"AHPA members rely on the availability of raw agricultural commodities that are not contaminated with excessive levels of environmental pollutants," said AHPA president Michael McGuffin. "This requires that clean air, water, and soil be available for the production of food crops."
In comments submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, AHPA sought changes that would reduce burdens on companies that use speciality or minor crops such as herbs and spices in their products while still maintaining protection for consumers and the environment.
AHPA recommends EPA add nearly 200 commercially available herbal crops to Crop Group 19, "Herbs and Spices." The groups said inclusion of herbal crops in EPA regulatory crop groups is essential to ensure that pesticide use on herbal crops, when needed, is carried out in compliance with EPA's pesticide regulations. The organization noted that pesticide limits on crops have been developed in concert with the companies manufacturing and marketing the chemicals. As such, there has been no market incentive for this activity in relation to niche crops, which account for the majority of the commodities handled by AHPA member companies. AHPA's recommendations were submitted in response to EPA's April invitation for comments on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification.
Issue brewing for many years
The issue of pesticides on niche crops has been growing for some time. Pesticide regulations in the U.S. as promulgated by EPA pertain to known risks from pesticides applied to food crops. These regulations only cover intentional applications, and were written on a crop-by-crop basis. But some of the underlying principles behind the legislation no longer hold true. The underlying assumption was that if detectable amounts of a pesticide showed up on a crop, it got there because the farmer put it there. If there is no specified level for that pesticide in a given crop, the tolerance level automatically reverts to zero.
But pesticides have been in wide scale use around the globe for seventy years or so now, and many of these chemicals, especially the older, legacy pesticides, were engineered to be persistent in the environment. Pesticide residues can now be found almost everywhere, AHPA’s comments state.
“Pesticide residues are currently ubiquitous in the environment and are routinely found at significant levels even in locations as remote as the Arctic circle. In addition, analytical technologies can now detect pesticides down to the 10 ppb level. As a result, traces of pesticides are commonly found in many food crops even when not the result of direct application, spray drift, or inappropriate crop rotation. EPA should use its authority under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) to except trace levels of these substances from the definition of ‘pesticide chemical’ or ‘pesticide chemical residue.’”AHPA’s comments state.
So, in summation, the situation as it exists now is that there is insufficient regulation of pesticide use on niche botanical crops when that might be needed, and there is an unrealistic zero tolerance policy for the inadvertent presence of trace amounts of pesticides on these same crops.
While AHPA urged EPA to make changes to how niche botanical crops are categorized and regulated, it also urged the agency not to relax regulations that restrict heavy metal contamination in the environment. Any relaxation in those sorts of safeguards could over time raise the levels of these elements in botanical crops, complicating the situation for companies doing business in California with its stricter levels set under Prop 65.