The USDA has declared the U.S. food supply to be “among the safest in the world,” with more than 99 percent of samples tested as part of the Agency's Pesticide Data Program boasting residue levels well below those established by the EPA. More than half of tested samples had no detectable pesticide residue at all.
“This report shows that when pesticide residues are found on foods, they are nearly always at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” reads the USDA’s 2017 annual summary, published on December 17.
Each year, the USDA and EPA test a variety of foods for pesticide residues, chosen on a rotating basis. In 2017, fresh and processed fruit and vegetables accounted for 83.1 percent of the total 10,541 samples; 72.4 percent of the samples were domestic in origin. The report looked particularly closely at foods habitually consumed by infants and children.
While only fifty-eight samples exceeded the EPA’s pesticide tolerance, including 32 imported samples, Environmental Health News reports that these findings could be misconstrued. The outlet notes, firstly, that levels of pesticides deemed "safe" by the EPA may in fact still be harmful, according to research published in Environmental Health in May.
In addition, the outlet reports, "The FDA downplays the percentage of foods containing pesticide residues and focuses on the percentage of samples for which there is no violation of the tolerance levels."
In 2014, a Government Accountability Office report found that the FDA was not conducting enough pesticide residue testing. The Washington Post noted at the time that the small number of samples called into question the statistical validity of the program and its conclusions.
Data gathered by the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program is used to help U.S. farmers improve agricultural practices. This information is also used by the Environmental Working Group in making recommendations for its Dirty Dozen list, which identifies foods most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues, allowing consumers to opt for organic versions of these foods.
Exposure to pesticides has been linked to a number of health problems, including metabolic diseases, low sperm count, endocrine disruption, and even cancer.
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