U.S. EPA moves to end use of Bayer, Nichino insecticides

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday it was moving to halt the sale of insecticides from German chemicals company Bayer and Nichino America containing an active ingredient called flubendiamide found to pose risks to the environment.

Bayer CropScience, the agricultural arm of Bayer AG, had anticipated the action after rejecting the EPA’s request to voluntarily pull the insecticide from the marketplace last month.

The company said it expects to request an administrative law hearing from the EPA’s Office of General Counsel within the next 30 days to dispute the EPA’s conclusion that the pesticide is unsafe.

U.S. pesticide regulation law requires a final ruling by the administrative law judge within 75 days of receiving the hearing request. The insecticide can remain on the market throughout the process.

Flubendiamide is the active ingredient in Bayer’s Belt and Nichino’s Tourismo and Vetica insecticides. It is registered for use on over 200 crops, including soybeans, almonds and tobacco, with some crops having as many as six applications per year, according to the EPA.

“Growers will be affected if Belt is not available,” said Frank Rittemann, Bayer’s product manager for Belt. “There are certain pockets where farmers might be facing higher input costs when looking for alternatives.”

Bayer’s Belt is applied to some 2 million to 2.5 million acres of crops in the United States, he said. Top use states include California and Arizona, home to various produce and tree nut crops, and several soybean, tobacco and cotton-producing states across the U.S. South and Southeast, he said.

Environmental groups cheered the EPA move.

“We’re hoping to see these dangerous products finally taken off the shelf so they can no longer harm fish and other aquatic wildlife,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The EPA issued the notice after it concluded that continued use could harm organisms such as mayflies and water fleas that are important food sources for fish in streams and ponds adjacent to agricultural fields. Bayer disputes the findings, citing years of field studies that showed that doses have never reached high enough levels to be toxic.

The EPA issued a conditional registration for the chemical in 2008. Terms of the registration allowed the EPA to request its cancellation if new data uncovered environmental risks.

Nichino America, which had no comment on the EPA move, is a unit of Japan’s Nihon Nohyaku Co Ltd.

Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; editing by Susan Heavey and Tom Brown