EPA May Force Pesticide Label on New Biotech Fruit

Washington, D.C., April 30, 2010 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute today condemned a proposed Environmental Protection Agency action plan that would, for the first time ever, require a new biotech crop to be labeled as a pesticide.
In approving the new plum variety, which has been bioengineered to resist virus infection, EPA proposes to regulate trees, cuttings, and fruit from virus-resistant plants under federal pesticide laws and label them as containing a “plant incorporated protectant.”

“EPA has already concluded this plant and fruit are perfectly safe for humans and the environment,” said CEI Senior Fellow Gregory Conko.  “Treating a mere plum as a pesticide would needlessly spread consumer confusion and add burdensome regulations on nurseries that sell the trees, farmers who grow them, and retailers who sell the fruit.”

The EPA has regulatory authority over crop plants bioengineered to produce substances that kill or repel pests.  But virus-resistant crops do not produce pesticidal substances, so the agency has never before regulated them under pesticide laws.  To date, virus-resistant varieties of squash, potato, and papaya have been approved for commercial-scale cultivation in the United States.  None has been regulated as a “plant incorporated protectant.”
“Unlike insect-resistant crops, bioengineered to produce a protein that is toxic to caterpillars, virus-resistant plants fend off infection without generating new proteins,” said Conko.  “Classifying this plum variety as a biopesticide is legally suspect, and it cannot be justified by any concerns about the environment or human consumers.”

The C5 Honey Sweet Plum variety was developed by the US Department of Agriculture at a research station in West Virginia, in cooperation with scientists from France, Spain, Poland, and Romania.  It is bioengineered to resist plum pox virus, which is harmless to humans but destroys plum, peach, nectarine, apricot, and cherry trees by rendering them sterile.

CEI filed public interest comments on the EPA’s proposed Biopesticide Registration Action Document for the C5 plum.  The Institute urged EPA to remove the plum’s classification as a biopesticide or at least to exempt trees and fruit from the labeling requirement.

> View CEI’s Comments on the Biopesticide Registration Action Document for the Honey Sweet Plum

> Read more from CEI on biotechnology regulation.