A Global Crop Protection Effort

A Global Crop Protection Effort

Dan Kunkel

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The IR-4 Project, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, is a multi-million dollar research organization focused on helping specialty crop growers with their crop protection needs. (To watch a video from the anniversary celebration, go to http://bit.ly/17OPq1D.)Based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, IR-4 now has a presence in nearly every state. Taking its presence beyond U.S. borders, however, will be a big part of the organization’s future.

American Vegetable Grower magazine caught up with Dan Kunkel, associate director, Food and International Programs at IR-4, just prior to his trip to China for a meeting with the Codex Alimentarius Commission, or Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues, which is an organization that develops harmonized international food standards, among other things. The meeting focused on pesticide residues.
We asked Kunkel about IR-4’s interaction with Codex, its interest in international markets, and plans to expand participation in global organizations.

What are the main reasons IR-4’s efforts are being moved toward international markets?

Kunkel: To help U.S. growers export produce is the main reason. Even though there are a lot of new agreements that have been made for free trade, pesticide residue has become a trade barrier. So if the growers are using a new product in the U.S. and the receiving countries don’t recognize them as safe, then commodities get held up on the border.

So IR-4 decided that we would use our data not only to submit to EPA domestically, but we would also start using it internationally to make sure that the U.S. commodities in trade aren’t stopped because of lack of data to indicate that they are safe when they arrive on the shores of other countries.

We focus on Codex, mostly, and some commodity groups contact us directly for data that they submit to other foreign bodies like Korea, Japan, and the European Union. Many countries recognize Codex, so that is going a long way in addressing some of the issues, but it is a very fluid situation.

Can you talk about how increasing Codex Alimentarius Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) for Minor Use is benefiting the U.S. and other countries?

Kunkel: Many countries default to Codex (or incorporate those standards) so we try to use our data or dovetail with the [crop protection] companies when they submit their data to Codex. The more Codex MRLs we get with countries defaulting to Codex, that gives our growers more markets they can sell to.

It would be nice if more countries would default to Codex. I have to say that personally because the U.S. doesn’t default to Codex. The U.S. tries to do everything it can to match Codex MRLs, but it is not that easy.

Why? A lot of it has to do with delays. We can’t wait for Codex to set an MRL before we set ours, so we usually set ours first and then Codex sets theirs. Over the past year, the agency has been working really hard to harmonize MRLs. Let’s say we set an MRL in the U.S. and then Codex sets its MRL. When EPA has another action on that chemical, that is when to harmonize the MRLs with Codex.

There are some pilot projects at Codex that hopefully will allow the organization to get more involved with MRLs at product registration. Currently, a lot of new products are registered in a global joint review process. If Codex can participate in that, it will help to solve those issues of disparaging MRLs.

Is the trade barrier situation improving?

Kunkel: It is getting better but it remains fluid and it remains very complicated. I say that because we continue to have countries that have their own list of pesticides, they call it their ‘positive list,’ which means it is the list of products that they feel are safe, and they list the MRLs they feel are safe for a particular commodity.

So it is those pesticides that they allow on commodities, and this has sometimes been a problem with countries like China, India, and Taiwan. Instead of defaulting to Codex now they are developing their own system.

So there is a lot more happening and it changes sometimes on a daily basis. Even South Korea is moving from Codex to having its own positive list.

How is IR-4 continuing to expand participation in global organizations?

Kunkel: In regard to global organizations, we already participate in the NAFTA technical working group on pesticides. We attend those meetings and we usually participate as a government member, as we are invited by EPA to participate. That is also true for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) [Editor’s Note: The OECD is an international organization that promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.] and Codex.

We would like to continue to see expansion of the work that we are already doing so that we can have less concerns about our commodities when they are exported. All the work that IR-4 is doing is just to support the growers and their markets, and we don’t want pesticides to be a trade barrier for them.

IR-4 has a strong partnership with the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s minor use program. Can you talk about the Pest Management Center (PMC) and how IR-4 hopes it will be a model for other countries?

Kunkel: We have been working with Canada since 1996, and then they got significant funding in 2003 that basically allowed them to set up an IR-4 in Canada, which is known as the Pest Management Center. About 20% of our research is seamless where either IR-4 is the sponsor of the study and we have trials in Canada for our U.S. studies, or Canada is a sponsor, and they are running trials in the U.S. And then we submit the data to both EPA and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency in Canada. There are no trade issues with those cooperative projects.

We also work together on a lot of other projects. We go to workshops in Canada where they set priorities, or they come to our workshops where we set priorities so we can dovetail our studies of joint interest together.

We have company meetings with Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, and others and Canada joins us on those discussions. I think the companies have realized if they register a product in the U.S. and it isn’t registered in Canada, the growers here aren’t going to use it because they are not sure if that commodity can be exported to Canada. Canada is our biggest trade partner for the ag commodities. 

Can you talk about the importance of the main areas which were identified at the 2012 Global Minor Use Summit?

Kunkel: We ended up with five themes being covered in February 2012. Those themes are coordination and collaboration, communication, regulatory incentives for registrants to register minor uses, capacity development, and registration of minor uses and MRL setting.

I think most of those areas speak for themselves but as a follow up we have established a steering group. There are a couple of areas that we are looking at for the steering group and they include a data base – a global needs database and a data sharing database. In that area we are organizing a global workshop that will take place in 2015. It will be like the IR-4 workshops.

The other area is capacity development. A lot of that is being done by the USDA Foreign Ag Service, and that organization has been sponsoring a number of workshops, and the three main regions that the capacity development is working on are in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

By working with the countries the USDA Foreign Ag Service has been able to get three World Bank Funds through the Standard Development Trade Facility (SDTF). Through those grants, we hope they will start to develop data generation hubs in those areas, and IR-4 is hoping that we can tap into that research source to not only develop data for U.S. growers, but address needs internationally.

The other main area that the steering group is working on is communication. With communication it involves the Global Minor Use Portal: www.gmup.org

We are communicating a lot through the portal and we are sharing information about upcoming minor use events. On some of the main areas, I’ll be posting information on themes that were the outcome of a recent summit. 

When did IR-4 begin incorporating international markets into its work?

Kunkel: Jerry Baron, the executive director of IR-4, started in 1995-96 and we started communications with Canada. We started with NAFTA, and then there was a Canada/U.S. agreement, which evolved into the North American Free Trade Agreement. We participated in a number of OECD symposiums around 2005 and then OECD established an expert working group on minor uses in 2008, where we are a member.

Crop grouping is also a big part of what IR-4 is involved in. We have been updating the U.S. crop groups, but we are also working to update the Codex crop groups, as well.

What will updating the Codex crop groups entail?

Kunkel: It is using the same system that is used in the U.S. Part of it is a listing of commodities and making sure everyone recognizes them. There is a common name that is recognized by all the countries in Codex but the one thing we are adding that helps with Minor Uses is that you can have representative commodities. So you generate data on the representative commodities but then it allows you tolerances or Maximum Residue Limits on a big group of similar commodities.

So it is kind of like extrapolation but the extrapolation is very well defined and it is within a commodity. So for example, for cucumbers, we would conduct studies on cucumbers, summer squash, and cantaloupe, but then we can also get uses on watermelons winter squash, and all those other odd things in between. So by doing those three studies we get registrations and maximum residue limits on between 25 or 30 commodities. 

It really helps to address the minor use issue, so now we are really hoping that Codex will recognize that as well. And they have, they actually have approved all the fruit types. So all the fruiting crop groups have been updated and codex also now allows for this extrapolation of crop groups. 

Now we are working the vegetable types and some of the other commodities. [Codex] crop groups are a little different than ours, but the fruit types are done and we are going to get vegetables, herbs, and some of the other ones will be finished in the coming years. 

As global markets continue to grow, how will IR-4 involvement grow as well?

Kunkel: We are going to continue to increase where we use our data. To date, we have increased the amount of countries we work with to generate data (especially with Canada), which will provide some cost savings to IR-4 in the long run, but we will probably increase the number of global studies we do. 

For example, let’s say we do trials on blueberries and that we do eight trials in the U.S. Well, now we may do 15 to 20 trials, but we may do it globally. We will continue to move in that direction — generating data globally instead of nationally.