IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
OVER centuries we have written innumerable laws to
protect ourselves from each other's foolishness, negligence,
incompetence or evil. Few of those laws forbid anything
absolutely. Murder we can get away with, in self-defence or
insanity. We can build on floodplains, if we really want to.
The law is strict about robbing banks, but there are plenty of
legal ways to rob the public treasury. Most environmental
laws allow us to poison people just a bit, as long as we claim to
create an economic benefit in the process.
But there were, until recently, two laws that said flatly,
"No, this you cannot do." One was the us Endangered Species
Act, which did not let you push a creature into extinction.
The other was the 'Delaney amendment', which forbade you
from adding to foods anything that might cause cancer.
Hated by industry but loved by the public, these laws
withstood steady attack by lobbyists, until recently. In this
column, I will not go into the many ways the Congress sweeps
aside the Endangered Species Act. What I want to do is mark
the passing of the Delaney amendment. The Delaney clause,
named after Congressperson James Delaney of New York and
tacked onto the Federal Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act in
1958, said, "the Secretary (of the Food and Drug
Administration) shall not approve for use in food, any
chemical -additive f@und to induce cancer in man, or, after
tests, found to induce cancer in animals". Not any. Zero.
From the beginning, this dictum conflicted with another
law - the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide and Fungicide Act
(FIFRA), passed in 1947. FIFRA could not allow the concept of
zero. Pesticides must, by their nature and purpose, be spread
around in large quantities. FIFRA assumed that we can administer a dose lethal to the pest but harmless to the applicator
and to anyone who might encounter pesticide -tainted air,
soil, water or food. Delaney assumed that the only safe dose is
The us Congress papered over that inconsistency by saying that pesticide residues are not food additives. Under FIFRA,
the agriculture department (and later the environmental
protection agency or the EPA) was supposed to set safe levels
of pesticide residues in apples or tomatoes. The Congress did
realise a problem, however, with processed foods. Processing
could concentrate pesticides into higher amounts than the
(assumed safe) raw food tolerances. So, in one of those
strange things that bureaucracies do, the Congress specified
that in any processed food, if a pesticide becomes concentrated beyond its permitted level in the raw food, then
suddenly, it becomes a food additive. If it is a carcinogen
(which at least 75 pesticides are), it falls under the Delaney
zero. So, a pesticide may be permitted at seven parts per
million (ppm) in the apple, but if it goes up to eight ppm in
the sauce, then the sauce cannot be sold.
Predictably, pesticide makers and farmers and food
processors did not like this law and found many ways around
it. They pressed regulators to set high permissible pesticide
levels in raw foods so that processed foods would not exceed
them and trigger Delaney. They got into a snarl about how
much residue can be detected by laboratory instruments. No
lab method can prove a concentration of zero, so the Food
and Drug Administration, us, decided that a test was good
enough if it could find enough'pesticide to cause, say, one
cancer in a million people. So mulch for the standard of zero.
Over the years, hard-fought cases moved the policy
concerning chemicals in our foods farther away from zero.
What evolved was a sloppy policy, based not on zero risk, but
on an unclear balance between assumed risk and assumed
benefit. The huge uncertainlits behind this policy are
described in a recent book by John Wargo, called Our
Children's Toxic Legacy (Yale University Press). Wargo sums
up the conclusions of a National Academy of Sciences
study that tried to assess 30 years of the Delaney clause:
". ..confusing and contradictory legal standards, a virtual
nightmare of inadequate data... and the absence of any
strategic plan for managing or reducing levels of risk...
Clearly, neither the EPA nor the academy knew the extent of
carcinogenic risks from pesticides in foods".
The current Congress and President Bill Clinton were just
the combination needed to do away at last with the Delaney
clause. It had expired quietly this summer when the President
signed the 'Food Quality Protection Act of 1996'. Its demise
was a symbolic victory for industry, which had actually won
the war against zero tolerance long ago. It is probably just as
well that the clear, brave languege of Delaney no longer
stands to deceive us into thinking that our food supply is risk-
free. How much risk there really is, no one knows. How much
there will be in the future depends on the new food safety law,
and, we must hope, even better ones to come.
Donella H Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, US