EPA Lists 35 Pesticides in Food Facing Ban as Cancer-Causing


The Environmental Protection Agency set the stage for a new round of debate over the presence of pesticides in processed foods Tuesday, listing 35 chemicals that may be banned by a court order although the EPA believes that they pose no “unreasonable risk” to public health.

In producing the list and soliciting public comment, newly confirmed EPA Administrator Carol Browner promised to work with Congress, environmental groups and agricultural interests to ensure food safety while trying to resolve a debate that has persisted for years.

The new fight centers not so much on safety concerns as on the legal interpretation of the 35-year-old “Delaney Clause,” which prohibits processed food from containing even a trace of a chemical shown to produce cancer in humans or laboratory animals.

Beginning in 1988, EPA, upon the advice of the National Academy of Sciences, adopted a view that carcinogenic pesticides could be exempt from the Delaney Clause--contained in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act--if they posed only “negligible risk,” which it defined as creating a 1-in-a-million chance of cancer.


But last July, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that EPA can grant no such exemption--triggering the list’s issuance.

In listing the pesticides that stand to be banned as a result of the ruling, Browner said, “The current debate is not about health risks, but about the legal interpretation of the statute.”

“However,” she added in a formal statement, “the agency does believe that the impact of the 9th Circuit Court’s decision upon pesticide users and food processors could be substantial.”

The pesticides on the potential “hit list” include some used in animal feeds, as well as on nuts, vegetables and citrus crops. Other chemicals could be added later, EPA said.

Environmental groups specializing in pesticide issues support the zero-tolerance concept, while agricultural interests and grocers contend that modern technology permits the detection of amounts of pesticides and other substances not dreamed of in 1958 when Congress adopted the Delaney Clause.

Al Myerhoff, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit leading to the Court of Appeals ruling last year, said: “What we need is more, not less, protection from carcinogenic pesticides in food.”