Monday, May 5, 2014

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AFBF: Revised pesticide rule must balance safety with risk

Washington-Increased and more frequent training, additional record-keeping requirements and changes to the family farm exemption are key parts of EPA's proposal to tighten the standards for the handling and application of pesticides.  While ensuring workers' safety is top priority, the rule may go too far for family farms and ranches, according to Farm Bureau.

"Farmers and ranchers are mindful of the fact that anyone working with hazardous chemicals must be careful and well-trained. We don't want to put our workers in jeopardy. We just want to make sure that the standards EPA adopts are reasonable and on par with the risk involved," explained Paul Schlegel, American Farm Bureau Federation crop protection specialist.

The proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard include:
·         Prohibiting children under 16 from handling pesticides
·         Requiring farm worker training every year (instead of every five years) on topics such as decontamination supplies and personal protective equipment
·         Establishing 25- to 100-foot no-entry buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields
·         Requiring employers to keep records of application-specific information, farm-worker training and early-entry notification for two years
·         Expanding mandatory posting of no-entry signs for certain hazardous pesticides
·         Allowing "authorized representatives" of workers to examine records
·         Adopting OSHA standards for certain personal protection equipment (PPE)
·         Reducing the "grace period" for new hires, during which they do not have to be trained
 With the March 19 publication of the proposal, the current deadline for comments is June 17.  However, citing several important reasons, AFBF and others have requested the comment deadline be extended to Sept. 17, 2014.

Among the reasons for the extension request is how busy farmers and ranchers are in the spring.
"Our members-those who would be most affected by this proposed regulation-are now planting crops, tending to their orchards and prepping the soil for this year's cultivation and harvest.  It will be extremely difficult at this time of the year to ask farmers to stop what they are doing, to familiarize them with this rule, its implications and provisions and to ask them to provide us with their analysis and judgment as to its impacts," Farm Bureau wrote in requesting the extension.

In addition, the organization pointed out that farmers and ranchers are also currently scrutinizing EPA's hefty proposal to expand the agency's jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

"This latter proposal will have an enormous impact on farmers and ranchers and will require extensive analysis.  It is unreasonable for the agency to expect farmers and ranchers to analyze both these far-reaching proposals at the same time without giving them ample time to judge the impact of these proposals on their operations," Farm Bureau said.

The current Worker Protection Standard has been in place for approximately 20 years, and the revisions have been at least 10 years in the making.  Tacking on another 90 days to the comment period is very reasonable, the group said.

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