The Southern crop protection industry rallied behind an effort to generate written comments on a proposed Endangered Species Act regulation challenged by environmental groups opposing pesticide use.

Thousands of responses were submitted by the industry to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the proposed “counterpart regulations” to improve the consultation process between the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on pesticide products.

Jay Vroom, president of Crop Life America, told Southern Crop Production Association members at their annual conference at Savannah, Ga., that more than 70,000 comments were posted by the crop protection sector, “far outdistancing those from the environmental community.”

Comments were received by the EPA through July 23.

The “counterpart regulation” proposal to the Endangered Species Act, proponents say, would establish for the first time a more efficient approach to protect threatened and endangered species.

The improved review procedures, developed cooperatively by the USDA and the EPA, would provide, the agencies say, “a workable and efficient framework to insure that necessary measures are taken to protect fish and wildlife,” while at the same time insuring “that farmers have the pest control products they need to grow food…”

Vroom said the Bush administration's proposal “would connect the dots” between the EPA's responsibility in registering pesticides and the Fish and Wildlife Service's responsibility for administering the Endangered Species Act.

But, he says, the White House “was taking a risk on this issue politically in this election year, and they knew there would be a lot of challenges from the environmental community. We were asked, collectively in agriculture, to give the administration grassroots support” in the comment process to offset the expected volume of comments from the other side.

The Southern Crop Production Association, Vroom says, realized it wasn't just an issue in the Western states, where high profile challenges have originated, “but that it was a federal precedent issue that needed widespread grassroots support.

“You rose to the challenge and carried your share of the load,” he said. “We also got tremendous support from the congressional delegation all across the South, thanks to orchestration by SCPA.”

One Southern state organization, particularly, “came to the top in the effort,” Vroom says — the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

For its work in support of the ESA proposal and other crop protection and agriculture issues, the council was named recipient of the Crop Life America Urbanowski Grassroots Award.

The award, given in honor of former CLA chairman Richard Urbanowski, is conferred annually in recognition of the person or organization best encouraging grassroots efforts related to crop protection, pest control, and biotechnology for the benefit of agriculture and public health.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other related agencies to insure that registration of products under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of federally-listed threatened or endangered species or result in destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.

Before proposing the rule, scientists with the agencies spent a year conducting an extensive review of the EPA's approach to ecological risk assessment and offered recommendations, which the EPA incorporated into the regulation.

The EPA says the regulation, if implemented appropriately, will “greatly improve” the science-based decision-making process for protecting endangered species.

“Agricultural producers are the first-conservationists,” said Bruce Knight, USDA's chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who noted that the rule will help “protect the health of our families and neighbors while continuing to provide food for our communities.”

The new consultation process, he said, would “complement our efforts to reduce the potential impacts of pest management activities on wildlife, as well as soil, water, and air quality.”


hbrandon@primediabusiness.com