SANGER – The president and CEO of the Central California Almond Growers Association said the recent decision to ban Bayer’s Belt pesticide could have unintended consequences as growers will seek alternatives for killing the bugs that eat their plants.
“By all accounts, Belt has been effective on a wide variety of crops,” CCAGA head Mike Kelley told the Northern California Record. “It’s been a good insecticide, but we are in a state where any pesticide is looked at suspiciously.”
The Environmental Protection Agency allowed the pesticide to be used on California crops for about eight years ago under a “conditional registration” program that included continual oversight of the product. Belt has been used on a variety of agriculture products, including almonds, walnuts, tomatoes, cotton, alfalfa and 200 other crops.
A Bayer spokesman told the AgNet West news site that their monitoring results differed with EPA during the course of the test period, though he EPA’s appeal board upheld the decision to ban the substance Aug. 2.
“The EPA was using a model which they looked at different attributes,” Bayer’s Lee Hall told AgNet. “Where we ended up about a year ago was our monitoring data didn’t match the modeling data the EPA was conducting. From that point on we had kind of a deterioration in discussions with the EPA and that led to the call from them to voluntarily cancel Belt.”
Still, after the appeal’s board decision, the company decided to voluntarily stop producing Belt.
Belt contains the ingredient flubendiamide, which the EPA now says is toxic to freshwater fish and animals. Under the ban, sellers will be able to sell off their stock of Belt, but the stock will not be replenished.
Without the pesticide, Kelley said farmers will look for alternatives to protect their crops – alternatives that may not be as safe as Belt was.
“They are doing whatever they can to eliminate not just one pesticide, but all of them,” he said, an effort to produce a “zero-risk” agricultural product.
“It plays well with the voters,” he said, “but it’s not realistic. There are things already in the marketplace that are less friendly to the environment. Nothing comes without risk. It’s a two-edged sword they’re playing with.”
He said banning Belt has economic implications that include the loss of small-market farming-related jobs, but the industry will continue to follow where it is led.
“It’s not like we can just leave, we’ve got to stay here,” he said. “We’ve just got to deal with the fallout and do the best we can. Farmers will just have to find something else to do the job.”
Repeated attempts to contact the Western Agricultural Processor Association for comment on this story were unsuccessful. The association advocates for farmers producing a wide range of agricultural products.
The website Beyond Pesticides says the Belt case is troubling because the actual testing of the pesticide was done on real crops before determine its efficacy or effect on the environment.
According to the website: “This controversy points to what health and environmental advocates cite as a fundamental flaw in EPA’s pesticide registration review – the agency’s conditional pesticide registration process, which allows toxic pesticides on the market without a complete and comprehensive assessment of their potential harm – in this case to wildlife and the vital ecosystem services they provide.”