.  Sulfoxaflor is a new insecticide in the class of insecticides referred to as neonicotinoids, but its mechanism of action is distinct from other neonicotinoids.  The Petitioners in this case were various trade organizations representing commercial beekeepers, as well as some individual beekeepers.  The registrant Dow AgroSciences LLC (Dow) intervened in the action.

EPA granted an unconditional registration for sulfoxaflor on May 6, 2013, subject to a variety of risk mitigation measures, including a lower application rate, longer intervals between applications, and certain crop-specific label restrictions.  EPA had previously proposed to issue a conditional registration for sulfoxaflor in January 2013, citing pollinator data gaps that could be addressed by requiring Dow to conduct and submit further studies.  Under that proposal, use of sulfoxaflor would have been allowed at a reduced application rate during the time needed to complete data development.  The court found that the subsequent decision by EPA to register unconditionally sulfoxaflor was not supported by substantial evidence, as required by Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 16(b), both because EPA failed to adhere to its own scientific methodology and because the rationale that EPA provided for granting an unconditional registration could not be reconciled with the analysis upon which EPA based its prior proposal to register conditionally sulfoxaflor.

EPA evaluated the potential risk to bees and bee colonies from sulfoxaflor use utilizing the Pollinator Risk Assessment Framework, a scientific risk assessment methodology developed after consultations between EPA, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the State of California, and presented by EPA to the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel in 2012.  The court found that the rationale provided for EPA’s unconditional registration decision could not be reconciled with findings that EPA itself made using this methodology or with the rationale EPA provided for its prior proposal to issue a conditional registration.  EPA had decided it was necessary to proceed to Tier 2 of the pollinator risk assessment after reviewing risk quotients and residue data in Tier 1 of the assessment.  EPA found the available data for Tier 2 to be insufficient to allow indefinite use of sulfoxaflor, even at a reduced application rate.  The court could not reconcile this finding with the subsequent decision to grant an unconditional registration, even with the specified mitigation measures.  The court found that “given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.”  The court stated that “EPA has no real idea whether sulfoxaflor will cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees, as prohibited by FIFRA.”

EPA argued that with a reduced application rate, the risk quotients and residue analysis in Tier 1  was “close enough” to sufficient to avoid the specified quantitative trigger for a Tier 2 analysis, thereby rendering any deficiencies in the available Tier 2 data irrelevant.  The court effectively stated in response that close enough is not good enough, citing another recent Ninth Circuit decision in which a risk concern that is triggered by a margin of exposure less than or equal to 1000 was held to be triggered when the margin was exactly 1000.  Thus, this court once again placed EPA on notice that it must follow its own methodology with precision, and that EPA cannot justify deviations from its own methodology by simply stating that it is exercising expert judgment.

Commentary

This is an unusual case because the registration of a new pesticidal active ingredient has been vacated on substantive as opposed to procedural grounds.  The court’s rationale reflects a lack of judicial deference to what EPA typically refers to as the scientific “weight of the evidence.”  While the term itself does not appear in the opinion, the court is insisting that EPA must follow its standard methodology without allowing for any deviations based on professional judgment.  Although in this instance the court has supported the position of opponents of pesticide use, judicial reluctance to accept scientific “weight of the evidence” conclusions could also make it harder for EPA to impose additional restrictions when new but inconclusive evidence appears.

This case could cause EPA to be more explicit in adding procedures to its standard analytic methodologies that allow deviations from the methodology based on professional judgment.  The case could also cause EPA to reconsider its recent reluctance to avoid issuing conditional registrations and its preference for unconditional registrations for new active ingredients.  In any case, decisions that afford EPA less discretion to use “weight of the evidence” reasoning when basing scientific conclusions on less than conclusive data or studies could have an impact on a number of EPA practices and policies involving interpretation of scientific data.


 

By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell

 

On June 16, 2015, the California Superior Court for the County of Almeda denied the petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America, et al. (PANNA) for a writ of mandate to direct the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to set aside and vacate its final decisions approving amended registrations of Dinotefuran 20SG manufactured by Mitsui Chemicals Agro and Venom manufactured by Valent USA. 

 

The active ingredient in both products at issue, dinotefuran, is a neonicotinoid pesticide that has been subject to additional reviews and labeling requirements with regard to its impact on pollinating bees on the federal and state level.  PANNA argued, in part, that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DPR should not have approved the amended labels because it had not developed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) describing the potential environmental impacts, analyzing direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, and analyzing alternatives. 

 

The court held as a matter of law that “to give effect to CEQA’s current policy goals as developed since 1979 in the Public Resources Code, in the CEQA Guidelines and in case law, that the court must read the DPR’s regulations as requiring that the DPR apply current CEQA analysis in deciding whether to register pesticides.”  That does not, however, require DPR to comply with all of CEQA’s documentation requirements; instead, DPR’s environmental documentation is required to “address only those significant adverse environmental effects that can reasonably be expected to occur, directly or indirectly, from implementing the proposal.”

 

With regard to the standard of review, the court found that DPR’s decision is in the nature of an EIR, which required the court to review the adequacy of the decision for substantial evidence, and not, as PANNA had argued, the functional equivalent of a negative declaration that would have triggered a “fair argument” review standard.  The court then found there was substantial evidence in the administrative record supporting DPR’s decision that the proposed mitigation measures will eliminate any significant environmental impact.  The court held that the record supported DPR’s assertion that the product labels provide necessary environmental protections, noting, for example, that EPA’s conclusion that the federal labeling is adequate to protect bees is substantial evidence to support DPR’s “identical conclusion.”  The court further held that DPR was not required to consider the feasibility of alternatives. 

 

Since the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts a state from imposing label requirements that are different from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved label, the court noted that DPR’s decision was either to register the products consistent with EPA’s approved labels or not register the products for use in California.  Although DPR’s failure to conduct a risk-benefit analysis was not argued before the court, the decision, by way of dicta, noted that the “record suggests that the DPR conducted a de facto risk-benefit analysis and did not actually conclude that the labeling on the Insecticides would mitigate all adverse affect on bees.”  Instead, the court suggests DPR’s risk-benefit analysis was based on the fact that under FIFRA, the only alternative would be to deny the registrations and that would be infeasible considering economic, social, or other considerations. 

 

The decision is a significant judgment regarding DPR’s ability to make decisions regarding label amendments and the court’s ability to review such decisions.  It appears likely an appeal will be filed.  It is also important to note that DPR’s reevaluation of neonicotinoids is still pending -- DPR is required under AB 1789 (codified at Food and Agricultural Code Section 12838(a)) to issue a determination before July 1, 2018, regarding the neonicotinoid registrations and to adopt any control measures determined to be necessary to protect pollinator health.  


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Lisa R. Burchi
 
The Canadian province of Ontario has issued its final regulations under the Ontario Pesticides Act aimed at reducing the area planted with maize and soybean seed treated with neonicotinoid insecticides.  These changes have been made as part of its broader strategy to protect pollinators, and aim to reach an 80 percent reduction in the number of hectares planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017


The new rules create a new class of pesticides, known as “Class 12 pesticides.”  This class applies to corn seed grown for grain or silage, and soybean seeds treated with the following neonicotinoid insecticides: imidacloprid; thiamethoxam; and clothianidin.  The new regulations will not apply to popping corn, sweet corn, corn used for the production of seed, or soybean seeds planted for the purpose of producing a soybean seed crop of certified status. 


The new system established by these regulations will take effect on July 1, 2015, and be phased in over time.  The elements include but are not limited to the following:

  • Integrated Pest Management Training:  The regulations will require farmers to complete training on integrated pest management methods.  To encourage participation, training will be offered for free until September 1, 2016; after that time, training will be provided at a cost.  After August 31, 2016, any person (e.g., farmer) who purchases neonicotinoid-treated seeds will be required to have completed the integrated pest management training course and received a certification number, which will be valid for five years.
  • Pest Assessment Reports: Farmers wanting to buy and plant neonicotinoid-treated seed on more than 50 percent of the total area of their corn and soybean crop will need to complete a pest assessment report and provide it to the sales representative or seed vendor from which they purchase the seeds.   
  • Requirements for Vendor Licenses for the Sale of Neonicotinoid-Treated Seeds:  The regulations will require companies selling neonicotinoid-treated seeds to obtain a treated seed vendor’s license, notify purchasers that the seed is a neonicotinoid-treated seed, and offer untreated seed for purchase, among other requirements.  Growers will only be able to buy and use neonicotinoid-treated seeds that vendors have put on the "Class 12 Pesticides List," a list updated by August of each year. 
  • Tracking of the Sale of Neonicotinoid-Treated Seeds:  The regulations will require the annual submission of the sales of treated seeds “to ensure an open and transparent system to track progress.”  The Ministry of the Environment will publicly report amalgamated sales and seed treatment data for neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed.

 
The regulations do not include requirements for the transport and storage of Class 12 pesticides.
 
Further information is available at the below links:
 

 
It is important to consider these new requirements in conjunction with those being developed in the U.S.  EPA’s approach to date in considering additional restrictions to neonicotinoid pesticides to protect pollinators appears to focus not as much on reducing the use of products, but instead on controlling and preventing unwanted exposure of pollinators to these products. 
 
In recent weeks, the U.S. government issued a “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” on May 19, and on May 28, EPA released for comment: “EPA’s Proposal to Mitigate Exposure to Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products.” 
 


 

By Timothy D. Backstrom

 

On June 12, 2015, Federal District Judge Maxine Chesney issued a decision in Ellis v. Housenger (N.D. Cal.) allowing the plaintiffs to utilize expert declarations and exhibits that were not included in the certified administrative record to support their contentions that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) improperly failed to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The plaintiffs in the Ellis case are individual beekeepers and non-governmental organizations, and two out of the six claims in their complaint allege a failure by EPA to consult under the ESA before registering or adding new registered uses for products containing two neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.  Judge Chesney’s order was issued in response to separate motions by EPA and by industry intervenors Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta Crop Protection, and Croplife America to preclude the plaintiffs from utilizing extra record material to support their ESA claims.

 

Although EPA and the intervenors argued that the Court’s review of the ESA claims should be confined to the administrative record based on the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Judge Chesney determined that extra record material may be used to support an allegation that an administrative agency failed to consult with the FWS as required by ESA Section 7.  The Judge based this holding on two cases decided in the Ninth Circuit, Washington Toxics Coalition v. EPA and Western Watersheds Project v. Kraayenbrink, which each held that extra record material may be properly considered in determining whether an agency improperly failed to consult under ESA Section 7.  The Judge rejected the contention by EPA and the intervenors that these two decisions were supplanted by Karup Tribe v. U.S. Forest Service, concluding that the “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review established by the APA is utilized to review the ESA claims, but the scope of review for these claims is not constrained by the APA.

 

The effect of this decision will be to allow the plaintiffs to present expert opinion and evidence concerning the claimed adverse effects of the two neonicotinoid pesticides on endangered and threatened species, including but not limited to pollinator species, that was not expressly considered by EPA when it decided to register these pesticides.  The plaintiffs will argue that such extra record material establishes that there was a sufficient basis to conclude that these pesticides “may affect” endangered or threatened species for EPA’s failure to consult FWS under the ESA to be arbitrary and capricious.  This preliminary ruling could materially affect review of the ESA counts because there is a substantial division of expert scientific opinion concerning the alleged adverse effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, and the Court may conclude that EPA did not afford adequate weight to some of this opinion.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Lisa R. Burchi

 

On May 22, 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a call for new scientific information relevant to the evaluation of the risk to bees in the European Union (EU) from the use of the three neonicotinoid pesticide active substances:  clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam (the substances).

 

The call for data complies with the decision taken by the European Commission in May 2013, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 485/2013, to put in place measures to restrict the use of the substances, which at the time included prohibiting use of the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid as a seed or soil treatment and for pre-flowering applications on crops attractive to bees and for cereals other than winter cereals.  In May 2013, the Commission also stated that within two years it would initiate a review of any new scientific information. 

 

EFSA is urging national authorities, research institutions, industry, and other interested parties to submit all information on the effects, exposure, and risks of the three substances regarding bees -- honeybees, bumble bees, and solitary bees -- when used as seed treatments and granules.  This can include:

 

  • Literature data, including grey literature and any other data from research activities relevant to the risk assessment for bees for the uses of the three substances applied as seed treatments and granules.  Data that have been provided and identified as relevant by EFSA in its published systematic literature review report need not be submitted, however.
  • Study reports conducted specifically to assess the risk to bees from the three substances applied as seed treatments and granules, and not yet considered under the previous EFSA assessments (EFSA Journal 2013;11(1):  3066, 3067, 3068).
  • National evaluations and/or monitoring data relevant to the risk assessment for bees for the uses of the three substances applied as seed treatments and granules that are available at the Competent Authorities of Member States and not yet considered under the previous EFSA assessments, listed in the above bullet.
  • Data that EFSA stated were not relevant in its published systematic literature review report may be submitted only if accompanied with a scientific rationale supporting their relevance.

 

The notice states that all information should be submitted by September 30, 2015.  Any information submitted can be claimed as confidential by following procedures set forth in Article 63 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009.  EFSA will review the material provided from this call for data and offer conclusions concerning an updated risk assessment following receipt of a follow-up mandate from the European Commission.

 

 


 
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