Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



For more than a decade, federal health regulatory agencies have devoted major attention to controlling human exposure to substances believed capable of causing cancer. These efforts have evoked a broad spectrum of criticism; government has been accused of both indolence in the face of an incipient epidemic' and reckless distortion of science to support restrictions on substances that present only trivial risks. A central object of regulatory concern has been the safety of the food supply. At least since the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act),'with its famous Delaney Clause, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sought, with mixed success, to identify food constituents that pose cancer risks and to eliminate them from food. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is responsible for setting permissible pesticide levels in food, has displayed similar concern for the elimination of carcinogenic residues in foods that comprise important parts of the American diet. I do not propose here to evaluate the success of the FDA's and the EPA's efforts to prevent the addition of hazardous chemicals to the food supply. While that is certainly an important issue, this Article explores the potentially greater challenges to regulation presented by recent assessments suggesting highly significant associations be-tween traditional foods and cancer incidence. This Article does not identify all the relevant issues or exhaust analysis of those it does address; the objective is to sketch the broad contours of future debate.