(Beyond Pesticides, May 18, 2011) Chemical-intensive agriculture groups are seeking to derail the release of an annual U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, which has been released yearly for two decades, on the amount of pesticide residue detected by the Department on nationwide samples of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the data to monitor exposure to pesticides and enforce federal standards designed to protect infants, children and other vulnerable people. This data has been used to educate consumers about pesticide use on fruits and vegetables.
For roughly two decades, USDA has tested various fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues, usually making its findings available to the public in January. More than four months into 2011 results for USDA‚Äôs 2010 tests have yet to be released.
Several of the nation‚Äôs top physicians and scientists wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, urging them to no longer delay the release of the most recent test results. The letter also calls on the officials to bolster the government‚Äôs research into the adverse health effects of pesticides, particularly on children. According to the letter, ‚ÄúChildren are uniquely sensitive to harmful effects from pesticides. Yet they eat substantial quantities of certain fresh fruits and vegetables ‚Äď apples, berries, peaches, for example ‚Äď proven to contain multiple pesticide residues. We urge you to expand testing programs and share ample information with the public about pesticides in all produce, especially those that show up in children‚Äôs diets.‚ÄĚ
USDA intends to release it ‚Äúshortly,‚ÄĚ according to Michael T. Jarvis, director of public affairs for the Agricultural Marketing Service within USDA. Many believe the agriculture industry has a role in the USDA‚Äôs delay of its annual report. Trade groups representing conventional produce growers urged USDA Secretary Vilsack in April to prevent ‚Äúmischaracterization‚ÄĚ of the agency‚Äôs pesticide residue data. This was one of a series of efforts by the industry to limit public access to this information. Industry has met privately with USDA officials to urge the agency to amend this year‚Äôs report to include ‚Äúsome context‚ÄĚ that would ‚Äúreassure‚ÄĚ consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides. Industry has been vocal about its opposition to the use of USDA‚Äôs data which reports the amount of pesticide residue it detects from samples of fresh fruits and vegetables around the country. The data has been used by advocacy groups like Beyond Pesticides in Eating with a Conscience, and Environmental Working Group (EWG)‚Äôs ‚ÄėDirty Dozen,‚Äô to educate consumers about chemical residues present on the food they eat, all from USDA‚Äôs available data.
When asked if USDA will change the report in response to concerns from the produce industry, Mr. Jarvis said, ‚ÄúOur role is to gather the test results on produce sold in the United States and share that information with EPA…The data and the results have not been changed.‚ÄĚ
Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc, an epidemiologist and pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said federal regulation of pesticides in food needs to be tightened and the public is rightly concerned about possible health impacts from exposure through food. Dr. Landrigan noted a trio of peer-reviewed studies published last month that found children exposed in the womb to high levels of organophosphate pesticides had lower average intelligence than other children by the time they reached age seven. If exposure to pesticides is harming children, it does not matter if the levels are below the legal limit set by the government, said Dr. Landrigan, whose research in the 1990s compelled the federal government to significantly tighten pesticide standards.
Beyond Pesticides‚Äô Eating with a Conscience explores serious health questions linked to actual residues of toxic pesticides on the food we eat, our food buying decisions support or reject hazardous agricultural practices, protection of farmworkers and farm families, and stewardship of the earth. It also addresses why our food choices are important and have a direct effect on the health of our environment and those who grow and harvest what we eat.
Source: Washington Post