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USDA Says Pesticide Data Show No Food Safety Concerns

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently posted the latest data from the Pesticide Data Program (PDP) annual summary and, as in previous years, the agency found that, “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues.”

“This is continuing evidence that fruits and vegetables for sale in the United States are exceedingly safe,” Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, said of the 2012 report.

Each year, USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work together to identify foods to be tested on a rotating basis, focusing on “commodities highly consumed by infants and children.” In 2012, surveys were conducted on a variety of foods, including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, wheat, butter, and water.

More than 99 percent of the products sampled through PDP had residues below the EPA tolerances. Residues above the tolerance levels were detected in 0.53 percent of the samples. In analyzing the data, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) noted that there were 63 tolerance violations, which included methamidiphos and acephate residues on 24 samples of cherry tomatoes and 32 samples of snap peas.

But EPA determined that, “the extremely low levels of those residues are not a food safety risk, and the presence of such residues does not pose a safety concern.”

What to Eat

Dolan told Food Safety News that she is frustrated when such reports don’t generate much attention. It’s reports like the EWG’s Dirty Dozen that get noticed, she said, adding that the upcoming version of the Dirty Dozen list “will tell consumers the exact opposite of what’s in this report.”

Concerned about how pesticide exposure negatively impacts neurodevelopment and behavior, groups such as EWG encourage parents to give their children organic fruits and vegetables. The Dirty Dozen list is meant to help parents avoid the 12 “most contaminated fruits and vegetables.”

A 2012 report on various routes of pesticide exposure from the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that “dietary modifications can help reduce pesticide exposure” and that “consumption of organic food may lower pesticide exposure.”

However, Dolan said that following EWG’s guidelines for buying organic produce makes increasing our fruit and vegetable intake more difficult and more expensive.

Tolerance Concerns

“It’s true that most samples meet legal limits every year, but legal doesn’t always mean safe,” argues EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder.

The EPA’s pesticide tolerances are meant to keep track of whether farmers are applying pesticides properly – not too late in the season or in amounts above what’s allowed – Lunder said.

“I see no reason to regard the EPA’s exposure limits as the final word on pesticide safety,” Dr. Andrew Weil told Alex Formuzis, EWG’s vice president for media affairs, in a blogged response to a recent Slate column arguing for conventionally grown fruits and vegetables over organic versions.

EWG believes these tolerance levels are not set to protect children eating produce and, if they were the standard, more fruits and vegetables would fail.

“Some liken pesticide tolerances to a 500-mph speed limit,” Lunder said. “It is too easy to comply and does not guarantee anyone’s safety.”

EPA states that data from the PDP are used to enhance its programs for food safety and help evaluate dietary exposure to pesticides. “The Pesticide Data Program provides reliable data through rigorous sampling that helps assure consumers that the produce they feed their families is safe,” reads an EPA statement.

Regardless of whether it’s organically or conventionally grown, everyone should be eating more fruits and vegetables. Even EWG points out that “eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.”

And, no matter which choice consumers make, it’s important to remember to wash produce to reduce or eliminate residues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people wash fruits and vegetables with large amounts of cold or warm tap water, scrub them with a brush if it’s appropriate, and not use soap.

© Food Safety News
  • Marge Mullen

    I am so tired of having to pretend that stupid is a virtue!

    The revolving doors between academia, government, and industry have
    effectively led to a situation where it’s now extremely difficult, if not
    impossible, to trust conventional health advice, even if it comes from
    supposedly reputable institutions.

    • FoodSci

      I know. Because “beliefs” supported by a cottage industry in activism and people that write and sell books for the best-seller list are so much more trustworthy for health advice.

    • Cherry bee

      The USDA is untrustworthy, they are bought and paid for by big corporations like the rest of our government. This article is laughable

  • keep dreaming

    first of all regarding organic vs conventional= There is NO nutritional difference between organically grown or conventionally grown, they both have pesticides approved for use and they are used. organic has nothing to do with how many residues a piece of produce has on it.

    Second: in Europe produce that has more then 5 detectable residues on it is out of compliance period. not matter if they are within tolerance. So here in the U.S. yes all residues may be under tolerance, however do you think a strawberry with 15 different residues on it is good for you??

    Third: yeah out of their study that is what they found, but what about the rest of the year? what about the samples they didnt take? The answer is no one knows. If a company isnt exporting they are not testing for pesticides period. No one will spend the few hundred to make sure the millions of dollars worth of product are safe unless they are at risk of losing millions of dollars of product which is not the case if you grow domestic and sell domestic because the FDA doesnt have enough resources to give a shit about domestics pesticide residue enforcement. The only time a producer is at risk of product being destroyed because of residues is when the are exporting, so that is the only time they will test. Its true.

    So in conclusion this USDA report is complete bullshit… Obviously there is tremendous food safety concern regarding pesticide residues…. its POISON… how can you say there is no risk when there is no enforcement???????????????????????????????? yeah nice little study but what about the day you didnt sample and that lot of celery had 50 ppm of captan on it because they accidentally applied right before harvest and the guy was to scared to say anything because he would get fired… what about that olive oil wonder what concentrated in that? or better yet citrus oil?? All this food and you think there are no accidents? no mistakes? no risk????

    • Michael Bulger

      Studies have shown organic produce carries fewer types of pesticide residue. Organic pesticides are put through a separate screening process before being approved. One of the factors that the board considers is how long the pesticides last in the environment. The more persistent the pesticide, the less likely it is to be approved for Organic use.

      • keep dreaming

        yeah the least persistent the pesticide the more often they apply it. Pick your poison literally…

        “Organic pesticides” may have a preharvest interval of 3 days so they re apply every 3 days… a “conventional Pesticide” may have a post harvest interval of 20 days so they dont apply it as often…

        do you want something that persist a little longer and they use less of it?
        or
        do you want something that degrades in 2 days and they apply 3 times a week?

        Do you factor in the environmental cost of production of the chemical? How they will have too produce more “organic pesticides” since they don’t last as long and they have to use more of them?

        Studies can be made to show anything you want. reality is a different thing entirely

    • Dr. D.

      I think you are ill informed. The majority of pesticide residue testing is not done by government but by farmers in order to meet the standards of their customers. So there really is extensive enforcement gong on. Furthermore, pesticides are expensive and troublesome to use and so farmers willingly minimize their use. Nobody wants to use more than they feel they need. Finally, the thing to remember about poisons is that the dose makes the poison. Everything is poisonous at some dose and nothing is poisonous at low enough doses. Pesticide residues of 0.05 parts per million are really not poisonous. if you enjoy being afraid of pesticides on your fruits and vegetables that is your prerogative. But I am not aware of any evidence that pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables make anyone in America sick, despite many, many studies and investigations. On the other hand, microorganisms are estimate to sicken 48 million Americans each year (CDC), so if you want to worry about food, worry about viruses and bacteria, not about pesticide residues.

      • Michael Bulger

        This study found that a diet of organic food significantly lowered levels of pesticides in the urine of children.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16451864

        This same class of pesticides has been linked to developmental impairment. While it appears that the overwhelming majority of fruits and vegetables don’t pose an imminent threat to health, it is not a subject that should be dismissed. Pesticide residues should be a constant and evolving discussion.

  • Keep Dreaming

    forgot to mention the other incredibly idiotic recommendation made by the FDA: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people wash fruits and vegetables with large amounts of cold or warm tap water, scrub them with a brush if it’s appropriate, and not use soap.”

    We are recommended to eat 5 fruits/veggies per day then are recommended to wash them with “large amounts of water”… ok well that doesnt do much to reduce residues which is besides the point…

    The point is there are 300 million Americans being recommended to eat 5+fruits per DAY and to wash said fruit with large amounts of water (finite resource)…

    so lets say a large amount of water is a half a gallon

    so 300,000,000 people X 5 fruit= 1,500,000,000 pieces of fruit eaten per DAY

    1,500,000,000 X 0.5 gallons of wash water per fruit= 750,000,000 gallons of water used per day to wash fruit.

    750,000,000 gallons of water X 365 days per year= 273,750,000,000 gallons of water used per year in a futile attempt to rinse of residues from fruits and veggies…..

    that’s 273.75 billion gallons per year for all of those numerically challenged out there

  • NonprofitMom

    Decades of health research show only positive health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables – all done with conventionally grown produce.