While more than half of foods tested for pesticides this year were found to have at least trace amounts of the chemicals, most amounts fell below “tolerance levels” set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the annual report on pesticides released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency’s annual report, made in cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, looked at levels of pesticides in fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, baby food, infant formula, butter, salmon and water. The agencies rotate through a number of commodities to test from year to year.
Critics of the annual report have questioned the fact that the agency does not track levels of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller and the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S.
Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report critical of the agencies’ pesticide-monitoring program. The report came with a number of recommendations, including expanding the number of food samples tested, focusing on pesticides for which there are EPA-established tolerance levels, and more clearly disclosing that they do not test for all pesticides used on foods.
The GAO report noted that, in total, the program tests less than one-tenth of 1 percent of imported fruits and vegetables, and less than 1 percent of domestic fruits and vegetables. FDA responded, saying that it would investigate the feasibility of changing its testing model, but doing so would require more resources.
Regarding pesticides for which the USDA did test, the agency said that more than 99 percent of samples tested lower than EPA’s tolerance levels and that more than 40 percent of samples showed no detectable level of pesticides.
USDA says that, before a pesticide is approved for use in the U.S., EPA must ensure that it does not pose “unreasonable” risk to consumers.
In any instance where the program detects unsafe levels of pesticides, FDA and EPA are said to be immediately notified in order to carry out regulatory action.
The program releases its report the following year after sampling has been completed, meaning that this year it released the 2013 data. In 2013, the program collected samples from California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
For more information on the pesticide-monitoring program, visit that page at the USDA’s website.