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Environment

Chemical Company Challenges Florida's Decision To Ban Aldicarb For Use On Citrus

A healthy orange from a grove in Bowling Green, Florida.
Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF Public Media
AgLogic Chemical, LLC filed an administrative challenge about three weeks after the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services denied an application to use a pesticide known as aldicarb on citrus crops.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the pesticide, used to combat citrus greening disease, poses health and environmental risks.

Amid arguments about the troubled citrus industry and the health of farmworkers, a chemical company is challenging a state decision to block a pesticide that could help fight a disease that has caused massive damage in citrus groves.

AgLogic Chemical, LLC filed an administrative challenge Tuesday, about three weeks after the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services denied an application to use a pesticide known as aldicarb on citrus crops.

Major players in the citrus industry have backed using the pesticide as orange production has plummeted in recent years, in part because of citrus greening disease, which is transmitted by a type of insect. But farmworker and environmental groups have fought the use of aldicarb, contending it poses threats to workers and wildlife.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January approved the use of aldicarb in the production of Florida oranges and grapefruit. But the use also had to be approved by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

In the challenge Tuesday, AgLogic argued that the state agency’s decision was arbitrary and did not provide an adequate justification for denying the use of aldicarb.

“The department has approved other pesticide registration applications in the same posture as aldicarb but treated AgLogic’s 2021 application differently with no explanation, making its decision entirely arbitrary,” the petition said.

But as her department denied the application April 21, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried pointed to health and environmental risks.

“While there are promising new horizons for fighting citrus greening … aldicarb poses an unacceptable risk to human, animal and environmental health in Florida, is one of the world’s most toxic pesticides and is banned in more than 100 countries,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “The registrant’s application does not meet the requirements of state law, and we must therefore deny the registration of aldicarb for use in the state of Florida. I look forward to working with our citrus growers, the EPA and all partners to continue supporting Florida citrus in an environmentally conscious way.”

Aldicarb was approved for use on Florida oranges in 1978, but then-manufacturer Bayer CropScience canceled a registration for its use in 2010, this week’s petition said. In 2017, however, AgLogic’s brand of aldicarb was approved by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the production of cotton and peanuts.

Aldicarb applied to the EPA for use of the pesticide on citrus crops in 2019, and the federal agency granted a conditional registration on Jan. 12, 2021. Conditions included limiting the use of aldicarb to 100,000 acres of oranges and grapefruit in Florida and monitoring drinking-water wells near sites where the pesticide was applied, according to Tuesday’s petition.

But the Farmworker Association of Florida, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Working Group in March challenged the EPA’s decision in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In announcing the case, the groups described the approval of the pesticide’s use as an “eleventh-hour” decision before former President Donald Trump’s administration was replaced in January.

“This approval of aldicarb is just one more assault on the men and women who harvest our citrus crops in Florida, who do ‘essential’ work but who are treated as dispensable,” Jeannie Economos, coordinator of the Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project at the Farmworker Association of Florida, said in a statement when the case was filed. “No one should risk their health and the health of their families in the course of doing a hard day’s labor feeding America.”

But key players in Florida’s citrus industry have backed the use of aldicarb as citrus greening has caused widespread damage. Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief last month on behalf of the EPA and said “the iconic Florida orange and its cousin the Florida grapefruit are being quickly annihilated” by citrus greening.

“Florida’s citrus sector stands at the deadly brink. (The EPA’s) conditional registration of aldicarb is a scientifically valid means of saving much of what remains of Florida’s citrus production,” the brief filed in the federal appeals court said.

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