Pesticide data shows fresh produce safety record

02/25/2013 02:48:00 PM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 28) An annual U.S. Department of Agriculture report on pesticides on fruits and vegetables once again shows that residues are below government tolerances.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service 2011 Pesticide Data Program report also includes a letter explaining the levels of residue pose no health risk.

“Consistent with guidance from health and nutrition experts — and as affirmed federal nutrition guidance that urges people to make half their plate fruits and vegetables — we encourage everyone to continue to eat more fruits and vegetables in every meal and wash them before you do so,” according to the letter.

The new data confirms that pesticide residues in food “do not pose a safety concern for Americans,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the letter.

The USDA’s report has been consistent in its message that pesticide residues shouldn’t be a concern for consumers, said Kathy Means, vice president for government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.

“One of the things that is most important is that government is now offering some context around (the data) and we really appreciate that,” she said.

Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, said Feb. 28 she has observed little consumer media coverage of the USDA report compared to the heavy  media coverage that accompanies the release of the  Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen report.  The latest Dirty Dozen list was released by EWG in June last year.

“We’re just really trying to encourage reporters to read that PDP report before they do the story on the Dirty Dozen list,” she said. The group continues its campaign to educate consumers about the safety of both conventional and organic produce, with the website as the centerpiece.

In the PDP summary, the agency said sampling was carried out by the AMS in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Samples are selected without regard to country of origin, variety, or organic labeling, according to the report. Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables accounted for 82.3% of total samples collected in 2011, with other samples including water (6.6% of samples collected), milk (5.8%), eggs (2.9%) and soybeans (2.4%). Fresh and processed fruits and vegetables tested in 2011 were samples baby food (green beans, pears, sweet potatoes), canned beets, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, orange juice, papayas, plums, snap peas, canned and frozen spinach, sweet bell peppers, tangerines and winter squash.

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February, 25, 2013 at 07:50 PM

Ridiculous! Go OORGANIC!!

Chuck Niwrad    
Berkeley, CA  |  February, 26, 2013 at 02:35 PM

"Organic" does not mean free from pesticide residues, and many organic growers have lobbied to prevent USDA from testing organic produce.

February, 26, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Funny how these studies on pesticide consumption are so short. Has there ever been a cumulated study done over the course f a lifetime? Sure it is deemed safe to each once but does it compound the more longer you eat?

Indiana  |  February, 26, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Again, who determines the safety level of the pesticides and what have they left out in their testing. Many of the pesticides are new and have not been studied for their affects on the human body. And what are the combined affects of multiple pesticides? More testing should be conducted before officially determining this unconventionally grown food safe.

Alliance for Food and Farming    
Watsonville  |  February, 26, 2013 at 02:00 PM

Federal and state governments determine the safety levels of pesticides. The USDA and EPA carefully and concisely explained the regulatory process in the content of the PDP report. You should read the "Q and A" and "What Consumers Should Know" sections. You may be reassured to learn that the US regulatory systems is among the most stringent in the world and protective of even the most sensitive in our population - infants and children. You can also visit and read the Expert Panel report which also includes a section on the US regulatory processes in place to protect public health.

February, 26, 2013 at 02:09 PM

There are literally decades of nutritional studies that clearly show that increased consumption of fruits and veggies improve health and prevent diseases - these studies were conducted using conventionally grown produce. Most recently, a peer reviewed study that appeared in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology found that if only half of Americans increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables by a single serving that 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented each year. Again this study analyzed conventionally grown produce.

AZ  |  February, 27, 2013 at 09:57 AM

Thank you to the Alliance and the anonymous posts above. Realistically we are facing a real paradox here that needs to be straightened out with clear communication and not rhetoric. The consumption of fruits and vegetables stands on the edge of a knife. It can be pushed to fall into increased consumption and health benefits when consumers are given straight talk. The other option is that consumers are scared into shying away from these fruits and vegetables for fear of hazardous side-effects from chemicals which have been tested over and over and over. We perform regular multi-residue screenings and our results tend to be less than 1ppm across the board, sometimes less than half that amount. We are literally talking amounts so small they are nearly indetectable. The benefits of a fruit and veggie-filled diet far outweigh supposed harmful side effects that are usually propogated by the organic industry in an attempt to win over consumers. More often than not this rhetoric simply scares consumers away from healthy eating, organic or not. CHOOSE HEALTHY EATING! CHOOSE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES!!

February, 28, 2013 at 02:11 PM

It's ridiculous to think that people are not getting enough fruits and vegetables because they're worried about pesticides. People aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables because they either A) prefer to eat things like bread, rice, pasta and french fries or B) don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. People in cities all over the U.S. live in areas where they don't have access to a grocery store that carries fresh produce. 7/11 isn't exactly a big retailer of lettuce. Food banks struggle to provide fresh produce to families who need it. And even these populations had better access to these nutritious foods, many wouldn't know how to prepare the foods. In the government's zeal to reduce the amount of fat in US diets, the emphasis placed on grains has come at both the consequence of addicting the public to carbs and undermining the need for vegetables and the essential nutrients they provide.

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