Dear Aggie

Providing answers to the questions you didn't know you wanted to ask

In contrast to the usually more sober contributors to the Agrichemical and Environmental News, Dear Aggie deals light-heartedly with the peculiarities that cross our paths and helps decipher the enigmatic and clarify the obscure. Questions may be E-mailed to Dear Aggie at Opinions are Aggie's and do not reflect those of WSU.

When Does EPA's Right Hand Not Know What the Left Hand is Doing?

EPA recently proposed revocation of 871 tolerances on food products, saying that there were no active registrations for the specific crop-pesticide combinations and that it believed existing stocks of the pesticide products labeled for these uses had been depleted more than a year ago. One wonders where EPA got its information: A quick check of product labels currently registered for use in Washington state revealed that registrations still exist for 26 specific crop-pesticide combinations. Not to worry though; WSDA has submitted a letter to EPA requesting that these tolerances be retained along with the tolerance for phosphamidon, which is still being used statewide on apples. (Sources: Federal Register 63:3057-3060, 1/21/98; Federal Register 63:5907-5915, 2/5/98; EPA Press Advisory R-16 2/6/98)

Is White Sugar Harmful?

It depends on whether you worry about heavy metals. Low levels of arsenic and lead were recently reported in sugar refined in Turkey. Don't worry, however, because the levels are no higher than what is typically found in potatoes as a result of natural uptake processes. Will that be one lump of lead or two with your coffee? (Source: Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry, 1998, v. 46, p. 173)

What Do Pesticide Drift and Pesticide Residues in Water Have In Common?

Washington State Department of Ecology surface water recently revealed that many surface waters in the state contain pesticide residues, sometimes greater than the EPA water quality criteria suggested for protecting aquatic organisms. The pesticides found to be frequently above these criteria included DDT, azinphos-methyl, and chlorpyrifos. The water quality criteria for these compounds are at levels ranging from 1 to 41 parts per trillion. Regulators conservatively interpret the criteria as a safety level; if residues are above the criteria, then there is a probability of an adverse effect. The Washington State Department of Ecology has hypothesized that azinphos-methyl and chlorpyrifos spray drift around orchards is contaminating adjacent water bodies. It seems growers may have more to worry about than the Food Quality Protection Act. (Source: Washington Sate Pesticide Monitoring Program 1995 Surface Water Sampling Report, January 1998, Publication No. 98-300)

What Is Happening with the Right to Know Provision of the FQPA?

With attention focused on aggregate and cumulative exposure and protection of children mandated by the FQPA, the provision for consumer right-to-know has been lost in the wind. Yet this section tacked on near the end of the law could have a big impact on the reputation of the agricultural industry. The law requires EPA to develop a brochure for distribution and public display in large retail groceries. Drafts of the brochure are now available on the Internet for viewing and public comment. The brochure poses the following questions with answers: What are pesticides, and why are they on food? Are pesticides harmful? How does the government protect consumers from harmful amounts of pesticides? Are foods grown with pesticides safe to eat? The brochure ends with tips to reduce pesticides on foods (washing, peeling, cooking) and a recommendation to buy "organic." Although not in the draft brochure at this time, information for pesticides registered with consideration of benefits is required by the FQPA. Ironically, only those compounds EPA considers carcinogenic can have their benefits considered before registration. Consumers are going to be very happy to read that they have just spent $100 on a basket of food items containing carcinogens.


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