The Delaney Clause


ANNCR: Food Safety and The Delaney Clause — on today's Congressional Moment

The Delaney Clause was named after its sponsor, New York Congressman Jim Delaney, and was an addition to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1958. Worried that pesticides and other harmful chemicals were finding their way into the nation's food supply, Congressman Delaney proposed a "zero risk" standard... one that prohibited any amount of food additive or pesticide found to cause cancer from being added to processed food. At the time there were virtually no legal limits, and little scientific understanding of the effect of pesticides and additives on human health.

Also at that time, 1958, chemical residues could only be measured in parts per thousand. Today they can be measured in parts per trillion — sometimes even parts per quintillion. Such residues may represent negligible cancer risks.

Critics argued that the "zero–risk" standard would also discourage the development of safer pesticides, since even the safer ones would not be allowed under Delaney.

Congress repeatedly amended the Delaney Clause to allow for more and more exceptions, and in 1996 it was ultimately repealed. The "zero–risk" standard, which made no allowances at all, was changed to one of "reasonable certainty."

The Delaney Clause may seem like a policy mistake because it was so often amended, but that's not so. It officially established the link between cancer and chemicals used to produce and preserve our food supply.

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