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Environmentalists Quit White House Food Safety Advisory Panel.

Environmental and public interest groups quit a White House advisory panel on food safety, charging the administration is failing to take steps to remove pesticides that pose a special danger to children. At issue is how EPA decides which pesticides in food, drinking water, playgrounds, lawns and homes pose a health threat to young children. The consumer groups criticized EPA for not banning methyl parathion and other chemicals linked to cancer.

Created at the behest of Vice President Al Gore, the 50-member advisory panel was to draw a broad spectrum of views as EPA decides how to proceed in the evaluation of hundreds of pesticides and the possible elimination of some as required by a 1996 food safety law.

But the panel has been snarled in internal disagreements among members who represent a range of interests that included environmentalists, health safety advocates, farmers and representatives of the chemical industry and agribusiness.

In a letter to EPA, the groups said they were quitting the panel because the agency was unwilling "to make hard choices" needed to take the most dangerous pesticides out of service, even though they pose a threat to children.

One of the members, the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "The pesticide industry and agribusiness lobbyists and their allies in Congress have hijacked this process," and the Clinton Administration "has let it derail" through delays and inaction.

Other groups that quit the panel were the World Wildlife Fund, Consumers Union, Pesticide Education Center, Farmworker Justice Fund, National Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform, and the Farmworkers Support Committee. Last year the Environmental Working Group withdrew from the advisory group also in protest.

Deputy EPA Administrator Peter Robertson, in a letter to the seven groups, said the agency remained "absolutely committed" to assessing the dangers posed by some pesticides and removing from the market those chemicals that pose a particular danger to children as required by the 1996 law. But the environmentalists complained that EPA and USDA are not moving quickly enough to remove the pesticides, including some widely used organophosphates, that pose the most critical health risks to infants and children.

The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act for the first time required EPA to consider the unique dangers the chemicals pose to infants and children. It said EPA should reassess the first batch of these chemicals by this August. Farm groups argued that many of the pesticides being targeted are essential and do not yet have adequate substitutes. Gore urged creation of the advisory panel last year after agriculture interests and their advocates in Congress raised concerns that EPA was not taking into account farmers' views. At that time, Gore said he expected the panel to make final recommendations to EPA by September 1998. The group, which met last week, is scheduled to meet several times this summer.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 3, 1999
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