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USDA says pesticide levels in produce, other foods not a threat

Just as in the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” there is significance to the non-barking dogs when it comes to a major data dump by a government agency. There’s been scant reaction to USDA’s release Monday of its annual Pesticide Data Program report.

The report again confirms that pesticide residues are not a food safety concern for the United States. The PDP report on data from samples collected in 2014  found our food is safe, with pesticide residue levels low enough to pose no health risk for even infants and children.

Maybe because the annual PDP report has become so routine, reaction has been muted from consumer and other groups that typically weigh in on such topics.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tested for pesticides in 10,619 samples of food in 2014:

  • 8,582 samples of fruits and vegetables;
  • 314 samples of oats;
  • 314 samples of rice;
  • 1,055 samples of infant formula; and
  • 354 samples of salmon.

Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables tested during 2014 were: apples, bananas, blueberries (fresh and frozen), broccoli, carrots, celery, cherries (fresh and frozen), grape juice, green beans (fresh, frozen and canned), nectarines, peaches, strawberries, summer squash, sweet corn (fresh and frozen), tomatoes and watermelon, the report states. Domestic samples accounted for 75.5 percent of the samples while 22.9 percent were imports, 0.7 percent were of mixed origin and 0.9 percent were of unknown origin.

A group opposed to genetically engineered food questioned why USDA did not test for some pesticides like glyphosate, a herbicide used in field crops. The reason, according to USDA, is the testing method for fresh fruit and vegetables differs from that required to test for “broad spectrum” pesticides, metabolites and isomers. USDA’s mission with the Pesticide Data Program is to test fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy products and specialty products like peanut butter.

USDA’s administrators say it could test for residues of pesticides and herbicides in field crops, if it had more funding. USDA officials also reported they needed more funding to test municipal water supplies, ground water and bottled water. The agency discontinued those tests after 2013.

The bottom line out of the Pesticide Data Program report for 2014 is that pesticide residue levels were at or below tolerance levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in all but 0.36 percent of the samples. That’s 38 problem scores out of 10,619 tests.

Here are some of the other points USDA makes about its data:

  • Each year, USDA and EPA work together to identify foods to be tested on a rotating basis.
  • PDP data reflect actual residues present in food grown in various regions of the United States 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 level of pesticide that can remain in or on foods.
  • Before a pesticide is available for use in the United States, the EPA must determine that it will not pose unreasonable risks to human health or the environment.
  • The PDP testing methods detect the lowest possible levels of pesticide residues, including levels below the EPA tolerances.
  • PDP informs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 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 notified immediately.
  • 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 periodically re-evaluate pesticide registrations and tolerances to ensure that the scientific data remain up to date. The PDP provides data for the periodic re-evaluation of food tolerances.

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