A worker sprays carbofuran on a tree in Kannenfeldpark, in Basel, Switzerland. Photo by pppspics via Flickr.
As of the end of the year, one more pesticide will be absent from food crops grown in the United States.
In May the EPA ruled that the current residue limits of the insecticide carbofuran on food crops was too high, and the agency has now decided to fully revoke carbofuran tolerances (more commonly known as residue limits). What this means is no carbofuran residue on a food will be deemed acceptable as of 2010. The move follows in the footsteps of the European Union, which banned carbofuran nearly a year ago. But the U.S. ban isn't all that surprising--it has, after all, been three years in the making.What Is Carbofuran?
Carbofuran is a white crystalline solid insecticide used to control nematodes, rootworm, and beetles. It is sprayed on soil and plants, just after the plants emerge from the ground. Carbofuran is used on a number of crops, including alfalfa, rice, grapes, and corn.
While there is no evidence to suggest carbofuran is carcinogenic, the World Health Organization has determined carbofuran a cholinesterase inhibitor, which means it blocks neural transmissions.
The health effects of short-term exposure to carbofuran include headache, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, chest pain, blurred vision anxiety, and muscle weakness, all of which can be reversed, according to the EPA. But the long-term effects are far more serious: permanent damage to the nervous system and the reproductive system.
For the average person who does not work with carbofuran, exposure routes include both residues on foods and drinking water contamination from farm runoff.
Cabrofuran is also a problem for wildlife. Earlier this year, reports emerged that carbofuran is responsible for poisoning of African lions.
The Benefits of Going Carbofuran-Free
The move will minimize risks to agricultural workers and the environment, but it will also improve food safety, says Steve Ownes, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances:
The evidence is clear that carbofuran does not meet today's rigorous food-safety standards. [The] EPA has carefully evaluated the scientific issues and has provided more than 500 days of public comment on this decision. It is now important to move forward with the needed public health protections, especially for children.
The move also helps keep carbofuran out of fresh water sources, which has been on the EPA radar.
Carbofuran Cancellation Timeline
The move to revoke carbofuran residue limits was a long and careful process that weighed the risks against the benefits of using the insecticide.
In 2006, the EPA identified considerable dietary, occupational, and ecological risks related to the use of carbofuran. The agency decided the risks outweighed the benefits of using the pesticide, and set out to cancel the use of the pesticide.
In January 2008, the EPA submitted a draft Notice of Intent to Cancel use of carbofuran to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Following review from the FIFRA panel and the USDA, the EPA decided to move forward with canceling the use of carbofuran.
In March 2009, FMC Corporation, which produces carbofuran, voluntarily canceled uses, with the exception of use on field corn, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflowers, pine seedlings, and spinach grown for seed. Artichokes were supposed to be given a two-year phase-out period.
On October 30, 2009, the EPA announced all crops would be subject to the December 31, 2009 deadline for revoking carbofuran tolerances, doing away with previous phase-out plans.
According to an EPA press release, the agency is currently encouraging growers to prepare to switch to "safer pesticides or other environmentally preferable pest control strategies," adding that carbofuran should not be applied to food crops after the end of the year, in order to comply with the new standards.