Colorado groups gear up for pesticide debate

GREELEY – The state of Colorado is reviewing regulations related to pesticide use for agriculture, stirring debate among agribusiness and pesticide opposition groups.

The state Department of Regulatory Agencies is reviewing the Colorado Pesticide Applicators Act, the state law governing use of pesticides in agriculture and other settings that expires July 1, 2015.

Farmers say pesticides are crucial for their operations to produce key crops for food and animal feed. Opponents of pesticides contend the chemicals are unsafe and may be responsible for destroying bee colonies.

The review by the Department of Regulatory Agencies is a typical evaluation of laws that contain sunset provisions. Regulators last reviewed the law in 2006, said John Scott, pesticides program manager for the state Department of Agriculture, tasked with regulating pesticides.

The state started its latest review of the law last year and will submit potential amendments to the law to lawmakers at the next legislative session in January. The agriculture department wants to add seats on a pesticides advisory committee, change timing requirements for record-keeping and adjust its electronic licensing system. The Department of Regulatory Agencies is expected to release recommendations on the law in October.

The review of the law comes as pesticides containing neonicotinoids have come under scrutiny as possibly linked to declining bee populations essential for food production.

Pesticides also can harm birds, fish and other wildlife, said Rich Andrews, coordinator for the Colorado Pesticides Reform Coalition. The group includes beekeepers and environmental organizations who want tighter regulations for pesticide use.

“I would like to see a ban on some of the manners of use and some specific pesticides that are scientifically documented to be very dangerous and very ecologically damaging,” said Andrews, adding that he would like to see the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulate pesticide use.

Dave Eckhardt, who farms corn near LaSalle, says the pesticides he uses “make or break” his harvest. He uses them to thwart pests such as the spider mite, which can destroy 30 percent of a corn crop. Eckhardt can lose money on even a 10 percent reduction in corn output.  

Eckhardt says the food he produces with pesticides is safe.

“I respect the fact that some may not feel as safe,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to educate a number of people.”

“There’s those who you will never change their mind, and that’s OK, too,” he added. “There’s a product for them in the organic aisle.”

Colorado Corn, along with other agribusiness groups, have recommended limited changes to the law. The industry group contends that pesticides are subject to extensive testing and approval by the federal government.

“When we ask less than 1 percent of the population to grow the crops needed for our food supply, fuel and fiber, and they’re doing so while battling insects, weeds, extreme weather, water limitations, tight profit margins and other challenges, they need an array of tools to do this, and pesticides are one of them,” Colorado Corn spokesman Eric Brown said.

The industry group points out that mites, fungus and beekeeping practices also are being studied as potential causes of dwindling bee populations.

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