January 16, 2018

GAO Finds FDA Should Strengthen Pesticide Monitoring

The Government Accountability Office has released a new report that states the FDA and USDA should strengthen their pesticide residue monitoring programs and disclose the limitations of their systems. The most recent data from 2008 through 2012 shows that residue in 10 selected fruits and vegetables is low, but the monitoring approach has limitations.

FDAlogoGAO found that FDA tests relatively few targeted samples for residues. For example, in 2012, the agency tested less than one-tenth of 1 percent of imported foods. And the FDA does not test for some commonly used pesticides with an EPA established tolerance. Unfortunately, this list includes glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, which is used on GMO crops that have been manipulated to be resistant to the chemical. Recent studies have shown that glyphosate is harmful to human health and that traces of the chemical are found in our food.

The GAO report found that FDA “does not use statistically valid methods consistent with OMB standards to collection national information on the incidence and level of pesticide residues.” The FDA thinks these methods would cost too much because this type of testing will need a large number of samples for a wide variety of foods. Because of the limitations on the methodology, the government cannot accurately determine the levels of pesticides in the foods it regulates, which is one of the agency’s stated objectives.

USDA-FSIS tests domestic and imported meat, poultry, and processed egg products for pesticide residue. The data from 2000 through 2011 show that there was a lot rate of pesticide residue violations, but the data again had limitations. Like the FDA, FSIS is not required to test foods for specific pesticides, but disclosing this limitation would meet OMB best reporting practices.

The report also found flaws in the USDA-FSIS programs for pesticide residue testing, stating that their testing methods are “limited”. The FDA’s program isn’t statistically valid because it selects foods that already have a history of higher pesticide residues rather than selecting samples at random. This practice means that the findings can’t be extrapolated to reflect trends.

The study was conducted because the EPA sets standards for pesticide residues on foods. Hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides are used on food crops every year. FDA and FSIS are supposed to monitor our food to make sure they do not violate EPA tolerances.

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