Funny Numbers Are Affront to Delaney DebateBy Sherry Kiesling
They're back. Those legions of so-called environmentalists are at it again, spinning out horror stories based on misleading statistics, in an effort to scare consumers and steer the political debate their direction.
The latest target is pesticides, particularly those used in agriculture. And the scare is being perpetrated by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the same group that created the Alar scare in the 80's.
NRDC obtained the results of an as-yet-unpublished Environmental Protection Agency report on pesticide use in the United States. According to NRDC's interpretation of the statistics, pesticide use in the United States reached an all-time high of more than 1.2 billion pounds in 1995. According to NRDC, that represents a reversal of the "downward trend of the past few years."
But NRDC is having a hard time keeping its own stories straight. Back in 1993, NRDC released a report claiming "...total pesticide use now exceeds 2 billion pounds – eight pounds for every man, woman, and child in this country."
If the NRDC expects us to believe their 1993 numbers and their 1995 statistics, pesticide use has in fact declined dramatically from 2 billion pounds in 1993 to 1.2 billion pounds in 1994 and 1995 – a drop of 40 percent.
"What the NRDC doesn't tell you," according to the American Farm Bureau's Mark Maslyn, "is that farmers are making tremendous progress in using technology such as integrated pest management, looking for alternatives to pesticide use, and only using pesticides as a last resort."
Maslyn also points out that pesticide use fluctuates from year to year. It's dangerous to try to draw long term conclusions from single year statistics. Very wet years, for example, often require additional fungicide use, while pesticide use declines in drought years. "Over a long term trend, agriculture use of chemicals is down substantially," Maslyn noted. "We're using less today than we used in the early 1980s, and that's progress."
Maslyn believes that NRDC has drawn frightening and erroneous conclusions from single year statistics to chill the debate in Congress over reforming the Delaney Clause.
It's been a long battle, but farmers are finally making progress in their effort to reform the Delaney Clause, a 1958 law which prohibits any chemical residues in processed foods. The Delaney Clause is outdated and, in fact, prevents EPA from approving safer, more effective pesticides to replace older chemicals that are often used in greater quantities.
Yet NRDC and other environmental groups are grasping at anything – even funny numbers – in an effort to thwart the Delaney reform momentum. Let's hope Congress isn't swayed by the rhetoric, but will move forward with sound reform that benefits farmers and consumers alike.
Sherry Kiesling is a writer/producer in broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.