Jay Feldman and Samuel S. Epstein, M. D.
New York Times Letters, February 19, 1993
In “A Trace of Pesticide, an Accepted Risk” (The
Week in Review, Feb. 7) responding to the list of 35 carcinogenic
pesticides in foods announced by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), you miss some simple facts.
- Cancer-causing pesticides can be replaced by alternative pest
management practices. As one of many examples, soybean growers
Farmers of Iowa have replaced the cancer-causing herbicide alachlor
with tillage systems and planting techniques to shade out weeds.
They eliminated one of the 35 EPA-listed pesticides, while maintaining
productivity and profitability – a yield of 44.3 bushels
per acre, compared with the statewide average of 39 bushels per
acre on chemically treated fields, and a saving of $7 an acre.
Similar results are seen in corn.
The National Academy of Sciences proposal to replace a ban on cancer-causing
pesticides (under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act) with a “negligible
risk” standard is not based on an individual’s total
dietary intake of all cancer-causing pesticides. Eleven of the
EPA’s 35 carcinogenic pesticides are registered for use
on apples, 10 on grapes. Assessing the risk from a piece of fruit,
a plate of food and three meals a day is beyond the grasp of
proposal. Worse, no account is taken of the risk of nondietary
exposure to the same carcinogenic pesticides, widely used on
lawns, in parks and schoolyards, or the risk to sensitive groups
children and the elderly.
Chemical-intensive agriculture is costly to consumers. What we
don’t pay at the grocery store, we pay in health and pollution
costs, and losses to farmers caused by pest resistance to pesticides – all
to the tune of $8 billion a year, according to Cornell University
- There is no good proven reason to
feed the American public carcinogens when we could be weaning
agriculture from its chemical fix. Let’s
get on with the business of phasing out carcinogens and stop
rationalizing these unnecessary and dangerous practices.
Jay Feldman is director, National Coalition
Against the Misuse of Pesticides
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor of Occupational Health, University
of Illinois, Chicago.