Revised Food Safety Pesticide
Pamphlet Stirs Heated Debate
NY Times News Service

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 as poisons.
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 were used."
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 government official.
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 pamphlet.
"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.