Imported rice, bananas, coffee, and sugar cane -- as well as a host of domestic food crops -- should be safer by a degree or two, now that the Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that it will no longer tolerate any carbofuran pesticide residue on foods -- a move that will effectively ban the pesticide by the end of this year. Carbofuran is sold under the trade name Furadan, and its potency as a poison has been well documented for decades.
Because the EPA is banning all pesticide residues on food, rather than use of the chemical, the move will affect crops grown outside of the United States, as well as domestic crops. The EPA is also trying to ban the use of the chemical, but that process has been held up for years.
The proposed decision, which is subject to a 60-day public comment period, will not only affect those of us who eat foods that may have had trace amounts of the chemical, but legions of farmworkers, as well as migratory birds -- which have been killed at a rate of up to 1 million per year, for the 40 years this poison has been on the market.
Eating any one food laced with this chemical may not harm you, according to the EPA, but "the Agency is proposing to revoke tolerances for these crops because aggregate dietary exposure to residues of carbofuran, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other exposures for which there is reliable information, is not safe." The greatest risk -- as is the case with all chemical exposure -- is to children and pregnant women whose fetuses will be exposed: "Every sensitivity analysis EPA has performed has shown that estimated exposures (both for food alone as well as for food and water) significantly exceed EPAâ€™s level of concern for children," the EPA concluded.
The following is a list of crop types that EPA has identified, which can no longer be sold with any carbofuran residue:
So it sounds like a case of effective government regulation, right? After all, a dangerous pesticide, which is a threat to American children who do nothing more than eat produce provided by their conscientious parents, will be removed from the market.
Well, sort of.
That carbofuran might be unhealthy is not a new idea. Its continued use was "grandfathered" in 1974 despite its toxicity, when the U.S. began regulating pesticides. In the 1980s, the EPA estimated that the pesticide was killing up to 1 million or 2 million birds a year, and the Fish and Wildlife Service reported that there was no safe way to use the chemical without killing migratory birds. In 1991, the EPA moved to ban the use of the most insidious use of the chemical -- grains spread over the ground, which birds ingested. But the ban was pushed back to 1996 and some exemptions were granted through 2006. When the EPA moved to cancel the pesticide's registration in 2006, which would end all U.S. uses, its manufacturer FMC Corporation, and allies in Congress opposed the decision in court and lobbied for help from the Bush Administration in 2008.
So this is a ban that has been a long time coming. And while advocacy groups say this is one of the most toxic pesticides still in use, there are others that reasonable people may want to avoid. Eating organic foods is the easiest way to avoid pesticide residue, because USDA rules prevent the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and other substances that the government allows -- sometimes for decades after a health risk has been documented.
Dan Shapley, thedailygreen 5/12/09