Magazine article Insight on the News

Proposed Food Safety Laws Are Starved for Scientific Merit

Magazine article Insight on the News

Proposed Food Safety Laws Are Starved for Scientific Merit

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration recently outlined a major overhaul of the nation's pesticide and food safety laws. The proposal takes us five steps forward and 50 steps back in our quest to keep our food supply plentiful, varied, safe and affordable. The legislation offers something to please and aggravate all parties in the pesticide debate.

On the plus side, the administration plans to scrap the anachronistic Delaney Clause. This 1958 legislation requires the banning of any food chemical that in any dose causes cancer when ingested by any laboratory animal - without consideration of the extent of human exposure or the benefits of the chemical. Ever more sensitive analytic techniques have allowed us to find residues at minuscule levels, while experiments using larger and larger megadoses find cancer in rodents. As a result, when the Delaney Clause has been interpreted literally, an increasing number of pesticides have become vulnerable to a ban.

A recent federal court ruling declared that there is no flexibility in the Delaney Clause. So it became obvious to the Clinton administration that to avoid immediate chaos in agricultural production, Delaney had to go. In place of the Delaney straitjacket, Clinton is proposing that pesticides with negligible risk be spared banishment to the graveyard of chemicals.

The radical environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (which orchestrated the great Alar apple hoax of 1989), are outraged that the Delaney Clause will be snuffed out. They reject the views of mainstream science that traces of animal carcinogens play no known role in human cancers and that nature itself abounds with chemicals known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

But then there is the darker side of the Clinton food safety proposal - one that pleases the radical environmentalists but should concern any American.

Carol Browner, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has vowed to phase out consideration of the economic benefits of pesticides in determining their approval. She also has made a commitment to move in the direction of abandoning the use of all pesticides, starting with the most dangerous.

Her plan is built on two premises that have no scientific merit: that pesticides currently in use are not necessary and that scientific consensus says pesticide residues in food pose a health hazard, particularly to children.

First, American farmers use about 1 billion pounds of 600 pesticides each year. …

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