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EPA Asked to Halt Pesticide Use on Apples Until New Safety Studies are Done

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt use of a pesticide commonly applied to conventionally grown apples to limit storage damage until EPA has done further safety studies.

EWG’s president, Ken Cook, wrote EPA on Thursday asking that the agency launch a new investigation to determine whether the use of diphenylamine, or DPA, is safe for U.S. consumers who, according to 2010 industry data, use about 42.5 pounds of apple products per person each year.

Cook’s letter to Steven Bradbury, head of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, stated that, as part of its inquiry, the agency “must demand that the pesticide’s manufacturers collect and disclose rigorous data that can determine whether nitrosamines or other potentially toxic chemicals form when raw fruits are coated with DPA and stored over long periods or are processed into juices or sauces.”

The letter concluded, “The American public deserves the same level of protection as Europeans from pesticide risks. We urge EPA to halt the use of DPA on U.S. fruit until a rigorous analysis by EPA of the chemical can prove that it poses a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers.”

Applying DPA to European apples and pears was banned by the European Commission in 2012, citing lack of sufficient safety data from the manufacturers, and, since March of this year, the European Union will only allow importation of conventionally grown U.S. apples if detectable DPA levels are 0.1 parts per million or below.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found measurable levels of DPA on 82.7 percent of the raw, conventionally grown apples tested and at average concentrations four times the EU import limit. The EPA tolerance level for DPA is 10 ppm.

DPA is typically applied to the fruit by dipping, drenching or spraying after it’s picked to help prevent “storage scald,” a blackening or browning of the skin that can occur on apples held in cold storage for months after the fall harvest. While it’s officially regulated as a pesticide, DPA functions as a fungicide and growth regulator.

According to an analysis prepared by EWG Senior Scientist Sonya Lunder, EPA has not examined DPA’s health and safety aspects since 1998, although the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act requires the agency to do so every 15 years.

She said the organization’s major health and safety concern with DPA relates to nitrosamines, a family of chemicals known to cause cancer.

“People who eat nitrosamines have higher levels of cancers. These contaminants are known by EPA and other agencies to be something we want to avoid,” Lunder told Food Safety News.

“Given how often people are eating apples, this is a practice that is not safe,” she added. “We want answers, and we’re not going to get them unless EPA orders them to be generated and conclusive.”

EWG’s recent contacts with EPA indicated that agency scientists were unaware of the EU’s concerns about DPA, Lunder noted. In general, she said, European regulators are quicker to act on available health and safety data and restrict products than their American counterparts.

“Right now, there’s not data available to prove that [DPA is] safe. The European approach of getting the product off the market until it’s proven that it’s safe seems like the reasonable approach to us,” Lunder said.

The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), an industry-linked group based in Watsonville, CA, released a statement Thursday “urging caution” about EWG’s claims regarding apples and DPA.

“EWG is once again scaring consumers about an extremely safe and healthy product that parents should be feeding their children more of for good health,” said Marilyn Dolan, AFF’s executive director.

Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association (USApple) called the EWG report “misleading” and stated that there was “no credible reason to question EPA’s strict scientific review process.”

“In fact,” Bair continued, “only two months ago EPA said, ‘the newest data confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans.’ That’s great news.”

“There’s absolutely no issue of safety here whatsoever,” Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for USApple, told Food Safety News. “EWG puts out this data that is meant to startle and alarm consumers, but what people really need to understand is that DPA levels found on apples are far below the levels set by EPA.”

She said that, while the U.S. apple industry is concerned about the EU’s move limiting acceptable DPA levels on the conventionally grown apples we export, the European market represents only about 1.7 percent of total U.S. apple exports.

“Is it something that we’re happy about? Certainly not. We hate to lose any of our export partners, but the thing with food safety is that any rules have to be grounded in sound science, and there’s a question with the EU whether the science is sound,” Brannen said.

There are about 7,500 apple growers across the U.S., who produce nearly 100 varieties of the fruit in every state, although Washington state is the top producer. Apples are considered one of the most valuable crops grown in the U.S., and we are the world’s second-largest apple producer after China.

© Food Safety News
  • Conventional or Die

    In related news, Meryl Streep testified before Congress that Alar is dangerous!!!!

    • Bill Pilacinski

      Oh, wow! Meryl Streep. The actress, right – acting as she knows something about food science and nutrition?

  • Oginikwe

    How quickly industry circles the wagons and starts with the public relations bovine fertilizer.

    Not to worry! They all have a strong relationship with the USDA and they’ll use those ties to put pressure on the EPA to look the other way. Besides, in our system of controls, preventative action is only taken after the damage is already done. All chemicals are safe until proven guilty! That’s “sound” science.

  • johncoryat

    The only safe apples to eat are organic ones. If you can’t find an organic apple, peel it. The skin of non-organic apples is so loaded with chemical crap that it’s unsafe for even pigs to consume.

    “An apple a day keeps the doctor at bay.” True words.

  • FoodSci

    While we’re at it let’s take all apples off the market. After all they contain a toxic chemical related to cyanide. http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/questions/question/2737/ Big Nature is trying to poison us with chemicals! One gets the feeling that all these consumer watchdog groups have found a cash cow in fear of food.

  • Bill Pilacinski

    The EWG’s budget must have been running low and they’re looking for some way to raise money from those ignorant enough to believe whatever they say.

  • flameforjustice

    If the EU doesn’t want to eat the substance neither should the USA. When the EU and so-called 3rd world countries won’t accept the food or ingredient it should be pulled from the shelves, warehouses, burned in the fields etc etc Fast.

  • Mongoose

    First of all, I grow apples as a hobby farmer and I use pesticides. Hats off to those who grow purley organic; I hope to aspire to that level of pest management some day as I learn more about apple production. Anyway, It seems that the EWG is simply asking for DPA to be halted until
    “a rigorous analysis by EPA of the chemical can prove that it poses a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers.” IT doesn’t appear the EWG is trying to outright BAN this product, at least not unless its found to be harmful at the current levels of use. The AFF and USApple are making vague statements like:

  • Mongoose

    “No credible reason to question EPA’s strict scientific review process”. I’ve heard fruit producers question the EPA’s scientific review process many times, that is when it conflicts with their vested interests.
    Come on….we all want the truth (at least most of us). That’s it. We get the truth by collecting and analyzing information. We don’t get it by implying things like “We already have enough information”, and “there’s no reason to question the status quo..” That is not “sound science” as mentioned in the article. The practice of “sound science” is using the scientific method to question, analyze and discover new things in light of new information, doubts, or uncertainty. (It’s funny how we call it “sound science” when it helps us get what we want and “bunk science” when it challenges what we want.) So…after looking further into DPA use, if levels of nitrosamines are found to be unsafe, then the industry should make the necessary adjustments. If nitrosamine levels are found to be within SAFE levels, then we need to get off the industrie’s back and let them continue their good work. I just want the truth, but I see one side trying to “gather’ information while the other side is keeping a lid on it and discouraging further inquiries, saying what we have now is good enough. This in and of itself concernes me…. IF this product is so safe, then why hide or supress anything? Let the inquiry proceed! Collect the data and let “sound science” speak for itself. But no…we can’t possibly do that, can we? Too many vested interests at stake…