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home->Campaigns->Safeguard our students -> News

Senate Bill Could Reduce School Pesticide Use &
Require Country of Origin Food Labels

from Agribusiness Examiner #143 Feb. 2002

Note: Before this bill becomes law it will have to go into Conference
Committee with the House of Representatives, dominated by Republicans who
oppose many of these measures.


The U.S. Senate included in the Farm Bill passed legislation to protect
children from pesticides and promote safer pest management practices in
schools. The legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA),
sponsored by Senator Robert Torricelli, Dem.-New Jersey, was previously
attached to the Senate Education Reauthorization Bill on a unanimous consent
vote last June, but later failed by one vote in the House-Senate Education
Conference Committee in November.

"We hope that the Agriculture Conference Committee will now see the
importance of embracing this piece of legislation. Children, teachers and
school staff deserve the basic health and safety protections that this
measure would provide," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond
Pesticides, a Washington-based public interest group.

Beyond Pesticides says that there are provisions in the Farm Bill supported
by the chemical industry that may be held up if it again seeks, with support
of the House Agriculture Committee, to derail SEPA in conference committee.
SEPA ran into opposition from House Agriculture Committee members who had
previously refused to participate in negotiations on the bill last Spring.

A coalition of environmental, public health, labor, parent and teacher
organizations, and groups representing the pest management and chemical
industry, support the legislation, creating an historic alliance between
groups often at odds with each other. Although still claiming support,
chemical industry representatives refused to voice support for SEPA when it
was in the education conference committee, leading to the bill's derailment
last year.

SEPA represents a straightforward approach to promote school pest management
practices that minimize risk to children and notify and provide safety
information to parents and school staff when pesticides are used by schools.
If it becomes law, schools may become safer for children and teachers. There
is no similar language in the House version of the Farm Bill.

With regard to the three major programmatic components of SEPA -- posting,
notification and integrated pest management (IPM) -- three states, including
Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan, have statutory requirements in all
three areas. Fourteen states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut,
Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas,
Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming) require two of the three major
components in SEPA. Overall, 31 states have adopted pesticide laws that have
one or more of the provisions in SEPA. Of those, twenty states require
written notification, either by universal notice or a registry, and fourteen
states recommend or require schools use IPM. IPM practitioners have cited
large cost savings to school districts that utilize pest management
practices supported by the legislation.

The School Environment Protection Act (SEPA):
* requires local educational agencies to implement a school pest management
policy considering sanitation, structural repair, mechanical, biological,
cultural and pesticide strategies that minimize health and environmental
risks as developed by the state and EPA approved;
* requires universal notification three times per year (at the beginning of
the school year, midyear, and once for summer session) of school pesticide
* provides parents and school staff access to health and toxicity
information on all pesticides used in schools;
* establishes a registry for parents and school staff to sign-up to receive
24 hour pre-notification of a pesticide application;
* provides information on the pesticide's adverse health effects on the
notice provided via the registry;
* requires signs to be posted 24 hours prior to the pesticide application
and remain posted for 24 hours;
* exempts antimicrobials, baits, gels, and pastes from the notification
* requires the area where a pesticide application is to take place be
* requires record keeping of pesticide use and disclosure.;
* establishes 24 hour reentry period for pesticide applications made via
baseboard spraying, broadcast spraying, tenting or fogging, unless the label
specifies a specific reentry interval;
* does not apply to pest management activities conducted on or adjacent to
school property by, or at the direction of, state or local agencies other
than local educational agencies; and,
* does not preempt state or local schools from adopting a policy that
exceeds provisions of the act.

Children are among the least protected population group when it comes to
pesticide exposure, according to the National Academy of Sciences report,
Pesticides In the Diets of Infants and Children (1993). Children, due to
their small size, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight,
developing organ systems and other unique characteristics, are at higher
risk than adults to pesticides. Numerous studies document that children
exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of childhood leukemia, soft
tissue sarcoma and brain cancer. Studies link pesticides to childhood asthma
and respiratory problems. Scientists increasingly associate learning
disabilities or attention deficit disorders with low level toxic exposure
because of their affect on the central nervous system.

In fall 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO), at the request of Senator
Joseph Lieberman (Dem.-Connecticut), conducted a national review of the
extent to which pesticides are used in and around the nation's 110,000
public schools and the magnitude of the risk of exposure to children. The
GAO report, "Pesticides: Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in
Schools" (GAO/RCED-00-17), found that the data on the amount of pesticides
used in the nation's public schools is neither available nor collected by
the federal and most state governments.

The report also found that EPA is not doing enough to protect children from
pesticides, and that there is limited information on how many children are
exposed to pesticides in schools. The GAO cited EPA's analysis of the Poison
Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System, documenting 2,300
school pesticide exposures from 1993-1996. Because most of the symptoms of
pesticide exposure, from respiratory distress to difficulty in
concentration, are common and may be assumed to have other causes, it is
suspected that pesticide-related illness is much more prevalent than
presently indicated.

Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP is a national, grassroots membership organization,
founded in 1981, that collaborates with community-based organizations and
people seeking to improve protections from pesticides and promote
alternative strategies that reduce or eliminate pesticide use.


MELINDA FULMER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Patriotism and concerns over food safety
in the wake of September 11 have revived long-stalled legislation that would
require supermarkets to identify the country of origin of produce and
possibly meat and fish as well. California fruit and vegetable farmers hope
the requirement will help them battle imports. But importers say the measure
is protectionist and that it could spark a trade war with other countries.

The requirement is buried in both House and Senate versions of a major farm
bill that extends federal agricultural support programs. Both versions have
been approved and are headed to conference committee. Both provisions would
require signs on display cases or stamps or stickers on fruits and
vegetables identifying their country of origin. The Senate version also
would require labels on beef, lamb, pork, fish and peanuts. Farm groups say
these labels will help consumers make informed choices about the products
they're buying.

And, they say, the labels could persuade shoppers to pay more for U.S.
products. That would help farmers --- especially California's struggling
fruit and vegetable growers --- cover rising production costs.

"Our producers endure a number of costs with regard to regulation that other
countries aren't required to abide by," said Lisa Dillabo, director of
international trade and plant health for the California Farm Bureau. "These
give consumers confidence in the food supply." Many consumers, she said,
have shown that they are willing to pay more for what they feel is added

Importers, however, say the measure amounts to a protectionist trade barrier
designed to position domestic goods as safer products, even if they're not.
One thing's for sure, analysts say. The long-stalled measure's recent
success is owing to its link --- however tenuous --- to efforts to combat
bio-terrorism and ensure food safety.

"With the threat of bio-terrorism becoming an increasing worry on consumers'
minds, country-of-origin labeling is becoming more important," said Sen. Tim
Johnson (Dem.-South Dakota), who introduced a country-of-origin bill in the
late 1980s when he served in the House. Such labeling would help in
segregating infected food in case of an outbreak in another country, he

House measure sponsor Rep. Mary Bono (Rep.-Palm Springs), who represents
table grape growers, says it will give producers the ability to "market
their produce and tout why domestically grown produce is better."

That kind of promotion could create trade tensions, experts say, and
encourage poor treatment for U.S. produce in export markets, where U.S.
fruit already is labeled. "This has the potential for backfiring on the
U.S.," says Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Institute for International
Economics in Washington. "If the U.S. does it, other countries could say
that's a green light for us to do it too," he says.

Retailers, the measure's biggest critics, say the regulation is no guarantee
of safety and would be costly and difficult to manage. "We have all of the
responsibility and the liability and I don't think we should," said John
Motley of the Food Marketing Institute, a group that represents retailers.

Besides, retailers say, many of the country's largest shippers are already
voluntarily labeling produce in an effort to boost sales, including apple
growers from Washington state, navel orange growers from California and
potato shippers from Idaho. Moreover, several states, including California,
have launched promotional campaigns to advertise the benefits of locally
grown produce. Mandates to label the origin of products exist in only a few
states, including Florida, which adopted the regulation for all produce in

Although widely praised by the state's growers, the regulation has done
little to boost the market share of American produce in the state, according
to Florida agriculture industry officials. And given that, many importers
don't believe the regulation will hurt sales of imported produce.

"I don't think it will change the playing field at all," said grower and
importer Bruce Taylor, chief executive of Taylor Farms in Salinas. "If you
have great-looking product from Canada next to product that doesn't look as
good from the U.S., [consumers] will buy the product from Canada."

Consumers, however, do seem to support labeling. A phone survey of 1,000
households by a produce industry newspaper, the Packer, found that 78%
favored mandatory country-of-origin labeling. In that survey, 90% of
consumers surveyed believed labels also should list the chemicals used in
production of those products.

And that's what has some farmers and lawmakers concerned. Although
country-of-origin labeling could give their products an edge in
supermarkets, they say, it could also lead to more regulation, such as
mandatory listing of pesticides, fertilizers and coatings such as wax used
on produce.

Fruit and vegetables are the only items that would have to be labeled under
the House version of the farm bill. However, the Senate measure was
broadened to mandate labels on meat, fish and peanuts to pick up the votes
of lawmakers representing states with big interests in these sectors.

These two versions still have to be reconciled and could face some
opposition from President Bush

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