Washington Insider -- Monday

More on the WHO Cancer Warning

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Under Court Order, EPA Proposes Ending Use of Certain Pesticides on Food

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed ending the use of a common pesticide, primarily produced by Dow Chemical, on food, citing watershed risk. The EPA proposed a ban on all agricultural uses of the Dow AgroSciences insecticide chlorpyrifos.

The proposal comes in response to a study the agency released on the insecticide late last year that found chlorpyrifos may be causing unreasonable health risks to workers and to people who get their drinking water from small watersheds. It is one of the most widely used in a class of insecticides called organophosphates, which have the potential to cause severe neurotoxic symptoms in humans when used incorrectly.

There is a possibility that the chemical could continue to be used on ornamental plants or on golf course turf.

The EPA said it expects to finalize its proposal in December 2016. Before the agency can finalize and implement a ban, its proposal needs to go through a 60-day public comment period that won’t begin until the proposal is officially published in the Federal Register. The EPA will then need to review and respond to all of the comments it receives.

In a statement, Dow spokesman Garry Hamlin said the company disagrees with the proposed ban and that all of the issues raised in the 2014 EPA study can be resolved by completing the additional research.


Updated EPA Pesticide Regulations Set for Publication; Farmer-Focused Provisions Begin Effect During January 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency’s update to its worker protection standards is set to be officially published in the Federal Register on Nov. 2. Federal Register publication means the clock officially begins ticking down to the date when farmers must start complying with the rule’s provisions that protect farmworkers from exposure to pesticides.

Based on the date of publication in the Federal Register, most of the provisions of the EPA’s farmworker rule will go into effect on Jan. 4, 2017. Provisions requiring the use of new pesticide training materials will not go into effect until Jan. 4, 2018, to provide more time to develop the training materials.

This is the first update to the EPA worker protection standards in 23 years. It includes measures such as:

· A first-ever age limit of 18 to use pesticides, with exceptions for farm owners’ family members;

· An increase in the frequency of mandatory pesticide training farmers must provide their workers, from once every five years to annually; and

· A requirement that farmers maintain records of the pesticides they use for at least two years.


Washington Insider: More on the WHO Cancer Warning

The World Health Organization’s recent warning on consumption of meats, especially bacon, is continuing to rattle around both the blogosphere and the conventional media this week. The background is International Agency for Research on Cancer categorization of red meats as “probably carcinogenic”, even though the evidence is limited. The report was even tougher on bacon, and asserts that consumption of 50g of processed meat a day, less than two slices of bacon, increases consumer’s chances developing bowel cancer by 18%.

Almost everything about this finding is being challenged now, including both the research itself and the interpretation of the findings. That is something of a problem for the urban foodies who would like to jump on the anti-meat bandwagon, but have a bad feeling about this report.

Thus, it was interesting that the New York Times assigned a health writer, Anahad O’Connor to cover the topic. He began by asserting his credentials as a critic of red meat consumption, but, he also weighed in heavily on the problems with the IARC findings.

The main problem, he said, with the public health messages put out by the WHO is that the agency did a poor job of explaining what its risk-ranking system really means. It is based, apparently on “the strength of the overall research, not on the actual danger of a specific product.” In fact, lots of observers suggest that the research is not so strong, but O’Connor has other problems with the agency.

He calls the WHO lists as a hodgepodge of probable and possible carcinogens that borders on the ridiculous because it includes pickled vegetables, coffee, cellphones, frying, working as a barber and now red meat. That’s pretty tough criticism for a fellow meat-consumption critic.

As for bacon, the agency listed it alongside cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos, plutonium and salted fish—and more than 900 potential carcinogens evaluated since 1971.

Then comes O’Connor’s strongest argument—Everybody, he says, “even the most strident anti-meat crusader knows that eating bacon is not as risky as smoking or asbestos exposure.” Smoking raises a person’s lifetime risk of developing lung cancer by a staggering 2,500 percent while two daily strips of bacon would translate to about a 6 percent lifetime risk for colon cancer, up from the 5 percent risk for people who don’t enjoy bacon or other processed meats.

In addition, O’Connor is upset that the press has not sorted that out, but has headlined a causal link WHO didn’t find. He cites headlines that trumpeted that “Processed Meats Rank Alongside Smoking as Cancer Causes --WHO” in the Guardian. “Bacon, Hot Dogs as Bad as Cigarettes” read another.

O’Connor says that untangling the effect of red meat from all other risk factors is extremely difficult. And relying too heavily on relatively small associations to draw public health policy conclusions can lead health authorities down the wrong path. The article cites cases where medical treatments have been based on misunderstood risk linkages—for example, where high vitamin dosages were expected to provide protections that did not materialize.

The article concludes with an interesting piece of advice. O’Connor thinks that a far more effective protection against cancer than dietary changes is medical screenings, especially “between the ages of 50 and 75,” a precaution that only 58% of people in that age range take. According to Stacey Fedewa, director of screening and risk factor surveillance for the American Cancer Society, if the number of adults who underwent screening rose to 80% by 2018, “then 280,000 cases of colorectal cancer and 203,000 deaths from the disease could be averted.”

The debates over the WHO report and other dietary guidelines are far from over, but the O’Connor article suggests that the current debate may even be completely on the wrong track—and that use of scary statistics to attempt to alter consumption may be far less appropriate in dealing with small risks than medical screening.

In fact, reliance on medical screening seems like a far more useful approach than simply criticizing the WTO, although it clearly deserves criticism. The O’Connor approach also has the advantage of putting the issue clearly in the hands of science, perhaps even out of the reach of the urban foodies where it seems to have been for far too long, Washington Insider believes.

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