EPA to limit use of toxic pesticides
Supporters of the ban say some food pesticides could cause brain and nervous system damage in children
August 2, 1999
Web posted at: 1:24 p.m. EDT (1724 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Concerned about the effect two commonly used food pesticides have on children, the federal government is planning to limit their use, a step critics call too little, too late and farmers consider unnecessary.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner announced new restrictions Monday on methyl parathion (also known as Penncap-M) and azinphos-methyl.
The chemicals are used on a variety of crops, including apples, peaches, wheat, rice, pears, sugar beets and cotton.
The two are among some 40 pesticides classified as organophosphates, which account for most pesticides used by U.S. farmers.
The restrictions stem from fears that the pesticides can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, especially in young children.
"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," said Jennings. "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.
Congress ordered the review of the food pesticides
EPA is acting under a 1996 law that requires it to reassess tolerance levels, or margins of safety, for hundreds of pesticides.
This week marks the deadline for the EPA to complete a portion of that review, which covers thousands of approved uses.
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.
More than 150 bipartisan members of Congress -- most representing farmers worried about losing cheap and effective pesticides -- last week introduced legislation that would require 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.
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 say less effective pesticides will
reduce crop yields
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 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 and Reuters contributed to this report.
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Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Environmental Working Group
American Farm Bureau
National Resources Defense Council
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