A bill to put tighter controls on pesticides used in American agriculture has been introduced in Congress. And while there are some laudable things about the measure, it is one more example of federal efforts to regulate every aspect of life - and never mind the economic cost.

Pesticides are necessary for the kind of agricultural production needed by the United States. But some reasonable controls also are justified since the use of pesticides has doubled in the past three decades. The key struggle is over what can be construed as "reasonable."Among its benefits, the measure would:

- Establish a single standard for determining the amount of pesticide residue allowed on food sold in U.S. markets. The current system consists of a patchwork of confusing and inconsistent rules. The new standard would require a "reasonable certainty of no harm" in any pesticide use. It would replace the seldom-enforced law that prohibits any cancer-causing chemicals in processed food - no matter how negligible the amount.

- Require the "no harm" standard to include the more vulnerable population of children.

- Review all tolerances for the amount of pesticides currently allowed in foods and give pesticide manufacturers seven years to prove that their chemicals are safe.

- Ban export of pesticides that have been denied registration in the United States or had their registration canceled because of health concerns. It is basically immoral to allow the export of substances declared unsafe for domestic consumption.

- Exempt farmers from a section that allows citizen lawsuits against pesticide problems. This is an essential move since letting farmers be the targets of pesticide lawsuits could cripple U.S. agriculture.

Among its drawbacks, the law would:

- Put more regulatory burdens on manufacturers of chemical pesticides, thus raising costs to farmers and consumers.

- Expand cumbersome regulations covering pesticide use on fresh fruits and vegetables.

- Eliminate economic justifications for the use of certain hazardous pesticides. Any regulation that doesn't consider economic impacts can be disastrous.

On balance, the proposed law would bring some order out of chaos. While many parts of the food industry are not happy with the plan, it would put a brake on more radical environmental demands that would lead to prohibiting the use of pesticides altogether.

But the battle isn't over. And the federal establishment has to be careful that it doesn't regulate the productive American agricultural machine right out of business.