WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Congress last week approved a sweeping reform of pesticide tolerance levels in raw and processed food.
The move augurs a successful end to years of negotiations between the grocery industry, food processors, consumer groups and government. The House passed the compromise bill July 23 in a 417-0 vote and the Senate approved it a day later in a voice vote. President Clinton has promised to sign it into law.
"Americans have every right to expect the world's most bountiful food supply will also be the world's safest," Clinton said in a statement. "This legislation is another major step forward. It puts in place a strong health-based standard, provides special safeguards for children, and protects our health and safety using the best science available."
Called the Food Quality Protection Act, the new measure sets a uniform pesticide tolerance for raw and processed foods; assesses special risk factors to children; and evaluates whether a pesticide may have estrogenic or other hormone disrupter effects in humans. It also allows states to establish their own pesticide tolerances, with Environmental Protection Agency approval, and provides limited exceptions to the standards in cases where using a particular pesticide will help maintain a constant food supply.
The act replaces the controversial Delaney Clause, implemented in 1958, which allowed zero tolerance for pesticides found to cause cancer in processed foods. With today's technology, the smallest pesticide residue, equivalent to one part per billion, can be traced. So the Delaney requirement prohibited the EPA from approving residue tolerances at levels not considered a risk to consumers' health.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America, Food Marketing Institute, National Food Processors Association and American Crop Protection Association here, among other trade groups, negotiated the compromise.
"The bill strengthens consumer protections by requiring the federal government to use the best of modern science in food-safety decision making," according to C. Manly Molpus, GMA president and chief executive officer. "Nearly two decades of debate have produced this top-priority bipartisan bill, which breaks a legislative logjam and advances consumer protection and scientific progress in food-safety decision-making."
Grocers will play an important role in informing consumers of the new law. EPA brochures are to be distributed to supermarket operators, who will be responsible for displaying them or making it available to consumers. Grocers would not be held liable for penalties if they run out of brochures or the government fails to provide the information.
"This is a particularly gratifying victory for us because it assures that modern, sound science will undergird our food-safety law," stated Jay J. Vroom, president of the American Crop Protection Association.