RE-REGULATION OF PESTICIDES
Without chemicals, so went the television commercial, life would be impossible. But some chemicals do more harm than good.
Some 850 million pounds of chemicals are used each year to produce the nation's food supply. These are pesticides, the chemicals that allow farmers to combat insects, weeds, rodents and mold that threaten their fruits and vegetables.
A decade later, one of the best known of these pesticides, DDT, was banned in the United States.
HR1627: A bill to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and for other purposes, signed into law, August 1996.
Widespread use of pesticides began shortly after World War II. But in 1962, when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring linked pesticides to problems with human health and the environment, Americans started to become more concerned about how their food was processed, and years of debate ensued. "Along with the possibility of the extinction of mankind by nuclear war," Carson wrote, "the central problem of our age has become the contamination of man's total environment with such substances -- substances that accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals and alter the very material of heredity upon which the shape of the future depends.''
As technology improved, it became easier to find minute traces of carcinogens in processed food. Since new traces were now constantly being discovered, the question soon became, how far should regulation attempt to go, before regulation became counter productive?
For two decades, Congress has tried to pass a bill to improve pesticides regulation, split between those who wanted the Environmental Protection Agency to speed up approval of pesticides, and those who were concerned that any change would threaten the public's health.
The 104th Congress finally rewrote a version of federal pesticide regulation that could satisfy itself and a president, and on August 3, 1996, President Clinton signed their efforts into law.
Although the measure does away with the Delaney Clause of the 1958 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which prohibited processed foods with any trace of any chemical that was proven to cause cancer, it still imposes a very strict standard that many opponents had hoped would not pass. The new provision says the EPA must ensure that pesticide residues on both processed and raw food do not pose more than a one in a million chance of causing cancer. The EPA would have to review the standards within 10 years.
In addition, the EPA could set more stringent standards for foods that are eaten by children, who are more susceptible to pesticide poisoning. The agency will, nonetheless, be allowed to use its discretion to admit slightly higher pesticide residues, if to do otherwise would force certain fruits and vegetables off the market.
Moreover, the EPA will publish a pamphlet listing the advantages and disadvantages of pesticides, letting consumers know which foods had pesticide residue in excess of the new one in a million standard. The pamphlet will be available in supermarkets.
CHILDREN: In addition to the EPA setting more stringent standards for foods that are eaten by children, the departments of Agriculture, and Health and Human Services were instructed to study children's eating habits and pesticide exposure.
STATES: The legislation prevents individual states from passing tougher pesticide regulations than the federal rules, unless a state petitions the EPA for permission and the EPA does not reject the application.
PESTICIDE REVIEW: The EPA was told to speed up the its review of pesticides used on fruits and vegetables. Generally, the agency would have one year to act on requests to use a particular pesticide. The EPA also would have to speed up the procedures for registering pesticides used for disinfecting and sanitizing.
The EPA's huge backlog on reviewing pesticides and recent court cases that threatened to force some common chemicals off the market, spurred Congress into final action. Aides to House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. (R-VA), and Democrat Henry Waxman D-CA), a leading environmentalist, wrote a bill in mid-July behind closed doors.
The greatest bone of contention came over the Delaney Clause - Republicans wanted to impose more relaxed standards than did the Democrats. But since GOP lawmakers were anxious for an election year environmental bill, and lobbyists were just plain tired of fighting, the House, on July 23, unanimously passed the bill by an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules.
The Senate passed the identical measure a day later without debate nor a dissenting vote.