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March 27, 2019

EPA Releases Draft Guidance for Pesticide Registrants on Plant Regulator Label Claims, Including Plant Biostimulants

Lisa M. Campbell

On March 25, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted Draft Guidance for Plant Regulator Label Claims, Including Plant Biostimulants in Docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2018-0258.  EPA issued the notice of availability in the Federal Register on March 27, 2019.  84 Fed. Reg. 11538.  Comments on the draft guidance are due by May 28, 2019

EPA states that the draft guidance is intended to “provide guidance on identifying product label claims that are considered to be plant regulator claims” by EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and thereby distinguish claims that would not subject plant biostimulants (PBS) to regulation under FIFRA as plant regulators.  While EPA has not yet promulgated a regulatory definition for a PBS, the draft guidance describes a PBS as “a naturally-occurring substance or microbe that is used either by itself or in combination with other naturally-occurring substances or microbes for the purpose of stimulating natural processes in plants or in the soil in order to, among other things, improve nutrient and/or water use efficiency by plants, help plants tolerate abiotic stress, or improve the physical, chemical, and/or biological characteristics of the soil as a medium for plant growth.”  EPA is seeking comment on the draft guidance itself, as well as on whether it should develop a definition for PBSs.  EPA states that there is currently no statutory definition for PBSs under FIFRA and that development of a definition for PBSs would require rulemaking.  The guidance also notes that the 2018 Farm Bill, enacted on December 20, 2018, does provide a statutory definition for PBSs, which is:  “a substance or micro-organism that, when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, or crop quality and yield.” 

In developing the draft guidance, EPA states that it “considered whether a PBS product, as understood by EPA, physiologically influences the growth and development of plants in such a way as to be considered plant regulators under FIFRA thereby triggering regulation as a pesticide” and that “a key consideration is what claims are being made on product labels.”  Further, as FIFRA Section 2(v) both defines plant regulator and explains which substances are excluded from the definition, “many PBS products and substances may be excluded or exempt from regulation under FIFRA depending upon their intended uses as plant nutrients (e.g., fertilizers), plant inoculants, soil amendments, and vitamin-hormone products.”

The draft guidance provides several examples of both product label claims that are considered plant regulator claims and claims that that are not considered plant regulator claims.  The examples are described in the Tables below.

  • “Product label claims generally considered ‘non-pesticidal’ (i.e. non-plant regulator claims),” including:  “plant nutrition-based claims” (Table 1a); “plant inoculant-based claims” (Table 1b); and “soil amendment-based claims” (Table 1c):
  • “Generic product label claims for products not covered by the exclusions in the FIFRA Section 2(v) definition of a plant regulator,” including “examples of generic product label claims generally considered by the Agency to be ‘non-pesticidal’” (Table 2):
  • “Plant regulator product label claims that are consistent with the FIFRA Section 2(v) plant regulator definition” including “examples of label claims that are considered … to be plant growth regulator claims that trigger regulation under FIFRA as a pesticide” (Table 3):
  • “EPA-registered, naturally-occurring, plant regulator active ingredients having modes of action and associated product label claims that are consistent with the FIFRA definition of a plant regulator” (Table 4):