Sep 16, 2020
FDA’s FY 2018 pesticide analysis demonstrates consistent trends

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 15 issued its annual Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report for FY 2018. The Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program is administered by the FDA to ensure that FDA-regulated foods in U.S. commerce comply with the pesticide tolerances, or maximum residue levels, set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to a news release, the agency tested for a total of 809 pesticides and industrial chemicals across 4,896 domestic and imported food samples collected in FY 2018 between Oct. 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 under the residue monitoring program. Of the samples tested, 4,404 were human foods and 492 were animal foods. In FY 2018, the majority of samples tested were in compliance with the tolerances set by the EPA.

Of the 1,448 domestic human food samples analyzed, 96.8% were in compliance and 47.1% had no detectable residues. Of the 2,956 human food import samples analyzed, 87.1% were in compliance and 47.2% had no detectable residues. The violation rate (12.9%) for imported human foods sampled was slightly higher than in previous years (FY 2012-2017), due in part to a higher violation rate for cilantro and radishes, which were targeted for increased sampling based on previous findings.

Of the 264 domestic animal food samples analyzed, 96.2% were in compliance and 39.8% had no detectable residues; and of the 228 imported animal food samples analyzed, 96.5% were in compliance and 50% had no detectable residues.

Growers often use pesticides to protect their products from insects, weeds, fungi, and other pests. Trace amounts of pesticides, or pesticide chemical residues, may remain in or on some foods. The role of the FDA is to ensure that pesticide chemical residues in or on foods comply with the limits (tolerances) established by the EPA based on the applicable federal safety standard. Samples are considered violative if:

  • They contain a pesticide chemical residue above an existing EPA tolerance; or
  • They contain a pesticide chemical residue for which the EPA has not established a tolerance or a tolerance exemption for the specific pesticide/commodity combination

The FDA’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program employs a three-fold strategy to enforce EPA’s pesticide tolerances in human and animal foods. The program selectively monitors a broad range of domestic and import commodities for residues of over 800 different pesticides and selected industrial compounds. The FDA may also carry out focused sampling surveys for specific commodities or selected pesticides of special interest. In addition, the 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.

In 2018, the FDA expanded testing of glyphosate and certain acid herbicides to the full range of commodities in the sampling scope. Testing for glyphosate, glufosinate, and selected acid herbicides is now part of FDA’s routine regulatory monitoring program.

Starting with the FY 2018 results, the FDA stopped including TDS pesticide results in the annual Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report. TDS pesticide results from FY 2018 on will be posted on the FDA’s TDS website, along with additional information about the history and design of the TDS.

In FY 2018, the FDA conducted a focused field assignment to analyze pesticide levels in animal derived foods (“Domestically Produced Animal-Derived Foods” assignment). For this field assignment the FDA collected and analyzed 215 samples including 99 whole milk, 69 shell eggs, 36 honey, and 11 game meat samples. No violative pesticide residues were found in any of the animal-derived food commodities. Residues of five pesticide chemicals were found in domestic honey, mostly at trace levels.

“The FDA takes very seriously the responsibility it shares with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep foods free of unsafe levels of pesticide chemical residues,” the news release stated. “The findings in this report demonstrate that levels of pesticide chemical residues measured by the FDA generally are below EPA’s tolerances, and therefore at levels that are not concerning for public health.”

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