- WASHINGTON -- Under pressure from the food industry, the Environmental Protection
Agency has modified a new brochure about pesticides, putting less emphasis
on their health risks and barely mentioning organic foods as an alternative
to foods grown using toxic chemicals.
- The brochure, to be distributed in grocery
stores under a food safety law that Congress passed unanimously in 1996,
was first drafted about a year ago. Only a few pages long, it nonetheless
was hotly debated. Food industry groups called it unduly alarmist; environmental
and consumer advocacy groups complained that it did not refer to pesticides
- In August, seven food, farm and pesticide
industry groups called on the Clinton administration to eliminate any references
to organic foods and to make other changes.
- The final version of the pamphlet does
not completely ignore organic foods. It advises that "your grocer
may be able to provide you with information about the availability of food
grown using fewer or no pesticides."
- But that wording is a concession to industry
groups, which had complained about an earlier version. That version offered
tips for washing, peeling and cooking food to reduce pesticides, then added,
"If you are still concerned, consider buying food that says 'certified
organic' -- food certified by a public or private certification agency
that has been grown in an area where fewer or no man-made chemical pesticides
- A final draft of the pamphlet was provided
to The New York Times by Consumers Union, an advocacy group that publishes
the magazine Consumer Reports. The consumer group has long criticized
the environmental agency for not writing a tougher pamphlet to begin with.
- "Fundamentally, EPA took what could
have been a really good brochure and turned it into a propaganda piece
for the food industry, which has always denied that there is a problem
with pesticides on food," said Jeannine Kenney, a policy analyst in
the group's Washington office who said she obtained the pamphlet from a
- Agency officials confirmed that the revised
brochure was being printed and said it should be in stores by January,
five months after the deadline set by the law.
- "We had very exhaustive consultations,"
said Loretta Ucelli, a spokeswoman for the agency, "and I think there
are and have been concerns about giving consumers the information they
need, but not causing alarm or indicating that food that is not organic
is not safe.
- "We believe that we have arrived
at aggressive but consumer-friendly language that will give people the
information that they need to make their own choices."
- Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery
Manufacturers of America, said the group continued to oppose the reworded
- "Even with the change in the language,
it still promotes organic foods in a brochure that was supposed to be about
pesticides," Grabowski said.
- The latest draft differs from earlier
ones in several ways, most of which seem to make less of the health risks
of pesticide residues on food.