May 28, 2021

Gillibrand Reintroduces Safe School Meals For Kids Act; Calls On Congress To Eliminate Harmful Pesticides From Produce In School Meals

Chlorpyrifos, A Pesticide Widely Used On Fruits and Vegetables Including Apples and Oranges, Has Been Linked to Developmental Disabilities in Children

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, reintroduced the Safe School Meals for Kids Act to eliminate harmful pesticides from produce served in kids’ school meals. Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide that is widely used on fruits and vegetables across the country —  including on apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, and wheat that regularly end up in school meals — and studies have shown that it can harm the nervous system and has been linked to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and respiratory paralysis in adults, and developmental disabilities in children. Gillibrand’s legislation would restrict schools from purchasing and serving food that contains even the lowest detectable amount of chlorpyrifos, which is 0.001 micrograms per kilogram, effectively banning the chemical from the food served in school meals.  

“Many food chemicals were reviewed to be safe decades ago but it’s clear that safety guidance has not been kept up-to-date with new science and data that have found harmful effects on the health of our families,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am deeply concerned that, despite the potential for long-term health complications, chlorpyrifos continues to be sprayed on fruits and vegetables. That is why we must pass the Safe School Meals for Kids Act. This bill will create a national standard for chlorpyrifos levels in our school nutrition programs and effectively ban the pesticide from our children’s school meals.”

“It is known that chlorpyrifos is a hazardous toxin known to affect human health and is connected to brain damage in children,” said Senator Cory Booker. “We must follow the science in order to protect the health and safety of our nation’s children who may face exposure to harmful pesticides such as chlorpyrifos in school meals. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Safe School Meals for Kids Act to effectively ban chlorpyrifos from school cafeterias across the country.”  

“The health and well-being of our children should always be a priority. As a father, it’s important to me that we keep our children safe from harmful pesticides in food – the Safe School Meals for Kids Act will do just that. I’m proud to join Senator Gillibrand and my colleagues on this critical legislation that will prevent schools from serving foods tainted with chlorpyrifos in order to protect our children,” said Senator Padilla.

“It is an outrage that we are allowing corporate greed to threaten the health of our children,” said Senator Sanders. “We must stop protecting large corporations and instead listen to the EPA who is saying loudly and clearly that harmful pesticides are negatively affecting children throughout the United States. I am proud to support this legislation alongside my colleagues to ensure our children’s food does not contain this harmful pesticide.”

Several studies have linked early-life exposure to chlorpyrifos to developmental disabilities in children. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first proposed banning its use, and in 2016, it confirmed that there is enough evidence connecting the pesticide to neurodevelopmental harm in children, even at low levels of exposure, to warrant a nationwide ban of the chemical. Despite these warnings, in 2019, the EPA, under the Trump administration, decided to keep chlorpyrifos on the market and questioned the scientific data. Nearly two years later, a federal appeals court called on the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos from being sprayed on food crops and gave the federal government 60 days to revoke all food-related uses of chlorpyrifos. The ruling also said, however, that manufacturers have the chance to prove that this chemical is safe for use on produce. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would ensure there is no way forward for chlorpyrifos to be used in foods served to school children. New York State — alongside Hawaii and California — previously enacted measures that remove the pesticide from the market. 

Gillibrand’s legislation would prohibit schools from purchasing produce for school meals with chlorpyrifos levels higher than the lowest possible limit of detection by modern testing systems, and effectively eliminate the potentially harmful pesticide from any fruit or vegetable that may be served to students in school. Specifically, the Safe School Meals for Kids Act, would: 

  • Establish a maximum residue level of 0.001 microgram/kilogram for chlorpyrifos on foods 
  • Prohibit the procurement of foods that exceed the maximum residue level for school nutrition programs including National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program 
  • Conduct reviews every two years for 10 years on the compliance of schools with this rule

The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 

A one-pager of the Safe School Meals for Kids Act can be found here

Full text of the legislation found here.