The Nation's New Pesticide Law
Reports & Consumer Guides
The Nation's New Pesticide Law
On August 3,1996, President Clinton signed the Food Quality Protection Act,fundamen tally improving the way that pesticides are regulated in food. The bill passed the House of Representatives on July 23, 1996, by a vote of 417 - 0. It cleared the Senate on July 24, 1996, by unanimous consent.
Under the new law, for the first time all exposures to pesticides must be shown to be safe for infants and children, with a clear consideration of the sensitivity of the young to these chemicals. In addition, when determining a safe level for a pesticide in food, the EPA must explicitly account for all infant and child exposures to other pesticides and toxic chemicals that share a common toxic mechanism (are toxic in the same way).
Further, under prior law, farmer profits could justify risks that would otherwise be deemed unacceptable, and no explicit protection of infants and children was required. This framework was largely repealed, and replaced by a uniform standard of safety, with very narrow exceptions. And, when exceptions to the new health standard are granted for a specific pesticide, the public is informed in supermarkets of all foods treated with that pesticide.
Reforming the Delaney Clause - Myth vs. Reality
A central feature of the new law is the consistent safety standard for pesticides in raw and processed food aimed specifically at protecting infants and children. This new standard replaces a double standard in previous law where a risk/benefit test (farmer profits vs.public health) was applied to pesticides in all fresh foods and most processed foods. For the remaining pesticides in processed foods, the often misunderstood Delaney clause was applied.
The Delaney clause of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act is a ban on cancer causing food and color additives. It was never a ban on cancer causing pesticides. The Delaney clause did apply to a handful of pesticides, however, -- perhaps 80 out of 8,000 food uses of pesticides -- but only under special circumstances.
Prior to passage of the Food Quality Protection Act, the Delaney clause applied to pesticides in processed foods, but only when residues of a cancer causing pesticide increased during processing; for example when more of a pesticide was present in ketchup than in the raw tomatoes used to make it. The Delaney clause never applied to fresh produce, or to crops that the EPA did not consider processed, such as all frozen vegetables. The Delaney clause had minimal impact on pesticides precisely because the overwhelming majority of pesticide residues decrease or remain at the same levels when fresh food is processed.
Processed baby food (fruits and vegetables in those cute little jars) best illustrate the limitations of the Delaney clause. In 1995, the Environmental Working Group and the National Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform commissioned a food industry lab to test baby food for pesticides. The pesticide found most often was iprodione (trade name Rovral), classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen. How did this pesticide slip by Delaney? The levels in baby food were lower than those in the raw food from which the baby food was made.
But is this carcinogen safe for babies? No one can be absolutely sure, although common sense and a raft of experience suggest that adding potent carcinogens to baby food, even in small amounts, presents an unacceptable health risk to the nation's children.
Under the previous law, which contained no mandate to protect children, the EPA could not act to protect infants and children from carcinogens or any other pesticide, without justifiable fear of political intervention in the decision making process by pesticide companies and agribusiness interests. In contrast, under the new law action to protect infants and children is required; if a pesticide is not safe for infants and children, it is not to be allowed in food.
Rejecting the Industry Bill
The following analysis was prepared immediately after the Food Quality Protection Act passed the Congress. The phrase "Industry bill" refers to the "old" H.R. 1627, prior to negotiations that produced the final bill (which bore the same number). The "Industry bill", which would have repealed all basic food safety protections for pesticides, was aggressively supported by the food, farm and pesticide industries, and had about 240 co-sponsors in the House prior to negotiations that produced the final bill. In the end Congress swept aside most of the industry's proposal and rewrote the law in a way that a wide range of consumer and environmental groups could support (see attached letter).