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Comments on NAS Report from Dr. Carl Winter

Comments on NAS Report from Dr. Carl Winter

TO: Food Safety Rapid Response Contacts
Communication Heads
PAT Coordinators
IPM Coordinators
NAPIAP Liaisons
FROM: Elizabeth L. Andress, NPL, Food Science and Chair, Food Safety & Quality Initiative
Judith A. Bowers, Head, Public Affairs, CIT
John Impson, NPL, PAT
Mike Fitzner, NPL, IPM
Dennis Kopp, NPL, NAPIAP


Attached are comments about the National Research Council (NRC), National Academy of Sciences (NAS) news conference held on Monday, June 28, 1993, provided by Dr. Carl Winter, Extension Food Toxicologist from the University of California-Davis. He also comments on the recommendations in the report, "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children."


Subject: NAS Report on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children

Colleagues -

Feel free to share the information.

Carl K. Winter, Ph.D.
Director, FoodSafe Program, and Extension Food Toxicologist
Department of Food Science and Technology
University of California
Davis, CA 95616
PH: (916) 752-5448
FAX: (916) 752-3975

June 28, 1993

TO: County Directors, Regional Directors, and Selected Specialists

FOR: Distribution to Appropriate Advisors and Program Clientele

FROM: Dr. Carl K. Winter, Director, FoodSafe Program and Extension Food Toxicologist, UC Davis (916) 752-5448

RE: National Academy of Sciences Report on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children

Earlier this morning, a press conference of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences was held to present findings of its report on "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children." The press conference was originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, June 29, but was rescheduled following a leak of the report's press release and subsequent publication of a story in the New York Times on Sunday. As an attendee of the press conference, I offer the following summary:

Contrary to several media accounts of the report and the press conference, the report did not indicate that pesticide residues in the diet of infants and children pose significant risks. According to Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, the committee's chairman and a Professor of Community Medicine and Pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, "we are not saying that parents should rush out and radically change their children's diets to avoid certain foods. We do not say in our report that some particular food is terribly dangerous for children and needs immediately to be discarded. Parents should continue to emphasize fruits and vegetables in their children's diets." In response to repeated queries from reporters, Dr. Landrigan and other committee members refused to endorse consumption of organically-grown fruits and vegetables over conventionally-grown produce.

The report, however, was highly critical of the scientific and regulatory procedures used by the federal government to assess risks and safeguard infants and children from potential health effects of pesticide residues in their diets. Several recommendations to improve the methods to assess the risks of children were provided in the report.

A major conclusion of the report was that the government typically takes a "one-size-fits-all" approach that ignores potential differences between infants and children relative to adults, particularly with respect to sensitivities to pesticides and to exposure levels. It was pointed out that infants and children are simply not "small adults; " they differ physiologically in terms of the development of their nervous and immune systems and in their abilities to perform biological tasks such as metabolizing and eliminating pesticides. Such physiological differences may render infants and children more sensitive to some pesticides than adult while less sensitive to other pesticides.

The report also discussed differences in the extent of exposure of infants and children to pesticides in the diet relative to adults. Infants and children tend to eat fewer foods than adults but consume more food relative to their body weights than do adults.

Several important recommendations were made in the report:

Laboratory toxicology studies should be developed to study the effects of chemicals in immature animals to allow improved evaluation of the sensitivities of infants, children, and adolescents relative to adults. This is particularly important with respect to pogreed in the scientific community that pesticides in the diet do not represent a major food safety priority, the magnitude of the theoretical risks, particularly for infants and children, is the subject of intense debate. It is hoped that the recommendations made in the report, if adopted, will serve to provide a better scientific basis for some of the assumptions used, improve the accuracy of the risk estimates, and allow greater consensus to be achieved concerning the magnitude of dietary pesticide risks.

Much less debate exists as to the benefits of consuming liberal amounts of fruits and vegetables in the diet. In another National Academy of Sciences study, it was concluded that the health benefits (e.g. decreased risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers) attributed to fruits and vegetables greatly outweigh any potential small risks from pesticide residues in the foods. This conclusion arose from actual studies of large human populations rather than from theoretical and highly uncertain practices used in assessing risks from small amounts of pesticide residues in the diet.

It is feared that some consumers may react to the report by changing their food purchasing habits; ironically, the worst thing that parents could do would be to decrease the amounts of fruits and vegetables they feed their children. This view is shared by the members of the National Academy of Sciences committee who authored the report, the vast majority of health professionals, and even several environmental organizations striving for significant reductions in the use of agricultural pesticides.

Please feel free to contact me at (916) 752-5448 if I may be of assistance. Further updates will be prepared as warranted.

NPL Food Science/Food Safety
Phone: 720-6962
Fax: 690-2469
John W. Impson
National Program Leader-PAT