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USDA Releases Annual Pesticide Summary

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its annual Pesticide Residue Data on fresh fruits and vegetables, and consumer groups who questioned why the information was four months late this year say they’re grateful.


In a news release Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others said they still don’t know why caused the delay, but noted that data tables are presented in the same way as in past years. And, for the first time, a two-page document titled “What Consumers Should Know,” is included in the report.

EWG has used the data to compile its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists, which rank produce according to the amount of residues each type carries in the USDA tests. A new Shoppers Guide will be published in the next few weeks and will include the latest test results, the group said.

“We are gratified that the agency resisted an unprecedented lobbying campaign by the pesticide and produce industry to get the government to spin the test results and downplay consumer concerns about pesticide contamination,” said EWG president Ken Cook in the statement.

Earlier this year,  the big produce group United Fresh and related agriculture-industry interests sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging that the annual pesticide data be put into better context.

“We believe this report has, in previous years, been mischaracterized repeatedly by environmental activists and news media to the extent that it has discouraged people from consuming fresh produce,” said the organizations in their letter. “… The findings in the report can be difficult to understand without the provision of proper context for the findings. The vast majority of residue detections are below five percent of the tolerances set by EPA. Yet, the report does not emphasize such key findings in the analysis.”

EWG said it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all of USDA’s recent communications with produce and pesticide industry representatives to “shed light” on whether taxpayer dollars, in the form of marketing grants, went to support the lobbying efforts by the Alliance for Food and Farming.  EWG calls the alliance “a pesticide front group.”

The Alliance for Food and Farming had this reaction to the release of the new data: “The report is long and somewhat cumbersome, but shows that only 0.3 percent of the samples tested have residues that exceed safety limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the stringent system for regulating pesticides in the United States. The findings are similar to recent years and clearly show the safety of food sold in the U.S. when it comes to pesticide residues.”

The two camps offered differing views of the risks of pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables.

The EWG said “three recent studies showed that children born to mothers with significant pesticide exposures had IQ deficits, including one study that found a seven-point drop.”  The Alliance said “it is important to remember that there is no conclusion about how people in these studies were exposed to pesticides and the authors of the study themselves urge pregnant women not to discontinue their consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

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