EPA bans pesticide carbofuran on coffee imports

by JulieCraves on December 27, 2009

In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its decision to ban any residue of the pesticide carbofuran on food. The rule becomes effective December 31, 2009.

Carbofuran (sold under the name Furadan) causes neurological damage in humans, is extremely deadly to birds and fish, and is highly toxic through ingestion and inhalation. It is used on numerous crops, including coffee. It tends to be used on various types of mealy bugs that infest the roots of coffee plants, coffee root nematodes, and on the coffee leaf miner (Leucoptera coffeella). Coffee leaf miners have natural enemies in Latin America, so carbofuran is used against them mainly in Africa.

Earlier in the process of reviewing carbofuran uses, the EPA rules allowed the importation of rice, coffee, bananas, and sugarcane with carbofuran residues. This final decision reverses that, and countries exporting coffee into the U.S. must stop using carbofuran on their crops. While little pesticide residue remains on green or roasted coffee, the direct threats to coffee workers, wildlife, and the millions of migratory and resident birds from the application of carbofuran to coffee make its use dangerous.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for enforcing EPA regulations on food imports. Carbofuran residue on food has been banned in the EU for some time, so testing protocols are established. Exporting countries, and coffee exporters and importers, often engage testing and certification labs to insure there are no violations that could lead to rejected shipments or, worse, a ban on imports.

FMC Corporation, the Pennsylvania-based company that manufactures Furadan, recently announced that they are challenging the EPA’s decision on some technical and administrative grounds. They have contended that the chemical is safe, despite well-documented impacts on birds, lions, hippos, other wildlife, and humans. Reports are still surfacing about illegal use of Furadan by poachers to kill vultures (which attract attention to illegal kills) and small birds which are then sold for human consumption.

Improper pesticide usage (whether unwitting or purposeful), export of domestically banned pesticides to other countries, and the fact that we are just beginning to understand the dangers of cumulative and synergistic effects of multiple pesticides in the environment to wildlife and humans, all argue for support of non-chemical-based pest management. And that includes growing coffee under diverse shade with its biodiversity-based pest control benefits.

Update: In 2010, courts ruled the EPA had to once again establish residue tolerances for imported foods, including coffee.

Revised on January 7, 2022

Posted in Coffee and the environment,Organic coffee

Amber Coakley December 28, 2009 at 12:08 am

Do you know if this pesticide could be present on coffees that are "organic?" I presume that "organic" means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers have been used…?

Jonathan Bonchak December 28, 2009 at 9:57 am

Nice article, thanks for posting. These chemicals are huge money in international agro-business, so we'll see how far the EPA gets before they back down. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was more behind the scenes than meets the eye…..

Julie December 28, 2009 at 11:07 am

No, endosulfan cannot be used on any coffee certified organic.

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