Buckling down

In its pamphlet, the EPA underplays the health risks due to pesticides

Published: Sunday 31 January 1999

under pressure from the us food industry, the Environmental Protection Agency ( epa ) has modified a new brochure on pesticides, putting less emphasis on their health risks and barely mentioning organic foods as an alternative to foods grown using toxic chemicals. The original strongly blamed pesticides for inducing heath risks among humans.

The brochure, to be distributed in grocery stores under a food safety law that the us Congress passed unanimously in 1996, was first drafted about a year ago. Only a few pages long, it nonetheless was hotly debated. Environmental and consumer advocacy groups complained that the language of the new draft had toned down the disastrous effects of pesticides. It does not refer to pesticides as poisons, they said.

In August, seven groups from the food, farm and pesticide industries called on the Clinton Administration to eliminate any references to organic foods and to make other changes. The final version of the pamphlet does not completely ignore organic foods. It says: "your grocer may be able to provide you with information about the availability of food grown using fewer or no pesticides." But the new draft is a concession to industry groups, which had complained about an earlier version. That version offered tips for washing, peeling and cooking food to reduce pesticides: "If you are still concerned, consider buying food that says 'certified organic' -- food certified by a public or private certification agency that has been grown in an area where fewer or no human-made chemical pesticides were used."

"The epa has turned a really good brochure into a propaganda piece for the food industry," said Jeannine Kenney, a Washington-based policy analyst. "Some pesticides have been shown to cause birth defects, nerve damage and cancer. These details, that were there in the earlier version, have been deleted," said one expert.

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