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Daily News Blog

15
Feb

USDA Pesticide Data Program Continues to Mislead the Public on Pesticide Residue Exposure

Advocates question the latest report from the USDA Pesticide Data Program due to a lack of adequate risk assessments for vulnerable groups.

(Beyond Pesticides, February 15, 2024) The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pesticide residue report, the 32nd Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Annual Summary report, released in January, finds that over 72 percent of tested commodities contain pesticide residues (27.6 percent have no detectable residues), mostly below the level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set for tolerances (allowable residues) whose safety standards have been called into question by advocates.

USDA spins its report findings as a positive safety finding because, as the Department says, “[m]ore than 99 percent of the products sampled through PDP had residues below the established EPA tolerances.” USDA continues, “Ultimately, if EPA determines a pesticide use is not safe for human consumption, EPA will mitigate exposure to the pesticide through actions such as amending the pesticide label instructions, changing or revoking a pesticide residue tolerance, or not registering a new use.” As Beyond Pesticides reminds the public annually when USDA uses the report to extol the safety of pesticide-laden food, the tolerance setting process has been criticized as highly deficient because of a lack of adequate risk assessments for vulnerable subpopulations, such as farmworkers, people with compromised health or preexisting health conditions, children, and perhaps, cultural/ethnic and regional subgroups of the general population, and a failure to fully assess serious health outcomes such as disruption of the endocrine system (which contributes to numerous serious diseases). Beyond Pesticides recommends choosing organic produce whenever possible—the vast majority of which does not contain synthetic pesticide residues.

To alert the public to the tolerances allowed on food commodities, Beyond Pesticides maintains the database Eating with a Conscience, which identifies the multiple pesticides that can be used on individual crops and the resulting exposures not only to consumers, but to farmworkers, farmers, neighboring communities, and the environment.

Beyond Pesticides has reported on the misleading nature of the PDP annual summary and how certain mainstream organizations, such as Blue Book Services/Produce, cover the annual update that reinforces an identical depiction of pesticide exposure in produce as safe. These are the high-level results for the 2022 PDP database:

  • More than 99 percent of the products had pesticide residues below the established EPA tolerances; 27.6 percent of the tested products had no detectable residue.
  • 0.53 percent, or 56 samples, exceeded the pesticide residue tolerance levels out of the total samples tested (10,665). Of these 56 samples, 19 were domestic (33.9 percent) and 37 were imported (66.1 percent).
  • 5 percent (269) of the total samples tested (10,665 samples) were found to contain pesticide residues with no established tolerance. Of these 269 samples, 127 were domestic (47.2 percent) and 142 were imported (52.8 percent).

According to the 2022 data, 568 samples (5.8 percent) were organic, excluding corn and soybean grain. There is very little discussion about pesticide residues found in organic products in 2022. Historically, however, organic food products have been found to have zero contact with pesticides unless due to herbicidal drift from other farming operations.

Across all 10,665 samples, 80 percent are fruits and vegetables, including baby green beans, baby food peaches, baby food pears, baby food sweet potatoes, blueberries (fresh and frozen), carrots, celery, grapes, green beans, mushrooms, peaches (fresh and frozen), pears, plums, potatoes, summer squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. Green bean samples, in particular, make up 38 of the 56 samples that exceeded the pesticide residue tolerance levels for various insecticides, including acephate, buprofezin, Chlorfenapyr, Dinotefuran, and Methamidophos. Green beans (16 pesticides), summer squash (10 pesticides, and celery (12 pesticides) had the greatest number of pesticide residues with no tolerance listed in 40 CFR, Part 180. Celery samples contained traces of carbendazim (MBC), chlorpropham, DCPA, difenoconazole, etridiazole, fipronil, folpet, pirimicarb, pronamide (propyzamide), propamocarb, pyrimethanil, and tebuconazole. Green Bean samples contained ametoctradin, atrazine, benzovindiflupyr, chlorpropham, difenoconazole, fenbuconazole, fipronil and fipronil sulfone, flutriafol, oxamyl, oxime, oxyfluorfen, permethrin total, profenofos, propamocarb, pyrimethanil, thiacloprid, and tolfenpyrad. Summer squash samples were found to have traces of chlorpropham, endrin, fenhexamid, forchlorfenuron, pendimethalin, pentachloroaniline (PCA), pronamide (propyzamide), propiconazole, pyrimethanil, and quinoxyfen. On just three crops, over twenty types of pesticides are found on dozens of samples, underscoring the widespread use of pesticides in the U.S. (For information on these chemicals, please see Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management.)

Beyond green beans, toxic petrochemical pesticides are found on a variety of samples, including atrazine (blueberries, green beans, plums, watermelon); bifenthrin (baby food – green beans and pears; blueberries, tomatoes); carbaryl (celery, frozen peaches); thiamethoxam (potatoes, summer squash); cyfluthrin (grapes, fresh peaches); malathion (blueberries, celery, pears); and chlorothalonil (celery, green beans, and summer squash). Researchers published a report in Environmental Health, based on PDP data from 1999 to 2015, documenting the linked health impacts of insecticides and breast cancer: “The authors uncover a systematic increase in detection of neonicotinoid residues across the board from 2014-2015, including domestic increases in newer neonicotinoids with potentially higher toxicity than imidacloprid. Critically, neonicotinoid residues are frequently detected in combination, with the potential for synergistic interaction. Among baby food samples, for example, authors find 13% of apple sauce samples analyzed contain two or more neonicotinoids. Some of the findings include cherries (45.9%), apples (29.5%), pears (24.1%) and strawberries (21.3%) for acetamiprid; and cauliflower (57.5%), celery (20.9%), cherries (26.3%), cilantro (30.6%), grapes (28.9%), collard greens (24.9%), kale (31.4%), lettuce (45.6%), potatoes (31.2%) and spinach (38.7%) for imidacloprid.”

The 2022 PDP data also identifies environmental contaminants, “or pesticides whose uses have been canceled in the U.S., but their residues persist in the environment,” in Appendix G of the report. It is important to note that this count is not considered in the 56 samples that exceeded the limit. Examples of “environmental contaminants” include aldrin, chlordane, DDT, DDD and DDE (metabolites of DDT), dieldrin (a metabolite of Aldrin), heptachlor, lindane, and others. These are some important highlights regarding environmental contaminants:

  • Even though DDT has been banned in the United States since 1972, different forms of its metabolites are found on nearly two hundred samples of butter, and found on numerous samples of celery, green beans, potatoes, plums, and summer squash
  • Chlordane is found in summer squash; Dieldrin also appeared on some samples of summer squash and one sample of butter.
  • Heptachlor epoxide (a metabolite of Heptachlor) is found on several samples of summer squash.

The best defense against pesticide exposure is, whenever possible, choosing to purchase and consume organic. For more information on pesticide residue exposure for different organic versus non-organic forms of common produce, see Eating with a Conscience and Buying Organic Products (on a budget!) For those with some background experience or interest in gardening, see Grow Your Own Organic Food for best practices, tips, and resources to get started. If you believe that you were exposed to pesticides, please click to access our section on Pesticide Emergencies.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.   

Source: USDA Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary

 

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