USDA Finally Releases Pesticide Report.
For the last 20 years, the USDA has done testing of various fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues and almost without fail, the results of these tests have been released the following January. But this year’s report was not released until now. One has to wonder why?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture under intense pressure from the produce and pesticide industry to modify the report finally released its extensive annual analysis of pesticide residues on fresh fruits and vegetables this week without downplaying any of the findings. USDA has not explained why the data took longer than usual to be released, but the data tables are presented in the same way as past years. The new report does include for the first time a two-page document titled: What Consumers Should Know.
The Environmental Protection Agency uses the data to monitor exposure to pesticides and enforce federal standards designed to protect infants, children and other vulnerable people. But the 200-page annual report became a target of an unusual lobbying campaign by the produce industry, which worries that the data is being misinterpreted by the public. One of the hang ups is the “Dirty Dozen” list that is put together annually by the Environmental Working Group(EWG). This is a list of the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residuals. The produce companies believe a list like this could cause unnecessary worry and put tremendous pressure on the USDA to soften the report.
According to The Washington Post, the produce industry met privately with USDA officials to urge the agency to amend this year’s report to include “some context” that would reassure consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides. For instance, the produce industry wanted the USDA to stress that the vast majority of residue detections are below the limits set by the EPA, but the report was released unchanged.
The EWG fought back, asking citizens to sign a petition encouraging the USDA to release the report. They also urged the Obama Administration to make the following changes:
Speed the release of the latest data on pesticide residues in produce.
- Make the FDA’s Total Diet Study and USDA’s Pesticide Data Program more informative and transparent.
- Test annually all fresh produce commonly eaten by children, especially products likely to carry significant pesticide residues and release the results immediately.
- Conduct more extensive dietary studies to assess the risks to children who eat pesticide-carrying produce.
- Expand monitoring of pesticide residues on imported foods.
- Tighten regulations governing pesticide residues on food crops to ensure “reasonable certainty of no harm” to children and others most sensitive to their effects.
- Enhance efforts to promote organic fruits and vegetables as options for consumers concerned about pesticide exposure.
The EWG also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all of USDA’s recent communications with produce and pesticide industry representatives to shed light on whether the taxpayer-funded AFF marketing grant has been improperly used to support its lobbying efforts.