Risk/Risk Trade-offs in Pesticide Regulation: An Exploratory Analysis of the Public Health Effects of a Ban on Organophosphate and Carbamate Pesticides
Efforts to reduce pesticide-related risks to consumers and farmworkers often neglect the possibility that measures to reduce the target risk may introduce or enhance countervailing risks. These may arise from substitute pesticides or pest-control practices, from increased levels of pests or pest-related hazards, from increased levels of toxic natural pesticides in plants, from increased costs and decreased consumption of health-enhancing fruits and vegetables, or from direct income effects on consumers and farmers. The effect of the countervailing risks may partially or completely offset the reduction in the target risk. A risk-trade-off analysis was conducted of a potential ban on the use of organophosphate and carbamate (OP/Carbamate) insecticides in U.S. agriculture. Although this scenario is extreme, it has the analytic virtue of dispensing with the infinite number of “next-best” OP/Carbamates that might be substituted for specific combinations of crops and pests should only selected uses be banned. The analysis relies on detailed descriptions of the alternative pesticides and pest-control measures that would be used for each of 14 major crops. The effects of pest-control cost changes on prices and consumption and effects on consumer and producer incomes are projected using a general-equilibrium economic model. Several countervailing risks that may be significant were found, including acute toxicity to farmworkers from substitute pesticides, cancer and noncancer risks from substitute pesticides, and mortality induced by changes in disposable income. Other countervailing risks are more difficult to estimate or weigh. Potential increases in natural plant pesticides following an OP/Carbamate ban are discussed but data are lacking to quantify the effects. Changes in diet following the ban have both positive and negative effects, and the ultimate change is difficult to estimate. Although a net risk cannot be estimated, several approaches were illustrated that would be useful in risk-trade-off analyses. Key factors complicating comprehensive analysis of risk/risk trade-offs for pesticides were also identified, including data gaps and shortcomings of current risk assessment methods.