Food Quality Protection Act of 1996

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Food Quality Protection Act of 1996

Valerie Watnick

At the time of its passage, the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA) (P.L. 104-170, 110 Stat. 1489) was called "one of the most significant environmental and public health bills passed in 20 years, [which] indeed may distinguish itself in time as the most significant." In response to major scientific findings by the National Research Council (NRC) and others in the area of children's susceptibilities to pesticides, Congress intended the FQPA to strengthen protections for children by requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider these special susceptibilities in assessing the risk of a pesticide.

Environmentalists and consumer groups used the Delaney clause, passed in 1958 as part of the Federal, Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, as a bargaining chip in the effort to gain regulatory protection for children from pesticides. The Delaney clause provided that food additives had to be safe; and that if a substance was found to cause cancer, it could not be designated as safe and thus could not be added to processed foods. This standard was known as a "zero tolerance" standard. Raw agricultural commodities were generally considered unsafe for use unless a legal limit was in place for pesticide residue found on that food.

Given scientists' current ability to detect certain chemicals in extremely minute amounts, scientists and politicians urged that the Delaney clause's zero tolerance standard for carcinogenic food additives needed revision. In September 1993 the Clinton administration proposed a reform package that attempted to please the chemical industry and the environmentalists. The proposal included abolishing the Delaney zero-tolerance standard and setting limits on pesticide residues that would be safe for children.

After the Clinton administration made its proposal, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees held a series of hearings on pesticide regulation. The debates focused on assessing dietary risks to different groups of consumers, the method of assessing consumer exposure, and whether and when to consider a pesticide's benefits when setting legal limits on pesticide residues.

The presidential election in November 1996 and public opinion that food safety laws needed revision played roles in developing a consensus. In July of that year the House approved a bill that included provisions proposed by the Clinton administration that were designed to ensure that pesticide limits would protect infants and children. On July 24, 1996, the child protective bill was passed by the Senate, and President Clinton signed the FQPA into law on August 3, 1996.

The act resulted in three major changes in the regulation of pesticides and their use on food products. First, the FQPA contains provisions specifically designed to protect the health of infants and children. The most significant aspect of these protections for children originated with the report by the National Research Council on the dangers of pesticides to children. It generally requires the EPA to assess the risks of a given pesticide residue and to use an additional ten-fold margin of safety when setting legal limits for certain pesticide residues on food. The FQPA also requires the EPA to take into account the special susceptibilities and consumption habits of infants and children in establishing pesticide limits.

Moreover, the act requires the EPA to consider all of the different exposures to pesticides that adults and children face when setting limits for pesticide residues on food. This provision requires the EPA to consider all of a consumer's exposures to pesticide residues, including exposure through the air and water.

Finally, the FQPA eliminated Delaney's zero-tolerance standard for cancer-causing substances in processed foods and replaced it with a negligible risk standard for all foods. This standard of negligible risk is generally assumed to mean that there exists a one-in-one-million chance that a harmful effect will occur.

If implemented as intended, the Food Quality Protection Act has great potential. The act could help to make the food supply safer for this generation of children and adults by limiting the amount of pesticide residue on all food sold in the United States.

See also: Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; Pure Food and Drug Act.


National Research Council. Committee on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1993.

Watnick, Valerie J. "Risk Assessment: Obfuscation of Policy Decisions in Pesticide Regulation and the EPA's Dismantling of the Food Quality Protection Act's Safeguards for Children." Arizona State Law Journal 31 (Winter 1999): 1315. Source from which portions of this essay have been adapted.

Watnick, Valerie J. "Who's Minding the Schools: Toward Least Toxic Methods of Pest Control in Our Nation's Schools." Fordham Environmental Law Journal 8 (Fall 1996): 73.

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Food Quality Protection Act of 1996

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