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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pesticide Reform Stalled

Air Date: Week of

Progress has stalled on carrying out the Food Quality Protection Act, aimed at curbing pesticide use on the foods identified as eaten most by children. Amy Eddings from member station W-N-Y-C reports on the stop-and-go since Congress' unanimous passage of the bill two years ago.


KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. Two years ago Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, a law aimed at reducing the public's exposure to pesticide residues. At the time, consumer and industry groups hailed the act as a landmark effort to set safe pesticide limits, especially for infants and children. But so far, the Environmental Protection Agency has not said what pesticides it hopes to reduce or by how much. It's all been a bit frustrating for farmers, pesticide manufacturers, and environmentalists alike. But now one consumer's group is trying to break through the logjam. From member station WNYC in New York, Amy Eddings reports.

EDDINGS: Carrying out the Food Quality Protection Act is proving to be a far trickier job than passing the original legislation. Before the Environmental Protection Agency can set new residue levels, it has to consider all the ways consumers are exposed to pesticides, from bug spray to lawn care to snack food. It has to evaluate the cumulative effect of exposure to members of the same pesticide family, and it must complete this work on about 3,000 residue limits by next August. Since April, the EPA's progress has slowed after farmers and pesticide manufacturers complained the Agency was moving too quickly and too haphazardly. Consumer's Union, a nonprofit research organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, is hoping to get things moving again with its latest report, Worst First. Biologist Edward Groth, who co-authored the study, says it helps focus EPA's priorities by asking 3 questions.

GROTH: One is, what foods do children eat a lot of? Two is, what pesticides are used on those foods in ways that tend to leave residues? And three is, of those residues, which are the most toxic residues? Because not all pesticides are equally bad.

EDDINGS: Consumer's Union selected 9 fruits and vegetables that are most popular with kids: apples, pears, peaches, grapes, oranges, green beans, peas, potatoes, and tomatoes. It then identified 40 pesticides used on the 9 foods that they say account for 95% of a child's overall dietary risk. The report says that if the EPA banned or limited their use, there are other methods farmers could effectively use, like preventing the bugs from mating, or using less toxic pesticides. But Bruce Crenning, an apple farmer near Buffalo, New York, and a board member of the New York Farm Bureau, says these methods are too risky to be used commercially.

CRENNING: We've tried mating disruptions with leaf rollers and -- very ineffective, however. You must realize that if I miss and my apples are damaged, I've lost my income for the whole year. And so, I have to be pretty well assured that it's going to work before I try it.

EDDINGS: Crenning says he doesn't like to use pesticides. He thinks they're expensive, and he, too, is worried about their health risks. But Crenning does not want the EPA to limit the number of pest-fighting tools he can use. The American Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers, says the 40 pesticides Consumer's Union targets are typically a farmer's first line of defense against crop damage and disease. And it criticizes the Worst First report as being based on anecdotal evidence, not sound science. What does the EPA make of the report? Spokeswoman Loretta Ucelli says the Agency is currently evaluating the study's suggestions about pesticide alternatives.

UCELLI: We believe that that report is a serious effort for proposing one way of doing that, one type of transition strategy. And we are giving it careful evaluation.

EDDINGS: Although the report was intended to get things moving, it doesn't appear to have succeeded. The Consumer's Union accuses the EPA of dragging its feet and bowing to pressure from growers and pesticide companies. It asserts that the Agency has all the scientific data it needs to start acting on the Food Quality Protection Act. But the EPA, along with farmers and pesticide manufacturers, says more input is necessary, as the nation's agricultural industry gears up for some of the most sweeping pesticide reforms in decades. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.



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