Farm Pesticide Use on Rise

WASHINGTON, May 21, 1998--Five years after the Clinton Administration promised a bold initiative to reduce pesticide use and make children's health the top priority in federal pesticide regulation, the government has done little or nothing to reduce toxic pesticide use, pesticide residues in food, or pesticide contamination of drinking water, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

"Nearly every trend in pesticide use and exposure shows that things have gotten worse since 1993," said Kenneth A Cook, president of EWG and a principal author of the research group's latest report, Same As It Ever Was... "Overall, government policy during the Clinton-Gore Administration has strongly favored the interests of pesticide companies over children," Cook said.

In June 1993, the Administration reaped laudatory headlines and praise from environmental and public health groups by announcing "a dramatic shift" in policy, touted by the White House as "a landmark in food safety" and "a watershed in the history of pesticide use." Instead, according to Cook: "Almost nothing has been done by the Administration to reduce pesticide use or lower children's exposure to pesticides." "Children and the rest of the population are no better off today than they were five years ago, and some forms of exposure have increased," he added.

EWG, a nonprofit research organization that has conducted numerous studies of pesticide use and safety, said its analysis of federal agency data, programs and regulations found:

  • Pesticide use has increased steadily over the past 5 years and could reach near-record levels by 2000, yet the government still has no plan for use reduction, despite its 1993 pledge. The Administration has removed only one pesticide from the market (to protect farm workers), and in fact has allowed a record number of new pesticides into commerce. Both the Reagan and Bush Administrations took more aggressive action against hazardous pesticides-the Reagan Administration banned 12 pesticides during its tenure in office; the Bush Administration banned 4.

  • Levels of carcinogenic pesticides found in fruits and vegetables heavily consumed by children increased between 1993 and 1996 (latest available data), and levels of neurotoxic and hormone-disrupting pesticides have held steady.

  • Water supplies in thousands of communities remain contaminated with pesticides, and a federal plan to regulate the most common contaminant - the cancer-causing weed-killer atrazine - is dead in the water.

  • The Administration took five years to propose ill-fated rules to define organic food, which the public then roundly rejected. Under the Clinton USDA proposal, organic food could have included products that were genetically modified, grown with toxic sewage sludge, and then irradiated prior to sale.

  • The Administration's "aggressive promotion" of sustainable agriculture amounts to 0.7 percent of the USDA research budget - $13.3 million out of USDA's $1.9 billion research and extension budget.

"President Clinton and Vice President Gore said they were going to reduce pesticide use in agriculture, protect children from pesticides in food, take dangerous pesticides off the market, and aggressively promote safer, sustainable farming methods," said EWG analyst Kert Davies, one of the report's authors, "None of that has happened."

The report states that despite the passage of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which gave the Administration powerful new tools to reduce pesticide exposure, there is "no compelling evidence" the government intends to keep its promise, even in dealing with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides that contaminate much of the nation's food supply.

"The Administration is about to decide if it will protect children by taking strong action against organophosphate insecticides," said Cook. "Based on the track record so far, consumers and parents have reason to worry that they will have to do more to protect themselves because the government is unwilling to do its job," said Cook.

Environmental Working Group, a project of the Tides Center, is a nonprofit research organization with offices in Washington, DC and San Francisco. Same As It Ever Was... and other EWG reports are available online at

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