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EPA To Ban Canadian Canola Seeds

March 11, 1998

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ The Environmental Protection Agency says it will ban chemically treated Canadian canola seeds that have not been approved in the United States, but farmers will be allowed to use the seeds during the current planting season.

The lindane-treated seed may be used until June 1. Farmers prefer the Canadian variety because seed treated with a similar chemical that has EPA approval costs about $10 more per acre.

The EPA has pledged to work to harmonize the U.S.-Canadian pesticide standard on canola seed before the 1999 season, so Canadian farmers will not have a competitive advantage.

But some canola farmers are skeptical.

``The only thing we’ve harmonized is, we’ve harmonized my neighbors and me just about to extinction,″ said Doug Lemieux, a canola farmer in Rolette, in north-central North Dakota. ``And the chemical companies and the agribusinesses are getting big and fat and they’re making beaucoup bucks.″

Kerrigan Clough, assistant regional administrator for the EPA in Denver, said the agency’s regulations forbid the use of unregistered chemicals such as lindane. But, he said, the agency has neither been clear on lindane nor made much effort to enforce regulations against it in the past.

The EPA’s change of heart came after an inquiry from a Dallas-based chemical company seven months ago.

In a letter, E.L. Moore, vice president of Gustafson Inc., asked officials to clarify pesticide rules, sparking the controversy that has worried and angered farmers.

In response to Moore’s letter, however, the EPA insisted that imports of seed treated with unregistered chemicals are illegal.

The agency has pledged to work with the Canadian Pesticide Regulatory Management Agency under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement to conform the two governments’ approaches to treated canola seed.

EPA officials have discussed the issue with Canadian officials, Clough said, and they also have expressed concern about the pesticide. Clough said he was optimistic that by the next planting season, Canada and the United States will have agreed on what pesticides can and cannot be used on canola _ as well as on other crops.

``It’s in Canada’s interest _ as it is in ours _ to have their farmers use equivalent materials, and the Canadian government is concerned also about some of the materials that have been used to treat seeds,″ Clough said.

Clough described lindane as an environmental hazard, but he said the way the chemical is used on canola does not present a danger to humans.

``What we want to do is get it out of contact with the environment _ not so much because it’s likely to get into the canola oil that we consume, but it affects the animals and so forth that it comes into contact with when it is planted,″ Clough said.

Said Lemieux, ``We’ve got bureaucrats out here telling us that things aren’t safe, and we want to see the data. Prove to us that they’re not safe.″

Canola’s popularity in North Dakota has grown at a staggering rate. Last year, farmers planted half a million acres of canola, compared with just 30,000 acres in 1991. This year’s acreage is expected to increase even more.

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