Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stronger limits on pesticide residue in food, smaller lawsuit risk?

The Environmental Working Group (“EWG”) recently published this year's “Dirty Dozen” list of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables as well as the “Clean 15” list of produce with the least amount of pesticides. Several of the “Dirty Dozen” (like blueberries, apples, and strawberries) are among North Carolina's most important commodity crops.

Industry's take on the lists is to frame it as fear-mongering. They point out, rightly, that approximately 98% of all conventional produce contains less than the legal limit for pesticides. But that response is an answer to a question that no one is asking.

The problem isn't whether pesticide residue on produce exceeds the legal limits. Rather the issue is whether those limits are actually protecting the public. Scientists and government agencies collaborated on a study to answer this question last year. They found that the current legal limits for pesticides do not protect children. In the study, children who ate conventional produce ingested pesticides well beyond what is considered to be safe. This is why EWG and other food safety groups are arguing for new pesticide guidelines that are based on what is safe for children.

It's a mistake for industry to fight against revised pesticide guidelines. Primarily, new regulations could help protect the most vulnerable—kids and farmworkersfrom the effects of pesticides. New regulations could also be beneficial to the industry. Absent better regulation, pesticide users and producers are leaving themselves open to liability. As the scientific data builds linking pesticides to illnesseslearning disabilities, asthma, endocrine disruption, and cancers—industry and regulators face lawsuits and public relations campaigns similar to those faced by tobacco companies. Safer regulations could prevent future injury and future lawsuits, both fine reasons for industry to join EWG's campaign for safer pesticide limits.

Sonya Ziaja, J.D., writes regularly for LegalMatch and Ziaja Consulting's Shark. Laser. Blawg.

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