Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
November 4, 1998
The risks to infants and children from insecticides found on many popular fruits and vegetables could be significantly reduced by replacing high-risk insecticides with safer alternatives, according to a recently released report from Consumers Union, publishers of the magazine "Consumer Reports." "Worst First: High Risk Insecticides, Children's Foods and Safer Alternatives" identifies the "Worst 40" food-insecticide uses in the U.S., out of roughly 300 existing uses, that are most likely responsible for the majority of U.S. children's risk from pesticide exposure.
The report looks at organophosphate and carbamate pesticides -- two categories of chemicals initially designed as nerve gases for use in World War II. Both are toxic to the brain and nervous systems of insects and humans. In their report, Consumers Union estimates that if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were to eliminate or tightly restrict the "Worst 40" insecticide-food combinations, that insecticide risks associated on nine of the foods, many children eat most* would decrease by about 95%.
The Consumers Union report also examines the campaign being mounted by the pesticide industry to stir up political opposition to the U.S. Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The FQPA, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress two years ago, imposes stronger standards for protecting public health from hazards of pesticides in foods including special emphasis on ensuring reduced exposure to food residues for infants, children and other especially vulnerable groups. The focus of industry's anti-FQPA campaign is that EPA is planning to ban entire categories of important insecticides, leaving farmers with no tools to manage insect pests. Such publicity has magnified farmers' understandable concerns to panic proportions, and generated a political backlash that is slowing the FQPA implementation process and threatens to derail it entirely. "Worst First" makes the case that selective actions can reduce risks substantially if the agency focuses on the highest-risk pesticide uses.
Worst First also points out that bans or severe restrictions on selected high-risk insecticide uses will not cripple agriculture because there are many viable alternatives growers can use to manage crop pests. For example, the report lists 10 to 15 alternatives that farmers can choose instead of using the high-risk organophosphates and carbamates on the nine crops surveyed. In a typical case, the alternatives listed include:
-- four or five conventional alternatives (lower-risk pesticides including lower risk organophosphates and carbamates and synthetic pyrethroids),
-- two to four reduced risk alternatives (insecticides that typically pose significantly lower risks per acre treated because of low application rates and/or low-toxicity),
-- three or four "biobased" alternatives (biologically based insecticides and natural control products) and
-- two to four "BioIPM practices" (tactics suitable for incorporation in biointensive Integrated Pest Management systems).
Consumers Union recommends that EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) adopt the following five-point action plan to combat high risk pesticides.
1. EPA should phase-out the "Worst 40" over two years.
2. EPA should take steps to reduce or eliminate food residues resulting from use of ALL neurotoxic insecticides by lowering application rates and increasing the time between application and harvest.
3. USDA and Congress must fund an on-farm education initiative to spread knowledge among fruit and vegetable growers about techniques to reduce use of the "Worst 40" insecticides.
4. EPA must expedite registration of safer alternatives.
5. USDA and Congress should double funding for continuing research and development of other alternatives to insecticides and other pesticides.
* Apples, pears, peaches, grapes, oranges, green beans, peas, potatoes and tomatoes.
"Worst First: High Risk Insecticides, Children's Foods & Safer Alternatives" is available at www.ecologic-ipm.com. A limited number of copies are also available for US$15 from Consumers Union.
Source/contact: Consumers Union, 1666 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 310, Washington DC 20009-1039; phone (202) 462-6262; email firstname.lastname@example.org.