Monday, March 10, 2014

Is Produce Safe from Pesticides? USDA Releases Pesticide Residue Testing Data

The USDA released its annual pesticide residue testing data for 2012.  In the report, over 99% of the products sampled had results that were within EPA tolerances.

Of course, 99.47% is not 100%, and there were a few samples that were above the established tolerance.    From a blog by Steve Savage who took the time to analyze the few high results.
The only crops with any significant number of above-tolerance detections were snap peas (32 from among 743 samples) and cherry tomatoes (24 from among 744 samples). However, even these unusual incidences were not enough above tolerance to be of major concern. For the snap peas, 97% of the samples with those higher detections were imported either from Guatemala, Peru or Mexico. For the cherry tomatoes, 83% of the above-tolerance samples came from Mexico. If the "group project" was divided into a US farmers team and a importers team, their respective "scores" would be 99.88% and 98.76% - different, but both still A+ grades.
 It is important to note that the tolerance levels that are set have a 100X or so safety factor.

So traditional produce purchased from your supermarket is safe (extremely low risk).  Of course, there are those who will continue to pay more for 'organic'.  Is it worth the added price?  This data suggests it is not. 

One issue I have is that USDA should provide a discussion of 'out of tolerance' samples in their report rather than just glossing it over.  They did issue "What Consumer Should Know".
What Consumers Should Know
2012 Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary
  • This PDP data shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pose no safety concern.
  • Each year, USDA and EPA work together to identify foods to be tested on a rotating basis. In 2012, surveys were conducted on a variety of foods including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, wheat, butter, baby food, and water.
  • PDP data reflect actual residues present in food grown in various regions of the U.S. and overseas.
  • EPA makes a safety evaluation for pesticides considering all possible routes of exposure through food, water, and home environments when setting the maximum residue (tolerance) level of pesticide that can remain in or on foods.
  • Before a pesticide is available for use in the U.S., the EPA must determine that it will not pose unreasonable risks to human health or the environment.

  • PDP informs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if residues detected exceed the EPA tolerance or have no EPA tolerance established. The PDP residue results are reported to FDA and EPA through monthly reports. In instances where a PDP finding is extraordinary and may pose a safety risk, FDA and EPA are immediately notified.
  • PDP data are essential in supporting efforts by the USDA and EPA to assess the American consumer’s dietary exposure to pesticide residues.
  • EPA is required to periodical re-evaluation pesticide registrations and tolerances to ensure that the scientific data remains up to date. The PDP provides data for the periodic re-evaluation of food tolerances.
  •  The PDP testing methods detect the smallest possible levels of pesticide residues, including levels below the EPA tolerances.
  • EPA regulates pesticide use under two federal statutes: the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) of 1947, which regulates pesticide registrations in the U.S., and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)of 1938 under which EPA establishes tolerances for pesticide residues in food.   The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 amended these two pesticide laws to mandate a single, health-based standard for all pesticides in all foods.
  • FDA enforces EPA residue tolerances for all foods except meat and poultry. FDA publishes its pesticide program data

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