Forbidden Fruit | Illegal Pesticides in the US Food Supply

Illegal Pesticides in the U.S. Food Supply

February 1, 1995

Forbidden Fruit | Illegal Pesticides in the US Food Supply: The National Academy of Sciences Found that Legal Exposure to Pesticides is No Guarantee of Safety for Infants and Children

In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completed a five-year study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. As a whole, the NAS found the entire pesticide tolerance and regulatory system lacking and especially inadequate in protecting young children.

In particular, the Academy condemned the current tolerance setting process, exposing a cascade of shortcomings to support its view that infants and children are not protected from pesticides even when exposures are within legal limits. The bottom line of the Academy report: legal pesticide exposure is no guarantee of safety for young children. The NAS found that:

  • Legal limits (called tolerances) for pesticides in food are not set at levels that protect the public health, but instead represent a balance of health and economic interests.
    "Tolerances are not based primarily on health considerations...Their primary purpose is to ensure compliance with good agricultural practice." (NRC 1993, p. 8)
  • Within this system, legal limits reflect no explicit accounting for the risks faced by infants and children.
    "The current system, however, does not specifically consider infants and children." (NRC 1993, p. 2)
  • At the same time, the Academy found that children need extra protection because they are generally more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides.
    "A fundamental maxim of pediatric medicine is that children are not 'little adults'... In the absence of data to the contrary, there should be a presumption of greater toxicity to infants and children." (NRC 1993, p. 3)
  • But, there are few toxicity studies on pesticides that are relevant to infant and neonatal exposure.
    "Current testing protocols do not, for the most part, adequately address the toxicity and metabolism of pesticides in neonates and adolescent animals or the effects of exposure during early developmental stages and their sequalae in later life." (NRC 1993, p. 4)
  • Until information is available that is relevant to neonatal exposure, the Academy recommended additional safety factors to protect infants from pesticides in food and water.
    "The committee recommends that an uncertainty factor up to the 10-fold factor... should also be considered when there is evidence of postnatal developmental toxicity and when data from toxicity testing relative to children are incomplete." (Emphasis added) (NRC 1993, p. 9)

Virtually none of the recommendations of the NAS committee have been adopted by the EPA, nor urged upon the EPA by the Congress. Consequently, since the release of the NAS report not a single tolerance for a pesticide in food has been adjusted in any way to specifically protect infants and children.