In a report issued on November 6, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that 98% of domestic and 90% of imported foods tested in FY 2015 were compliant with federal pesticide residue limits.
Pesticides combat pests that may affect crop yield in human and animal food crops. Certain trace amounts of pesticides, or pesticide chemical residues, may remain in or on some foods. The FDA’s role is to ensure that pesticide chemical residues in or on foods comply with the limits that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes based on the applicable federal safety standard.
The FDA reports that in FY 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015) the levels of pesticide chemical residues in or on food generally remained well below established federal tolerances, or EPA limits. Additionally, no pesticide chemical residues were found in 49.8% of the domestic and 56.8% of the imported human food samples analyzed. The Agency found pesticide chemical residues in violation of federal tolerances (residue levels above the tolerance or residues for which no tolerance has been established) in less than 2% (15 out of 835) of domestic samples and less than 10% (444 out of 4737) of import samples.
The FDA also tested food intended for animals. No pesticide chemical residues were found in 51.6% of the 215 domestic animal food samples nor in 57.9% of the 202 imported animal food samples. Less than 3% (12 samples) of the animal food samples were found to contain violative pesticide chemical residues.
In FY 2015, the FDA analyzed 5,989 samples in its regulatory monitoring program; 5,572 human foods and 417 animal foods. Because the violation rates of import samples are generally higher than for domestic samples, the FDA tests more imported commodities than domestic (4,737 import and 835 domestic samples). This represents imported human food samples from 111 countries and domestic human food samples from 39 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.
The FDA employs a three-fold strategy to enforce the EPA’s tolerances for pesticide chemical residues. In its regulatory pesticide residue monitoring program, the FDA selectively monitors a broad range of imported and domestic commodities. The FDA may also carry out focused sampling surveys for commodities of interest. In addition to these two regulatory approaches, FDA monitors the levels of pesticide chemical residues in foods prepared for consumption in its Total Diet Study (TDS), an ongoing program that monitors contaminants and nutrients in the average U.S. diet.
The FDA takes very seriously the responsibility it shares with EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep foods free of unsafe levels of pesticide chemical residues. The findings in this report demonstrate that overall levels of pesticide chemical residues measured by FDA are below EPA’s tolerances.
Total Diet Study
The Total Diet Study (TDS) is an ongoing FDA program that monitors levels of about 800 contaminants and nutrients in the average U.S. diet; the number varies slightly from year to year. To conduct the study, we buy, prepare, and analyze about 280 kinds of foods and beverages from representative areas of the country, four times a year.
Using these data, we estimate how much of the contaminants and nutrients the entire U.S. population, some subpopulations, and each person consumes annually, on average. Because eating patterns may change over time, we update the list of foods to be analyzed about every 10 years; for example, we revise the list of foods to be tested, to account for trends in what consumers eat, and we use current data on how much of those foods consumers eat. FDA uses the TDS results in various ways; for example, along with other sources, they suggest potential areas of focus for our food-safety and nutrition programs.
Since it began in 1961, as a program to monitor for radioactive contamination of foods, the TDS has expanded to include pesticide residues, industrial and other toxic chemicals, and nutrient elements. An important aspect of the study is that we buy the foods from the same places that consumers do, and we prepare the foods as consumers typically would, to provide realistic estimates. The ongoing nature of the study enables us to track trends in the average American diet and inform the development of interventions to reduce or minimize risks, when needed.