Less poison, now

Published: Thursday 15 August 1996

Has the fear about a stolen future really hit us legislators? Till the end of May, the debate over what is surely the most controversial book of the year (The Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn and others) had been acrimonious. The book had said that pesticides and persistent organic compounds in the environment have impacted sperm counts, sexual habits and even intelligence levels. The pro- and anti-pesticides and plastics lobbies had been at each other's jugulars. But last fortnight, the long-divided factions of the House Commerce Committee came together to pass - without rancour - a "compromise legislation that would fundamentally change the regulation of pesticides in food" John H Cushman, Jr, reported in The New York Times.

Now new standards for pesticides calling for "reasonable certainty" that nobody would be harmed by consuming them would apply to food, both in raw and processed forms. Exposure limits would be established at levels intended to protect infants and children. The bill will eliminate the current absolute ban on certain potentially cancer-causing residues. But both industry and the government accept that the effect of the bill would be to reduce substan tially the public exposure to the most risky chemicals sprayed on crops. The legislation puts 2006 as the deadline year for reviewing all regulated pesti cides. Interestingly, even some sections of the industry have endorsed the bill. Says Timothy Willard of the National Food Processors Association, "It is not perfect, but it should be acceptable."

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