“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), conducts this program each year to collect data on pesticide residues in food […] The PDP provides reliable data to help assure consumers that the food they feed themselves and their families is safe.” – The United States Department of Agriculture
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines “pests” as “Plants, insects, bacteria, fungi and other organisms that are a natural part of the environment,” but that do not benefit people. Although pests occur naturally, the EPA warns “(some pests) you may need or want to control.”
Pesticides are one of the many methods used to eliminate pests. The EPA defines pesticides as “any substance or mixture of substances used to destroy, suppress or alter the life cycle of any pest.” In many cases, pesticides are used to kill any pests that pose a threat. Pesticides include a wide range of substances, including “bactericides, baits, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, lures, rodenticides, and repellents.”
Agricultural processes (e.g. crop production) are one area where pesticides are commonly used. This is done in order to prevent food deterioration or loss caused by the natural behaviors of insects, bacteria, and other organisms. Pesticide use is considered essential for ensuring a safe and adequate food supply for the American public.
The Risks of Pesticide Use Entail Government Oversight
The production of pesticides involves toxic chemicals which can be hazardous to human health. As such, the monitoring, evaluation, and measurement of pesticide levels in foods has been deemed a necessary oversight function by the United States (U.S.) government.
Oversight responsibilities for food safety are shared by three main agencies. These agencies are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The USDA oversees a program known as the Pesticide Data Program (PDP) to disseminate information and data about the presence of pesticide residues in food. This article discusses the program in addition to discussing recent findings that were published on the USDA website (USDA.gov).
What Is the Pesticide Data Program?
In 1991, the USDA was given the responsibility of “designing and implementing the (PDP) to collect data on pesticide residues in food.” The most recent data, published in November of 2016, marks the 25th year that PDP results have been published.
The Monitoring Programs Division (MPD) of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) within the USDA executes the day-to-day administration, coordination, and planning operations of the PDP. In 2015, 10 U.S. states took part in operations: California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.
By taking part in the program, the aforementioned states were tasked with duties such as “program planning and policy setting, particularly policies relating to quality assurance.”
What Is the Purpose of the PDP?
PDP reports are issued to the EPA – the agency responsible for allowing companies to sell or distribute pesticide products in the U.S. One of the EPA’s responsibilities is to set limits on pesticide levels present on food “during growing, processing, and storage, and [to regulate] how much (pesticide residue) can remain on the food that reaches the customer.”
The PDP’s efforts are considered vital by the U.S. government in fulfilling these responsibilities. PDP is a strictly voluntary program; however, the results of its data collection inform legislation and enforcement. PDP information and data is reported to the FDA (in addition to the EPA) in the event that detected residues exceed acceptable tolerance levels.
PDP Operations and Methods
The 10 states participating in the PDP program collect food samples proportionate to the population of each. According to the 2015 PDP report, over 10,000 total samples were collected in 2015.
Approximately 97 percent of total samples collected were comprised of fresh and processed fruit and vegetables. The remaining 3 percent were peanut butter. Domestic samples accounted for approximately 76 percent of the total, imports accounted for 23 percent, and nearly 1 percent of the samples were from an unknown origin.
The PDP utilizes stringent laboratory testing in order to detect the “lowest possible levels of pesticide residues.” According to the annual report, PDP analysts rinse each sample for 15 to 20 seconds using only cold, running water. The samples are subsequently analyzed for pesticide levels.
PDP laboratories also test for environmental contaminants no longer used in the U.S. These include contaminants that remain “in the environment, particularly in soil, (that) can be taken up by plants.”
Results of the 2015 PDP Report
Per the 2015 PDP report, over 99 percent of all tested samples “had residues well below the tolerances established by the EPA.” Additionally, 15 percent of samples contained “no detectible pesticide residue.”
Other findings from the report:
– 10,133 samples (99.47 percent) were measured to be at or below (in many cases, well below) EPA-established pesticide levels.
– 54 samples (.53 percent) exceeded established tolerance levels (33 percent imports; 67 percent domestic).
– Imported products constituted a disproportionate percentage of products that did not meet acceptable pesticide levels.