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USDA Report Says Pesticide Residues Aren’t a Food Safety Concern

After testing 12,845 samples of fresh produce and other foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture once again says pesticide residues are not a safety issue.

That’s according to the latest Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary released Friday by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The report details the analysis of samples collected in 2010. The data program has been ongoing since 1991.

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The conclusion: as in other years, overall pesticide residues found on the foods tested well below the tolerances levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Only 0.25 percent of samples — fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, grains, eggs, catfish, rice, specialty products, and treated and untreated drinking water — tested at levels exceeding EPA tolerances, according to the news release announcing the report.

No residues were found that exceeded tolerance levels for baby food (baby food was included for the first time in this report) and the EPA took some credit for that, issuing this statement: “The data confirms EPA’s success in phasing- out pesticides used in children’s food for safer pesticides and pest control techniques.  The very small amounts of pesticide residues found in the baby food samples were well below levels that are harmful to children.” 

The report’s release is sure to renew the long-standing debate between the Environmental Working Group, which uses information in the annual report to create its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce — particularly its “Dirty Dozen” list — and the produce industry group Alliance for Food and Farming. The alliance worries that the Dirty Dozen lists dissuade people from buying conventionally grown fruit and vegetables.

The USDA, for its part, said the “age-old advice remains the same: eat more fruits and vegetables and wash them before you do so. Health and nutrition experts encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in every meal as part of a healthy diet.”

The full report, along with an explanatory guide, can be found here.

© Food Safety News
  • Janet

    I haven’t read the full report but did USDA run tests on total pesticide consumption for a day consisting of 5 serving (preferably more) of fruits and vegetables, groundwater, eggs etc? This is the information I would be most interested in reading.

  • Sandy

    What about those of us who only eat veggies? We are getting more toxins than those who don’t.

  • Donnie

    If we eat more conventional fruits and vegetables, the pesticides add up. A little bit here and a little bit there, and pretty soon there is more then a little bit in our bodies. Even trace amounts of pesticides add up to a whole lot if we eat very many foods contaminated with them. I guess that wasn’t taken into consideration. I will continue to eat mostly organic foods, to lessen the amount of poison I consume. It is so much safer.

  • http://www.phfspec.com Peter Cocotas

    The truth is that almost all crops grown in the US have no detectable limits and there is no difference in pesticide hazards between organic and conventionally grown. Of course there is a hazard to those that work with the pesticides

  • Sam

    Peter Cocotas — the truth is it would be great to see some verification to back up your statements. There are very definitely detectable limits — that’s what USDA’s testing is all about. That those allowable limits have been set in complicity with industry is something else again. Allowable levels are set much more strictly in the EU, for example. And the statement that there is no difference in pesticide hazards between organic and conventional is way off base…
    Agreed about the hazard experienced by those in the field and processing plants (and who they come home to) who come in daily contact with pesticides — but since many systemic pesticides are taken up by the vascular systems within crop plants and can’t be washed off — consumers face hazards too

  • Michael Bulger

    I would be interested to see if the data shows significant differences for organic and conventionally grown food. Research has shown that it has in the past.
    In 2002, Baker et al. included the USDA data in a comparison of pesticide residue levels on fresh fruits and vegetables. They found that conventional fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to test positive for pesticides. The researchers also found that conventional foods were more likely to test positive for multiple pesticides. (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02652030110113799)
    More recently, Lu et al. demonstrated that when children ate an organic diet they had dramatically lower levels of pesticide in their urine. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1367841/)
    Given the research that organic foods carry fewer residues, the USDA PDP samples that did exceed EPA limits (0.25% of samples) were most likely conventionally grown and not certified organic. The produce with residues over EPA limits is a small amount of what Americans consume, but it is wrong to assess the health risk as zero. It would also be wrong to view organic and conventional as having the same likelihood of delivering pesticide residues above acceptable limits and potentially causing harm.
    In short, based on the research, I would not dissuade anyone who chooses to hedge their bets and buy organic.

  • http://www.phfspec.com Peter Cocotas

    Sam, I can speak to my experience in verifying this hazard in California during audits. In my experience the processors and the state commodity boards have this well under control. The controls include what you can put on, when you can apply and verification testing before harvest.
    I can also speak to some experience in China which is more problematic because of what they use but I’ve looked at years of data for products-oranges, garlic-shipped to the US through third party testing and again it is rare when anything is detected. Of course, this isn’t true of all crops and all countries. In truth there is very little harmonization of pesticide usage and residues and most foreign processors have little knowledge of US standards.

  • Zhang Lianghua

    Only 0.25 percent of samples — fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, oats, eggs, catfish, baby food….
    but then you said “No residues were found that exceeded tolerance levels for baby food and the EPA took some credit for that”
    that 2 paragraph is contradicted,the first said the level in baba food exceeds,but then said no baby food exceeds…

  • http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com Marilyn Dolan, Alliance for Food and Farming

    Janet and Sandy, the levels of pesticide residues found by USDA monitoring
    are so minute that you could eat an inordinate amount of fruits and
    vegetables and still not have any negative health effects due to pesticide
    residues. The Alliance for Food and Farming created a pesticide calculator
    to illustrate exactly how much you could eat. For instance, an adult woman
    could eat 529 conventionally grown apples each day, and still not experience
    any health effects from pesticide residues. Here’s a link to the
    calculator: http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/calculator/
    If you are interested in information about the safety of organic and
    conventionally grown produce, visit http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com. All of
    the information on the website is completely transparent, you can read about
    the credentials of the medical experts and scientists who authored the
    reports and see how the data behind the reports was collected.

  • Melissa

    Micheal Bulger, thank you for the links to the NIH studies. As a mother whose child recently started solids, the organic versus conventional question is a hot topic for me, but there’s a question of budget, as organic can be expensive.
    I hate the fact that organic and healthy food comes at a premium. There shouldn’t be an option for baby food. It should all be organic. Our family can afford to purchase organic fairly regularly, but we’ve made it a priority. What about parents who can’t afford it? Doesn’t seem right, or fair.
    If the baby food industry went “all organic,” what ‘cons’ could there be except a few years of lower profit as the industry re-balanced? No one would fault them for doing the right thing and “hedging bets” with babies/kids. It would also increase demand for organics, which would ideally help reduce the cost of organics overall.
    I like the sentiment that foods grown with pesticides should be labeled “Pesticide,” rather than non-pesticide options being labeled “Organic.” Kinda like we do for cigarettes. Makes more sense, right?

    • Read The Article

      Melissa, I think you missed the point of this article: it doesn’t matter. The non-organic baby foods tested to be well under the limit for pesticides, and therefore it’s ok for babies to eat it. So it’s ok if families can’t afford the organic baby food, because it doesn’t matter.

      Not to mention that increasing the demand for organic food, like you offered as a solution, would most likely significantly increase the cost of organics instead of reducing the cost. It’s simple economics that if you have a higher demand for the same supply, there is less supply all around, and the prices rise. If they decided to significantly increase the supply of organic food (idk enough to say if they can do that without significantly hurting conventional food prices), then you might be able to lower costs of organic food. So most likely, your idea wouldn’t work in real life.

      Regardless, it doesn’t matter.