08 September 2000 22:26 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--An industry-backed pesticide reform bill appeared unlikely to pass this year after a key House committee cancelled a vote on the contentious issue, sources said Friday.
The House Agriculture Committee postponed a 7 September meeting on the legislation, which would change the way the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes tolerances - maximum allowable pesticide residue levels on food crops - under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA).
The postponement leaves little time for consideration of the bill since Congress plans to adjourn in early October. A panel spokesman said the vote could be rescheduled for later this month, but he noted that the committee's September schedule is "pretty full."
The meeting, which was scheduled just before the start of Congress' August recess, was cancelled because committee members had just returned and did not have enough time to review possible amendments, according to the spokesman.
Introduced last year by Representative Richard Pombo (Republican-California), the bill generally would require EPA to conduct much more analysis before it could restrict or ban the use of a pesticide.
Under the FQPA, EPA must reassess nearly 10 000 pesticide tolerances and determine whether they meet the statute's more stringent health standards, which include special protections for children.
Pesticide manufacturers and farm groups have charged that because the law sets a 2006 deadline for EPA to complete the review, the agency is making hasty decisions. In the past year, EPA has banned or restricted uses of three major organophosphate insecticide: azinphos-methyl, methyl parathion, and chlorpyrifos.
The industry fears by relying on "default assumptions" rather than real-world data, EPA will needlessly ban or restrict the use of many safe pesticides that growers depend on.
The Pombo bill responds to this criticism by requiring EPA to clarify how much science it uses in making tolerance reassessments and state whether any assumptions were made or whether the decision was based on a worst-case scenario.
In addition, EPA would have to analyse whether cancelling or restricting the use of a pesticide would result in a disruption in the domestic food supply, cause pest crop damage and yield loss, or result in higher pest control costs.
The legislation is staunchly opposed by EPA and environmental activists who maintain the agency has more than enough information about pesticides to reach accurate conclusions about their safety.
Although the measure has considerable bipartisan support, sources say many Republicans are reluctant to push the bill so close to the November elections. "It sets up an incredibly nasty battle where Republicans are portrayed as poisoning the nation's little children," a House Republican aide commented.
The bill's prospects were already dim because in late June, House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (Republican-Virginia) said his panel would not take up the legislation because of the opposition by the Clinton administration and environmentalists. The committees on agriculture and commerce share jurisdiction over the issue.
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