The EPA, DPA and Your First-Grader’s GPA?

Last week, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit health advocacy organization, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about a pesticide commonly used on apples.

The group urged federal regulators to impose harsh and unnecessary restrictions regarding the pesticide known as diphenylamine, or DPA. It cited the European Union, which prohibited levels above 0.1 parts per million two years ago, and arsenic, an accepted but then banned substance, as two strong reasons to conduct new scientific research.

The chemical is used frequently on apples in the United States to prevent browning of the skin during long-term cold storage. Tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrated measurable levels of DPA on 80 percent of their sample size, according to the EWG — with levels on those testing positive, four times greater than the allowable limits on European imports.

It may be a little premature to accept their cautionary rhetoric. It’s a mistake to “equate the presence of a chemical with the presence of risk,” says Joseph Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science & Society at McGill University in Montreal. Although Americans eat about 10 pounds of apples per year, a look at the database the EWG used to support its letter does not trip serious alarms. The database, a product of the USDA, shows just one of 744 apple samples it tested demonstrating a level higher than the government limit — most were far below the permissible limit.

The EU’s stance may be a product of how the United States and Europe view food differently, with America viewing food as a commodity and Europe much more concerned about where food originates.

Still, the EWG’s shopper’s guide urges consumers to buy organic fruits and vegetables; though, even organics are not pesticide-free.

The bottom line? No one should stop eating fruits and vegetables; although, first-grade teachers may be well advised to prepare for an avalanche of avocados, if the EWG gets its way.

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