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Silent Spring Today

`EAT your vegetables."

That age-old parental demand remains good advice. But now there's a bit of irony mixed in with the benefits that are supposed to come from eating vegetables and fruits. New studies show that these beneficial foods can also contain not-so-beneficial pesticides.

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People are particularly concerned about the effects of pesticides on children. In a recent report, the National Academy of Sciences calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to put health considerations above agricultural production in its policies. Another report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., notes that millions of American children receive more than one-third of their lifetime exposure to certain pesticides by the age of five.

The federal government has announced that it will work to reduce the use of chemicals in food production. It will remove from the market those pesticides that pose the greatest risk. It is also endorsing the use of "integrated pest management," a method of farming that uses crop rotation and beneficial insects as substitutes for some pesticides. In addition, the food industry has been taking steps for a decade to reduce the pesticides used in food.

But pesticides in vegetables are far from the only questionable ingredient in the food Americans eat.

Some consumer groups have expressed concern about about possible side effects from hormones given to dairy cows to increase milk production and chemicals fed to beef cattle to speed growth.

As a first step in giving consumers a voice, one natural-food grocery chain, the Whole Foods Market, based in Austin, Texas, has initiated an anti-pesticide campaign. It gives adults form letters they can fax to Washington. For children, there are postcards to color and mail.

It has been 30 years since Rachel Carson eloquently warned about the dire consequences of pesticides in her prize-winning book, "Silent Spring." For all the publicity her message has received in three decades, it is still a long way from being fully acted upon. The new studies serve as reminders that while Americans should continue to eat fruits and veggies - the benefits far outweigh any possible risks - they should also continue to urge lawmakers to strengthen pesticide regulations.

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