October 3, 2008

Citing Expense, USDA Kills Pesticide-Testing Program / The EPA Used the Data to Assess Risk of Chemicals in Food

The Bush administration has abruptly halted a government program that tests the levels of pesticides in fruits, vegetables and field crops, arguing that the $8 million-a-year program is too expensive. Critics say the decision could make it harder to protect consumers from chemicals in their food. Data from the 18-year-old Agricultural Chemical Usage Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were collected until this year. The Environmental Protection Agency used the data to set safe levels of pesticides in food.

The information was also widely used by university and food industry researchers.

The program was launched in 1990 to answer congressional concerns over the use of the chemical daminozide, or Alar, on apples. The USDA now says the program is too expensive.

The decision came as a shock to researchers at the EPA and elsewhere who have come to rely on the data, which measure how much pesticide farmers apply to certain crops each year.

"Elimination of this program will severely hamper the efforts of the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], land grant scientists, and state officials to perform pesticide risk assessments and make informed policy decisions on pesticide use," the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

Since 1990, the program has included tests on about 120 fruits, vegetables and crops.

Bill Jordan, a senior adviser in the EPA's pesticides office, said it's now buying expensive privately collected data and relying on older information.

The EPA had used data from the canceled program, along with other input, to help set acceptable levels of pesticides in food.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, in its letter to Schafer, said the private data sets are "extremely expensive and unreliable, and thus are no substitute."

Originally published by Chicago Tribune.

(c) 2008 Richmond Times - Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.