Summaries of Environmental Laws
Administered by the EPA
Congressional Research Service Report  RL30022
Redistributed as a service of the National Library for the Environment

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act

Prepared by Linda Schierow, Specialist in Environmental Policy,
Environmental Protection Section, Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division.


Table 1. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, andRodenticide Act and Amendments
FIFRA Definition of "Pesticide"
History of Federal Pesticide Law
Registration of Pesticide Products
Public Disclosure, Exclusive Use, and Trade Secrets
Special Review
Canceling or Suspending a Registration
Use of Unregistered Pesticides
Export of Unregistered Pesticides
Selected References
Table 2. U.S. Code Sections Federal Insecticide,Fungicide and Rodenticide Act


The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act,(2) as amended (FIFRA), requires EPA to regulate the sale and use of pesticides in the United States through registration and labeling of the estimated 21,000 pesticide products currently in use.(3) The Act directs EPA to restrict the use of pesticides as necessary to prevent unreasonable adverse effects on people and the environment, taking into account the costs and benefits of various pesticide uses. FIFRA prohibits sale of any pesticide in the United States unless it is registered and labeled indicating approved uses and restrictions. It is a violation of the law to use a pesticide in a manner that is inconsistent with the label instructions. EPA registers each pesticide for each approved use, for example, to control boll weevils on cotton. In addition, FIFRA requires EPA to reregister older pesticides based on new data that meet current regulatory and scientific standards. Establishments that manufacture or sell pesticide products must register with EPA. Facility managers are required to keep certain records and to allow inspections by Agency or state regulatory representatives.

Table 1. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and
Rodenticide Act and Amendments

(codified generally as 7 U.S.C. 136-136y)

Year Act Public Law Number
1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act P.L. 80-104
1964 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Amendments P.L. 88-305
1972 Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act P.L. 92-516
1975 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Extension P.L. 94-140
1978 Federal Pesticide Act of 1978 P.L. 95-396
1980 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Amendments P.L. 96-539
1988 Federak Insecticide, Fungicide, and

Rodenticide Amendments of 1988

P.L. 100-532
1990 Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and

Trade Act of 1990

P.L. 101-624
1991 Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Amendments of 1991 P.L. 102-237
1996 Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 P.L. 104-170

Authorization for appropriations for FIFRA expired on September 31, 1991, although appropriations have continued. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 did not reauthorize FIFRA.

FIFRA Definition of "Pesticide"

Pesticides are broadly defined in FIFRA Section 2(u) as chemicals and other products used to kill, repel, or control pests. Familiar examples include pesticides used to kill insects and weeds that can reduce the yield and sometimes harm the quality of agricultural commodities, ornamental plantings, forests, wooden structures, and pastures. But the broad definition of "pesticide" in FIFRA also applies to products with less familiar "pesticidal uses." For example, substances used to control mold, mildew, algae, and other nuisance growths on equipment, in surface water, or on stored grains are pesticides. The term also applies to disinfectants and sterilants, insect repellents and fumigants, rat poison, mothballs, and many other substances.

History of Federal Pesticide Law

Although federal pesticide legislation was first enacted in 1910, it aimed to reduce economic exploitation of farmers by manufacturers and distributors of adulterated or ineffective pesticides. Congress did not address the potential risks to human health posed by pesticide products until it enacted the original 1947 version of FIFRA. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was responsible for administering the pesticide statutes during this period. However, responsibility was shifted to the EPA when that Agency was created in 1970. Broader congressional concerns about long- and short-term toxic effects of pesticide exposure to people who applied pesticides (applicators), wildlife, nontarget insects and birds, and on food consumers subsequently led to a complete revision of FIFRA in 1972. The 1972 law is the basis of current federal policy. Substantial changes were made in 1988 (P.L. 100-532) to accelerate the reregistration process, and again in 1996 (P.L. 104-170). The 1996 amendments facilitate registration of pesticides for special (so-called "minor") uses, reauthorize collection of fees to support reregistration, and require coordination of regulations implementing FIFRA and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) (21 U.S.C. 321 et seq.).

Registration of Pesticide Products

When pesticide manufacturers apply to register a pesticide active ingredient, pesticide product, or a new use of a registered pesticide under FIFRA Section 3, EPA requires them to submit scientific data on pesticide toxicity and behavior in the environment. EPA may require data from any combination of more than 100 different tests, depending on the toxicity and degree of exposure. To register a pesticide use on food, EPA also requires applicants to identify analytical methods that can be used to test food for pesticide residues and to determine the amount of pesticide residue that could remain on crops, as well as on (or in) food products, assuming that the pesticide is applied according to the manufacturers' recommended rates and methods.

Based on the data submitted, EPA determines whether and under what conditions the proposed pesticide use presents an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. If the pesticide is proposed for use on a food crop, EPA also determines whether a "safe" level of pesticide residue, called a "tolerance," can be established under the FFDCA. A tolerance must be established before a pesticide registration may be granted for use on food. If any registration is granted, the Agency specifies the approved uses and conditions of use, including safe methods of pesticide storage and disposal, which the registrant must explain on the product label. FIFRA requires that federal regulations for pesticide labels preempt state, local, and tribal regulations. Use of a pesticide product in a manner inconsistent with its label is prohibited.

EPA may classify and register a pesticide product for general or restricted use. Products known as "restricted-use pesticides" are those judged to be more dangerous to the applicator or to the environment. Such pesticides can be applied only by people who have been trained and certified. Individual states and Indian tribes generally are responsible for training and certifying pesticide applicators.

FIFRA Section 3 also allows "conditional," temporary registrations if 1) the proposed pesticide ingredients and uses are substantially similar to currently registered products and will not create additional significant environmental risks; 2) an amendment is proposed for additional uses of a registered pesticide and sufficient data are submitted indicating that there is no significant additional risk; or 3) data requirements for a new active ingredient require more time to generate than normally allowed, and use of the pesticide during the period will not cause any unreasonable adverse effect on the environment and will be in the public interest.

Public Disclosure, Exclusive Use, and Trade Secrets

Section 3 directs EPA to make the data submitted by the applicant publicly available within 30 days after a registration is granted. However, applicants may claim certain data are protected as trade secrets under Section 10. If EPA agrees that the data are protected, the Agency must withhold that data from the public, unless the data pertain to the health effects or environmental fate or effects of the pesticide ingredients. Information may be protected if it qualifies as a trade secret and reveals 1) manufacturing processes; 2) details of methods for testing, detecting, or measuring amounts of inert ingredients; or 3) the identity or percentage quantity of inert ingredients.

Companies sometimes seek to register a product based upon the registration of similar products, relying upon the data provided by the original registrant that is publicly released. This is allowed. However, Section 3 of FIFRA provides for a 10-year period of "exclusive use" by the registrant of data submitted in support of an original registration or a new use. In addition, an applicant who submits any new data in support of a registration is entitled to compensation for the cost of data development by any subsequent applicant who supports an application with that data within 15 years of its submission. If compensation is not jointly agreed upon by the registrant and applicant, binding arbitration can be invoked.


Most pesticides currently registered in the United States are older pesticides and were not subject to modern safety reviews. Amendments to FIFRA in 1972 directed EPA to "reregister" approximately 35,000 older products, thereby assessing their safety in light of current standards. The task of reregistering older pesticides has been streamlined by reviewing groupings of products having the same active ingredients, on a generic instead of individual product basis. Many of the 35,000 products will not be reviewed and their registrations will be canceled, because registrants do not wish to support reregistration. Nevertheless, the task for registrants and EPA remains immense and costly. To accelerate the process of reregistration, Congress, in 1988, imposed a 10-year reregistration schedule. To help pay for the additional costs of the accelerated process, Congress directed EPA to require registrants to pay reregistration and annual registration maintenance fees on pesticide ingredients and products. The 1996 amendments to FIFRA extended EPA's authority to collect maintenance fees through FY 2001. Exemptions from fees or reductions are allowed for minor-use pesticides, public health pesticides, and small business registrants.

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