Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

Clean Eating: Good News from a Recent USDA Survey

Viewpoints / Focus on Agriculture February 17, 2021

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By Chelsea McGuire @mcguirechels

In late October, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service released its 2019 Pesticide Data Program summary. The PDP is an ongoing program wherein USDA conducts tests of common commodities to determine to what extent that food may expose a consumer to pesticides. The PDP is a source of high-quality data that represents a national snapshot of the safety of our food supply. And once again, we learned some very good news.

For calendar year 2019, nearly 99% of the commodities tested in the PDP survey had residues below the allowable EPA tolerances for those substances. That means that 99% of the food examined by USDA has either no pesticide residue or had minimal levels of residue that fell well within or below the EPA’s tolerance levels for any given pesticide product. Only 1.25% of the samples tested had residue levels exceeding the tolerance. About 45.2% of the samples had no detectable residue at all.

The most important use of the information is to reassure all consumers that our modern-day food supply is incredibly, remarkably safe.

In case you’re wondering how reliable the information is, or how decisions are made about what to test, here are a few things to know about how the study is conducted:

USDA partners with 10 states, including Washington, California, Texas, Florida and New York, which represent about 50% of the U.S. population, and are major producers of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The collection seeks to replicate how a consumer would handle and consume the food. The produce is rinsed under cold water before testing, but nothing else is done to clean or alter the product.

The commodities selected are based on what data EPA needs at the time, as well as which commodities are most likely to be consumed by infants and children. Fresh and processed fruits and vegetables tested during 2019 were asparagus, bananas, basil, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cilantro, collard greens, garbanzo beans (dried), hot peppers, kiwi fruit, mustard greens, oats (grain), orange juice, radishes, rice, spinach (canned and frozen), strawberries (frozen), sweet bell peppers, sweet peas (canned and frozen), tangerines and tomato paste.

PDP data is helpful for many reasons. It is not used as enforcement data for pesticide tolerance limits – that’s the Food and Drug Administration’s job, not USDA’s. Nevertheless, the data is helpful to let EPA know if there are particular chemical products that are commonly exceeding their residue limits. But I think that perhaps the most important use of the information is to reassure all consumers that our modern-day food supply is incredibly, remarkably safe.

Lists like “The Dirty Dozen” or click-bait articles telling you “How to Avoid Eating Pesticides” would have American consumers believe that they’re feeding their families chemical-soaked science experiments. By contrast, this science-based, unbiased, and meticulous study can help all of us feel confident in the food purchasing decisions we make. Consumers deserve to know that their food is wholesome and safe. Thanks to PDP, we can say with confidence that all eating is “clean” eating.

For the full survey results, visit https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/2019PDPAnnualSummary.pdf.

Chelsea McGuire is government relations director at Arizona Farm Bureau. This column was originally published by AZFB and is shared with permission.

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