Heather Hansen, Executive Director, Washington Friends of Farms and Forests
The small group of farmworkers protesting outside failed to deter about 400 producers gathered in the Yakima Convention Center on May 30 to express concerns about the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) to Dr. Lynn Goldman of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Congressman Doc Hastings welcomed the crowd and explained that it is quite an honor to have a top EPA official travel to Washington State to listen to growers' concerns. "One of the reasons I voted for FQPA," he said, "was to give our producers more options, not less, when dealing with the hazards of growing in the region. By eliminating the Delaney clause, my intent was to make pesticides available that had originally been banned by the zero tolerance mandate of Delaney." The intent of FQPA, Hastings said, was to "improve the safety, abundance, and affordability" of our nation's food supply.
Dr. Goldman, in her opening remarks, committed the EPA to upholding the points outlined in Vice President Gore's initiative: sound science, transparency in the regulatory process, reasonable transition for agriculture to new pest management technologies, and consultation with stakeholders.
Goldman also clarified an earlier comment by an EPA official about possible cancellations of organophosphates (OPs). She said the preliminary analysis by EPA indicates that some uses will be eliminated as the agency moves through the process.
Jim Jesernig, Director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, opened testimony by asking EPA to go "on the record. Nothing clarifies ambiguities better than the written word." Jesernig said that EPA must outline its process in writing. "We in agriculture will be unable to rationally work with EPA as a partner on this implementation if the process continues to be done in a vacuum."
Senator Bob Morton, Chair of the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, drew applause for saying that foreign countries should have to meet current U.S. environmental and safety standards before new standards are imposed on U.S. growers. Morton added that there is presently no public health crisis, nor any need to create one.
Representative Gary Chandler, Chair of the House Agriculture and Ecology Committee, stressed the diversity of Washington State agriculture and the state's reliance on export markets. He emphasized the need for OPs as part of Integrated Pest Management programs.
Speaker after speaker stressed the importance of OPs and carbamates for producing the minor and "minor - minor" crops grown in Washington, the need for new products, and more time to make the transition should OPs be lost. Nearly every speaker mentioned reliance on export markets and the difficulty of obtaining foreign nation acceptance of new products. All stressed the importance of OPs in IPM programs. Goldman asked the audience for input on how to reserve a portion of the "risk cup" for IPM and resistance management.
Several speakers expressed frustration about slow processing of Section 18 requests, prompting Dr. Goldman to respond that Section 18 applications have increased 25% this year. She said EPA is unsure what caused the increase. But Lynn Olsen, representing the Washington State Potato Commission, explained how the commission has waited since December for approval of a Section 18 on chlorine dioxide (Purogene) for use on stored potatoes. Meanwhile, potatoes are melting in storage sheds. Goldman expressed concern and promised to look into the issue and respond back to the Washington State Potato Commission.
Gaylord Enbom, representing the tree fruit industry, described the constant search for better pest control methods. Even if new pest control products are approved for use in this country, other countries may not accept our tolerances for export. He also explained that, with OPs, one application controls many pests, but pheromones and other very specific pest control products require many more applications for control of secondary pests.
Alex McGregor, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, emphasized benefits to the environment through no-till farming, while explaining the trade-off in terms of increased chemical use. McGregor claimed that EPA's various agendas are in conflict with each other and, in a statement widely quoted by the press, referred to some of EPA's default assumptions as "absurd."
Chuck Masters of Weyerhaeuser brought more diversity to the testimony, by explaining the importance of OPs in the protection of tree seeds and seedlings. Some 280 million tree seedlings are grown each year in the Pacific Northwest, yet in terms of acreage, tree nurseries are a very minor crop. Although the emphasis in FQPA discussions has been on food, non-food producers stand to suffer greatly also, he said.
Dr. Richard Fenske, representing the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, described FQPA as a public health law because of its focus on people. He discussed the health concerns of OP use and the need to separate the ability to detect a chemical from the biological significance of its detection. He praised the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diets of children.
Dr. Allan Felsot of Washington State University emphasized that new technology (referring to biologicals) does not grow overnight. It takes time, he said, to develop a technology from the research trial stage to the point where it is viable for production. Felsot drew applause when he stated emphatically that, "Food residue data show that an additional 10X safety factor is not needed."
Following formal testimony, microphones were opened for public comment. Thirty-eight people, representing wine grapes, tree fruit, vegetable seed crops, potatoes, hops, mint, cranberries, asparagus, sugar beets, structural pest control, and farm workers, lined up to speak.
Following the hearing, Congressman Hastings, Dr. Goldman, and their staff members, accompanied by several producers and association representatives, were escorted on a brief farm tour. Goldman seemed very interested in the area-wide codling moth pheromone project, including difficulties with current pheromone dispersing technology and secondary pests.
She seemed surprised to learn that Washington fruit growers spend more than a million dollars annually to support pest control research around the world. The day appeared to be a positive experience for Goldman and her staff. They learned first hand about the struggles growers face and that the effects of FQPA will ripple around the world.
Washington Friends of Farms & Forests is a non-profit organization dedicated to the responsible use of the science and technology necessary to produce abundant, economical, food and fiber for today's world.
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