The release of the United States Department of Food and Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program’s results clearly confirms that both conventional and organic fruits and vegetables are safe and that consumers should be eating more of both with confidence.
According to the USDA press release, “The 2011 PDP report confirms that overall pesticide chemical residues found on the foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose a safety concern.” The EPA similarly stated that, “The newest data from the PDP program confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans. EPA remains committed to a rigorous, science-based and transparent regulatory program for pesticides that continues to protect people’s health and the environment.”
The USDA also reminded consumers to follow the advice from health and nutrition experts and “make half of their plate fruits and vegetables.” This advice is repeatedly echoed by the First Lady, consumer groups and environmental groups to eat more servings of organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables for improved health.
Similar to previous years, the 2011 report shows that overall pesticide chemical residues found on foods tested are at levels well below the tolerances set by the EPA. Using a rigorous statistical approach to sampling along with the most current laboratory methods, the PDP report findings show that 99 percent of food samples analyzed did not contain pesticide residues above safety levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The USDA PDP tracks and monitors pesticide residues on foods and provides the U.S. EPA with the pesticide information to ensure that EPA’s stringent use standards are being followed. A full copy of the report can be found here.
In addition to USDA and EPA, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as numerous state and county agencies monitor, oversee and enforce pesticide regulations in the U.S. In fact, the government testing requirements for pesticides allowed for use on foods are more extensive than for chemicals in any other category. The U.S. system regulating pesticides is also more stringent than the European standards.
Consumers should also be reassured by the decades of nutritional studies that show increased consumption of fruits and vegetables improves overall health and can prevent diseases. These studies were largely conducted using conventionally grown produce. Most recently, a new peer reviewed analysis that appeared in Food and Chemical Toxicology showed that if half of all Americans simply increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables by a single serving each day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented per year. The same study also concluded that the “overwhelming difference between benefit and risk estimates provides confidence that consumers should not be concerned about cancer risks from consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.”
The Alliance for Food and Farming recently began an effort to provide consumers with credible, science-based information about the safety of all fruits and vegetables. The cornerstone of this effort is a website www.safefruitsandveggies.com which contains information from experts in toxicology, nutrition, risk assessment and farming. The site is designed to encourage increased consumption of all fruits and vegetables – whether they are organic or conventionally grown.
“A key piece of information on this website is an Expert Panel Report conducted by five scientists who reviewed claims made by special interest groups about the safety of fruits and vegetables with respect to pesticide residues,” said Marilyn Dolan, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming. “This panel of scientists was clear that the food safety systems imposed by the government are health protective for all consumers, including infants, children and pregnant women.”
The website also has a “calculator” section where consumers can calculate the very high number of servings of various fruits and vegetables that children, teenagers, women and men would have eat and still not experience any effect at all from minute amounts of pesticide residues that may be present. This “calculator” section is based upon analyses by a University of California toxicologist.
But, what if consumers are still concerned about pesticide residues? “Follow the advice of the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the USDA and just wash it,” Dolan says. The FDA states that by simply washing produce under running tap water, you can often remove or eliminate any minute residues which may be present. And, the USDA states that “We encourage everyone to continue to eat more fruits and vegetables in every meal and wash them before you do so.”
“Washing is a healthful habit that consumers should use for both organic or conventionally grown produce,” Dolan adds.