The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service has released its annual report on pesticide residues on produce and other foods, called the Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary. The agency samples more than 12,000 products to test for chemical residues in a program that has been in place since 1991. This was the 20th annual survey and covers the calendar year 2010.
This report tells scientists, farmers, consumers, and government regulators about the use of pesticides on our food supply. The safety of U.S. exports is demonstrated, and the EPA uses the data to conduct dietary risk assessments.
The report states that residues found on tested foods are “at levels well below the tolerance levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency”. In 1996, the agency started focusing on foods that are “most likely consumed by infants and children.”
Foods are tested on a rotating basis. The foods tested this year included fresh fruit, processed fruit, fresh vegetables, processed vegetables, oats, eggs, baby food, catfish, groundwater, and treated and untreated drinking water. This was the first time baby food, cabbage, hot peppers, and mangoes were included in the report. No residues that exceeded safety levels were found in baby food.
The government found that “residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.25% of samples tested. Residues of chemicals that have no established tolerance levels were found in 4.6% of the samples.” Before testing, analysts wash samples for 10 seconds under running water; consumers should do the same at home.
Nutritionists encourage consumers to eat lots of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. But the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization famous for its list of “Dirty Dozen” foods, still recommends that consumers choose some varieties of fruits and vegetables grown organically. Those twelve foods, including apples, celery, strawberries, and peaches, have the highest pesticide residues. The group also publishes a list of the “Clean Fifteen”, or produce that has the lowest pesticide residues that are safe to purchase conventionally grown.