The latest U.S. government study on pesticide residues in food shows that U.S. and imported fruits and vegetables are safe for consumers. From the data, we clearly see that those who produce the “dirty” reports irresponsibly frighten consumers, often simply to fundraise for themselves. The government data is clear, and the context from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is unequivocal: Fruits and vegetables are safe. This is true for foods grown conventionally or organically. USDA’s move in recent years to provide this context, combined with efforts from the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), helps consumers and those who speak to consumers understand and communicate what the data means. The good news is that anyone in our industry can also use this information to ensure consumers get the straight scoop.
Those government statistics, which are great news for the produce industry, just came out in USDA’s Pesticide Data Program’s (PDP) Annual Summary for 2015. The agency tests foods, including fruits and vegetables, to determine pesticide residue levels on those foods. Government sets maximum residue limits for all food at levels significantly lower than the point where consumers might have any ill effects and takes into account vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
The data show 99 percent of the samples tested had residues well below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established tolerances, and 15 percent had no detectable pesticide residue. Only half of 1 percent (0.53 percent) of the samples exceeded the limits, and just under 4 percent had residues with no established tolerance for that particular commodity. USDA tests fruits and vegetables the same way consumers use them: USDA rinses them in water (no detergents, bleach, washes, etc.).
Specifically, for fruits and vegetables, the executive summary states: “Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables accounted for 96.9 percent of the total 10,187 samples collected in 2015. Other samples collected included peanut butter, 3.1 percent. Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables tested during 2015 were: apples, cherries (fresh and frozen), cucumbers, grapefruit, grapes, green beans, lettuce, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet corn (fresh and frozen), tomatoes, and watermelon. Domestic samples accounted for 76.1 percent of the samples while 23.0 percent were imports, and 0.9 percent were of unknown origin.”
What’s been great in recent years is that USDA, at the urging of PMA, AFF and others, has put context around its data, explaining to media, consumers and anyone else who is interested that our food is safe. USDA’s communications on the program and this year’s report note the following:
- The PDP summary shows that, overall, pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the EPA and do not pose risk to consumers’ health.
- Based on the PDP data, consumers can feel confident about eating a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
- The small amount of pesticides found in a few of the samples present no health risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide residues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.
It’s important that we all know the facts and what they mean. And it’s important we use the tools available to us to help consumers understand that it is safe to make half their plates fruits and vegetables.
Should you need consumer messaging, look no further than the AFF’s consumer-facing website, safefruitsandveggies.com
. PMA is proud to support AFF and its efforts to tell the truth about our fabulous industry’s safe, tasty, nutritious products. And we’re grateful to USDA for its efforts to put context around the data it collects to assure consumers of the safety of our food—and produce—supply.