EPA Muzzles Benefits of Organic

In February 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would soon be releasing a brochure for supermarket shoppers outlining precautions regarding "Pesticides on Food." Besides advice on peeling, washing, scrubbing, and cooking fruits and vegetables, the EPA brochure would advise consumers concerned about pesticides to consider purchasing organically-grown fruits, vegetables, and other foods. This advice to "buy organic" was immediately attacked by agribusiness lobbyists as they worked behind the scenes to knock any mention of organic out of the EPA brochure. Dennis Stolte of the American Farm Bureau told the New York Times, "Our biggest concern is that there is an implication that organic foods are somehow safer than conventional foods, which is absolutely false."

In August 1998, "seven food, farm and pesticide industry groups called on the Clinton Administration to eliminate any references to organic foods and to make other changes," according to an article written by John Cushman of the New York Times. Last month, the EPA released the amended brochure on pesticides and foods, de-emphasizing health risks, and barely mentioning (and clearly not endorsing) consuming organically grown foods to reduce exposure to chemicals. That brochure can now be found at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food

The EPA's decision to back down on organic in their brochure represents the power of the agribusiness trade associations - the same associations who vocally supported the USDA's first organic proposal. These trade associations represent hundreds of billions of dollars in capital assets, annual sales, and advertising revenue (not to mention millions of dollars in annual political contributions to both major political parties): the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), the American Farm Bureau, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

The power and influence of these trade associations is astonishing. According to a recent analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, from 1988 to 1995 more than 65 bills were introduced in Congress to tighten pesticide regulations - none passed. Organic food poses a direct threat to these trade associations, particularly when it comes to health and safety issues. As Regina Hildwine of the National Food Processors Association told the press during the debate over organic standards in 1998, "Organic does not mean safer. Organic does not mean healthier."

Many believe that organic food is safer because it has less pesticide residues - which have become a "hot button" issue for millions of parents and consumers. In a major sampling of supermarket produce published in January 1998, Consumer Reports found that conventional produce was more than three times as likely to contain residues of toxic pesticides than organic produce (pesticide residues on organic produce most often result from chemical sprays drifting from nearby conventional farms). Consumer Reports points out "tests of organic, green-labeled, and conventional unlabeled produce found that organic foods had consistently minimal or non-existent pesticide residue... Buying organic food promotes farming practices that really are more sustainable and better for the environment -- less likely to degrade soil, impair ecosystems, foul drinking water, or poison farmworkers."

A panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 reported that federal allowances for pesticide residues were too lenient, and that infants and children could be harmed by current pesticide residue levels that the government considers "legal." A highly-publicized Jan. 1998 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that millions of American children under five years old are at risk every year from ingesting dangerous levels of at least 13 different neurotoxic organophosphate (OP) pesticide residues in their apples, apple sauce, apple juice, peaches, popcorn, corn chips, and other foods.

In another study of eight different non-organic baby foods produced by Gerber, Heinz, and Beech-Nut, the EWG found residues of 16 different pesticides -- including probable human carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disrupters, and oral toxicity #1 chemicals, the most toxic designation. A new EWG web site allows parents to fill a grocery cart with typical items that a preschooler might eat during a day and then calculate the likely amount of pesticide residue consumed. The address is To express your displeasure at the EPA's decision to exclude the attributes of organic food in its pesticide brochure, send EPA chief Carol Browner an e-mail at:

COMMENT: Organic foods should be a high priority in your life. Pesticides in foods are real and they do cause harm. Most of our livers are not working well and this impairment predisposes us to many of the side effects of these toxic chemicals as they are not metabolized out of our bodies. The above information details the incredible evil forces that are involved in putting money and power above the interests of the health of the people. I would encourage you to e-mail Ms. Browner with your strong objection to what is happening in the organic food industry.

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