September 13, 2019
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today issued its annual Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program report for FY 2017. The agency tested for 761 pesticides and industrial chemicals across 6,504 total samples and the majority of samples were below the tolerance levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These results are consistent with previous years’ findings.
Pesticides combat pests that may negatively affect crop yield. Certain 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) the EPA establishes based on the applicable federal safety standard. Samples are violative if they have pesticide chemical residues above the EPA tolerance or pesticide chemical residues for which the EPA has not established a tolerance or a tolerance exemption for the specific pesticide/commodity combination.
For the pesticides that were tested for in FY 2017, 96.2% of the 1,799 domestic and 89.6% of the 4,270 imported human food samples were in compliance with federal pesticide residue standards. No pesticide residues were found in 52.5% of domestic and 50.0% of imported human food samples analyzed.
Similarly, 98.8% of the 258 domestic and 94.4% of the 177 imported animal food samples were in compliance. We found no pesticide chemical residues in 40.7% of the domestic and 52.0% of the imported animal food samples.
In FY 2017, the FDA also conducted pesticide analyses for two field assignments. For the first assignment, animal derived foods, the FDA sampled and analyzed 550 domestic milk, shell eggs, honey, and game meat samples. The agency found no residues in any of the milk or game meat samples, or in 87.5% of the egg and 77.3% of the honey samples.
The second assignment, the herbicides assignment, is a continuation of a two-year sampling effort that began in FY 2016. In FY 2017, the agency analyzed 119 corn, soybean, milk, and egg samples for glyphosate and glufosinate. No glyphosate or glufosinate residues were detected in any of the milk and egg samples, or 82.1 % of the corn and 60.0 % of the soybean samples. In the samples where residues were detected, all were below the tolerance levels set by the EPA.
In summary, in FY 2017, the FDA concluded the herbicides assignment that began in FY 2016, with a total of 879 samples of corn, soy, milk and eggs analyzed for glyphosate and glufosinate. No violative residues of glyphosate or glufosinate were detected over the two-year assignment. Testing for glyphosate and glufosinate is now part of the routine pesticide monitoring program.
When the FDA identifies a violative sample in a domestic food, a Warning Letter may be issued to the responsible grower/manufacturer and other actions may be taken, such as seizure to remove the food from commerce, or injunction to correct the cause of the violation. When a violative sample is identified in an imported food, shipments may be refused entry into U.S. commerce and firms may be listed on an Import Alert. FDA may detain the food without physical examination (i.e., “Detention Without Physical Examination”) if there is information that future shipments of the food appear to be violative.
The FDA employs a three-fold strategy to enforce the EPA’s tolerances for pesticide chemical residues. In its regulatory pesticide residue monitoring program, the FDA monitors a broad range of domestic and imported commodities. The FDA may also carry out focused sampling for commodities or pesticides of interest, as we did for glyphosate and glufosinate. In addition to these two regulatory approaches, 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.
The FDA takes very seriously the responsibility it shares with EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep foods free of unsafe levels of pesticide chemical residues. The findings in this report demonstrate that generally levels of pesticide chemical residues measured by the FDA are below EPA’s tolerances, and therefore at levels that are not concerning for public health.
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