(Beyond Pesticides, March 2, 2007) The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Pesticide Data Program (PDP) recently released its latest annual summary detailing pesticide residues in the U.S. food supply. The data, from 2005, reveals approximately two-thirds of sampled foods contained one or more pesticides at detectable levels.
For the 2005 report, PDP sampled fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, soybeans, wheat, milk, heavy cream, pork, bottled water and drinking water. A total of 14,749 samples were tested for various insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and growth regulators. Twelve states reported data to comprise the report: California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Excluding drinking water, 84 percent of samples originated within the United States.
Foods most likely to be consumed by infants and children are analyzed to provide data that is used in the implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act. The data is used in this context to assess dietary exposure to pesticide residues by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Overall results show that, excluding drinking water samples, 36 percent of samples had more than one detectable pesticide, 30 percent had one detectable pesticide, and 34 percent did not have detectable levels of the analyzed chemicals. In fruits and vegetables, 73 percent of fresh and 61 percent of processed produce had detectable residues. Drinking water analyses primarily found widely used herbicides and their metabolites; forty-eight different residues were found in untreated intake water and 43 in treated water.
Residue detection varied widely depending on the commodity. The percent of samples with detected residues for all analyzed chemicals ranged from 8 percent for pork to 99 percent for milk. Other commodities of interest had the following percentages of samples containing one or more pesticide residues: bottled water-16, soybeans-22, wheat-75, apples-98, heavy cream-99. Samples for each commodity were analyzed for a unique list of pesticides, which were partially determined by the need for additional data regarding dietary exposure, and changes in pesticide use directions. Some prohibited pesticides (DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, heptachlor, chlordane) have been included in many commodity analyses due to their persistent nature.
The number of pesticides detected on specific commodities also varied. Seven different pesticides were detected in bottled water, 12 in milk, 18 in wheat, 18 in green beans, 30 in strawberries, 31 in grapes, 36 in apples, and 43 in lettuce. Specific figures of concern include:
- Malathion was found in 66.9 percent of wheat samples.
- DDE, a metabolite of DDT, remains in 85.4 percent of milk samples.
- 2,4-D, alachlor ethanesulfonic acid (alachlor metabolite), atrazine, imazapyr, metolachlor ethanesulfonic acid and metolachlor oxanilic acid (metolachlor metabolites), and prometon were found in over half of the treated drinking water samples.
- Acephate, chloripyrifos, and methamidophos residue levels were found to be above EPA tolerance levels in multiple samples. Additionally, many pesticide residues were found in commodities that have not had tolerances set by EPA.
Studies have shown pesticide residues are higher in children that are fed conventional versus organic foods, and that an effective way to reduce a child’s exposure to pesticide residues on food is to change their diet to organic.
TAKE ACTION: Buy organic foods for yourself and your family whenever possible. If organic foods are not easily accessible to you due to cost or distribution, consider buying organic for the foods you eat the most.