USDA report shows more than half of foods tested have pesticide residues

Published Tuesday, December 17, 2019
by Coral Beach, Food Safety News

While more than half of the foods tested had pesticide residues, less than 1 percent of the commodities covered by the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program had levels above legal limits.

The annual report from the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture covers testing for 2018 and was released this month. The numbers vary little from those in recent years.

“Over 99 percent of the products sampled through PDP (Pesticide Data Program had residues below the Environmental Protection Agency  tolerances,” according to the report summary.

“. . . For the 10,545 samples analyzed, 47.8 percent of the samples had no detectable pesticides, 21.0 percent had one pesticide, and 31.2 percent of the samples had more than one pesticide.”

The yearly round of testing samples a wide variety of domestic and imported foods, with a strong focus on foods that are consumed by infants and children. 

Staff from the PDP work with state agencies representing all census regions of the country and approximately half of the U.S. population. In 2018, food samples were collected and analyzed in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington.

The EPA uses the data for dietary risk assessments and to help make sure pesticide residues in foods remain at safe levels. The USDA uses the data to monitor the relationship of pesticide residues to agricultural practices, according to the agency’s report.

“The PDP is not designed for enforcement of EPA pesticide residue tolerances,” according to the USDA’s summary. 

“Rather, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for enforcing EPA tolerances. PDP provides FDA and EPA with monthly reports of pesticide residue testing and informs the FDA if residues detected exceed the EPA tolerance or have no EPA tolerance established.”

In 2018, a total of 704 samples with 909 pesticides were reported to the FDA as Presumptive Tolerance Violations, according to the USDA pesticide report.

Pesticides exceeding the tolerance were detected in 82 samples including: 

7 samples of asparagus
1 sample of cabbage
8 samples of cilantro
9 samples of heavy cream
19 samples of kale
1 sample of kiwi fruit
3 samples of mangoes
3 samples of raisins
1 sample of rice
4 samples of frozen spinach
23 samples of snap peas
1 sample of sweet potatoes
2 samples of frozen strawberries 

Of those 82 samples, 39 were reported as imported produce. One asparagus sample and one snap pea sample contained two pesticides each that exceeded the established tolerances.

In addition, 642 samples were found to have pesticides for which no tolerance was established, including 444 fresh fruit and vegetable samples, 151 processed fruit/vegetable samples, 30 rice samples, and 17 wheat flour samples.

  • 508 samples contained 1 pesticide for which no tolerance was established; 
  • 106 samples contained 2 pesticides for which no tolerance was established; 
  • 13 samples contained 3 pesticides for which no tolerance was established; 
  • 13 samples contained 4 pesticides for which no tolerance was established;
  • 2 samples contained 7 pesticides for which no tolerance was established; and
  • 20 samples also contained 1 pesticide each that exceeded an established tolerance.

An industry group, the Alliance for Food and Farming, heralded the report as an all clear for consumers to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible.

“The results were consistent with previous years and showed the exceptional level of compliance among farmers of fruits and vegetables with the stringent laws and regulations governing pesticide use,” according to the farming alliance.

“Despite these consistent and reassuring results, come spring an activist group will predictably release a manipulated version of the USDA PDP report which encourages avoidance of certain healthy and safe produce items.”

A consumer watchdog organization called the Environmental Working Group annually issues its own interpretation of the USDA’s pesticide report after the first of the year, historically. Its annual campaign against the so-called Dirty Dozen fresh produce commodities is based on the pesticide residue report and has spurred an annual debate with the farming alliance.

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