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Pesticide Proposal Allows Some Weighing of Economic Benefits

April 23, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An administration proposal to change how pesticides are regulated will put human safety above economic benefits to agriculture, but still weighs the impact on farm and food prices in some cases, The Associated Press has learned.

According to draft copies of bills obtained late Friday, the administration will carry out its promise to apply new standards for avoiding the risk of cancer from pesticides in food.

The administration’s proposal will apply a ″negligible risk″ standard for levels of pesticides in both raw fruits, vegetables and other raw commodities, and for foods processed from those raw commodities.

It will also propose that the tolerances - the amount of pesticide residues permitted - take into account the eating habits and special vulnerability of infants and children. The bill also takes into account the impact of exposure from other sources, such as drinking water, home use of pesticides, and exposure in buildings, in setting food tolerances.

That provision will draw praise from environmentalists seeking a more comprehensive look at pesticide exposure, but raise doubts about the practicality of measuring those exposures.

Moreover, in setting the tolerances, the administration will define benefits as those that occur ″when the application of a pesticide chemical residue to a food directly reduces the incidence of illness or disease,″ the proposal says.

The term ″does not include benefits from an adequate, wholesome, or economical food supply.″

″Adequate, wholesome or economical″ in current law has been used to weigh such things as impact on food prices and supply in determining the amount of pesticide residues permitted on raw agricultural commodities.

A ″zero tolerance″ standard now exists for processed foods, meaning no trace of a potentially cancer-causing chemical can be allowed, according to a court decision. The proposals try to make the residue standard uniform.

But elsewhere, the administration proposes to give the Agriculture Department a chance to comment on any proposed decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke permission to use a pesticide.

Also, any proposal to deny permission to use a pesticide must carry a statement giving a ″general analysis of the impact of the proposed action on consumers, retail food prices, production of agricultural commodities, and otherwise on the agricultural economy.″

The proposal also tells the EPA administrator to consider ″restricting a pesticide’s uses or use as an alternative to cancellation.″

The proposal has met criticism from the food industry. Steve Ziller, vice president for scientific and technical affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said late Friday after reviewing a draft that the proposal ″has a number of ‘fatal’ flaws.″

The proposal fails to make the system nationally uniform, making it possible for states to enact stricter regulations, he said. Also, the group and others in the food industry object to the proposal to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to embargo and recall products.

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