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EPA restricts 2 pesticides, but denies any food safety threat

Supporters of the ban say some food pesticides could cause brain and nervous system damage in children  
CNN's Natalie Pawelski reports on the EPA's decision
Windows Media 28K 80K

August 2, 1999
Web posted at: 7:56 p.m. EDT (2356 GMT)

In this story:

Danger levels disputed

Thousands of pesticides under review

Lawsuit: EPA moving too slowly

Farmers fear lower crop yield


From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Farmers now have to find alternatives for two widely used pesticides because of tighter exposure standards announced Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The head of the agency said the tighter rules reflect concern over children's health and are based on early research suggesting that children face a greater risk than adults from a given exposure level.

"What is important here is that in developing these new risk standards, for the first time ever, we used children -- not the average adult -- as the benchmark for setting safety," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

The use of methyl parathion (also known as Penncap-M) is now banned on all fruits and many vegetables. The EPA also curtailed the allowable residue for a pesticide known as azinphos-methyl, sold as Guthion.

The two are among some 40 pesticides classified as organophosphates, which account for most pesticides used by U.S. farmers.

Both chemicals have long been used on a variety of crops, including apples, peaches, wheat, rice, pears, sugar beets and cotton.

Browner said Monday's action does not indicate any immediate exposure threat for people who have eaten produce already treated with the chemicals.

She said the new restrictions add "an extra measure of safety" to an already safe food supply.

Danger levels disputed

The restrictions stem from fears that the pesticides can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, especially in young children.

Congress ordered the review of the food pesticides  

"When the government announces these chemicals are unsafe on food they're ... announcing, in effect, that the farm groups and chemical companies who have said there is no problem were wrong," Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group told CNN.

But Allan Jennings, the director of the Agriculture Department's Office of Pest Management Policy, insists this year's crop of apples and produce that have been sprayed with the chemicals are safe.

"It's nothing to worry about," Jennings said. "I still plan on feeding my kids as many as they will eat."

Farm groups say no sound scientific basis exists for restricting the two pesticides. They fear the public will react by shunning this year's crops.

"There probably is ... zero risk of any of these pesticides in the food supply," said Adam Sharp, director of governmental relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"(The EPA is) simply acting on a political deadline and for a political reason rather than a reason based on sound science," Sharp told CNN.

Sharp said the restrictions are premature and violate the spirit of a promise from the EPA to systematically review pesticides as part of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act.

"We thought we had the objective middle," said Sharp. "They've jumped ahead in that process with these actions today, not using sound science in the data that was coming in."

Thousands of pesticides under review

That 1996 law requires the EPA to reassess tolerance levels, or margins of safety, for pesticides. The review also examines the chemicals' acceptable residue levels for produce, playgrounds, drinking water and household uses.

Farmers say less effective pesticides will reduce crop yields  

This week marks the deadline for the EPA to complete a review of some 3,000 pesticides. Some 6,000 others await action.

Congress ordered the review to protect the health of pre-school children, but farm and chemical groups have accused the EPA of failing to gather enough scientific data before deciding whether a pesticide is harmful.

However, more than 150 bipartisan members of Congress -- most representing farmers worried about losing cheap and effective pesticides -- last week introduced legislation that would require the EPA to consider economic and trade issues as well as children's health.

Other bills pending in Congress would require the EPA to produce more data before changing any of the rules on the use of pesticides.

Lawsuit: EPA moving too slowly

On Monday, environmental groups were expected to file a lawsuit to force the EPA to move faster on related toxic chemicals.

"What they're planning to do on a couple of pesticides is a step in the right direction, but the EPA has not gone far enough," said Adam Goldberg of Consumers Union.

The consumer group and the Natural Resources Defense Council also complained that the EPA has not tackled the most dangerous pesticides first, as Congress intended.

Farmers fear lower crop yield

For farmers, the debate comes down to whether an alternative pesticide exists, and if so, at what price. But crop yields and quality are likely to decline from substitutions that are less effective, they said.

A study by the American Farm Bureau earlier this year estimated that farmers would lose some $1.8 billion if organophosphates and related chemicals were banned.

"If we lost all of the organophosphates, it would have a devastating effect on U.S. corn production," said Bryce Neidig, a Nebraska farmer who spends about $12,000 annually on pesticides, mostly organophosphates, for his 700 acres.

Correspondent Natalie Pawelski, Producer Paul Courson and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Environmental Working Group
American Farm Bureau
Consumers Union
National Resources Defense Council
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