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Pesticide Update

Food Product Design

Pesticide Update

October 1999 -- Regulatory Insight

By: Patrick J. McNamara
Contributing Editor

  On August 2, 1999 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the implementation of tighter exposure standards for two widely used pesticides - methyl parathion (also known as Penncap-M), and azinphos-methyl, commonly sold as Guthion. The two are among some 40 pesticides classified as organophosphates, which account for most pesticides used by farmers in the United States.

  In prepared remarks issued by the EPA, Carol Browner, administrator, stated that these two pesticides failed "to provide the extra measure of protection for children required by the Food Quality Protection Act. Today's technologies allow our farmers to use safer alternatives and safer approaches." In taking this action, the EPA asserted that the "dietary risk" to children (from newborns to age six) is "unacceptable."

  The EPA also announced the registration of 47 pesticides termed as "lower risk alternatives" to organophosphates. The agency stated that it is commissioning "hundreds of new studies on neurological and developmental effects of pesticides" to improve its own evaluation process for regulating pesticides. A schedule of EPA actions - including issuing risk assessments and initiating risk-management proposals - was also introduced for some 37 other major organophosphates currently in use. This review is scheduled for completion by October of 2000.

  In making this announcement, the EPA also came forward with a summary of risk-reduction methods for azinphos-methyl and methyl parathion. The plan for azinphos-methyl calls for reducing its use on certain types of fruits (apples, pears and crabapples) and banning its use on sugarcane, Christmas trees and shade trees. The amount of product available in the United States will also be capped, and farmers will have to stop using this pesticide at least 21 days prior to harvest, rather than the 14 days currently mandated.

  For methyl parathion, the risk-reduction strategies include canceling its use on plants used for children's foods, such as fruits, carrots, peas, beans and tomatoes, as well as many green-leaf vegetables. Application of methyl parathion for canceled uses will be prohibited for the year 2000 growing season. The EPA has also taken steps to reduce worker exposure to both chemicals by increasing their re-entry intervals.

  Reaction from various groups to the EPA's announcement was predictable - environmental groups claim the EPA has not moved fast enough, while industry groups are expressing concerns about monetary damage to farmers if organophosphates and related chemicals and pesticides are banned. A study by the American Farm Bureau Federation claims that this action by the EPA was driven by "political pandering instead of scientific findings." Reaction from Georgia peach farmers, who use methyl parathion on approximately 80% of the state's peach crop, was predictably negative. It is expected that peach farmers in the Southern states will be hit harder than those in California by this ruling, since insects that are a problem in those states aren't as significant a problem in the West. State officials have also expressed concerns that the new regulations will make it harder for Georgia farmers to compete economically, and that consumers should expect some price increases as costs are passed along by farmers.

  Conversely, the view of groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Consumers is that the EPA is not going fast enough, and is not tackling the most dangerous pesticides first. In a recently filed lawsuit, the NRDC claimed that the EPA is not meeting its obligations under the provisions of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which directs the EPA to reassess tolerance levels for pesticides, as well as examine acceptable residue levels for produce, playgrounds, drinking water and household uses.

  For more information and to monitor ongoing developments, log on to the EPA website at

  Patrick J. McNamara is an attorney with the firm of Scarinci & Hollenbeck in Secaucus, NJ. He serves as General Counsel to the National Association of Fruits, Flavors & Syrups, as well as the Chemical Sources Association. A graduate of Rutgers University, he is a frequent lecturer and has authored or collaborated on numerous articles of interest to the food industry. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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