Spray it forward: Pesticide residues in U.S. food
The USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service has released its annual summary (PDF) for its Pesticide Data Program. And it scares me.
In 2006, the PDP says it tested 13,658 samples of food and bottled/drinking water from participating states California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Interestingly, about 18% of samples were considered imports, but that part was not explained.
More importantly, detectable pesticide residues were found in:
- 69% of the wheat grain
- 64% of the fresh fruit and vegetables
- 59% of the processed fruit and vegetables
- 30% of the peanut butter
- 19% of the bottled water
- 7% of the poultry
In addition, the report adds, "Low levels of environmental contaminants were detected in broccoli, carrots, kale greens, peaches, frozen sweet peas, spinach, watermelon, winter squash, peanut butter, and poultry."
But don't panic! The vast majority of those pesticide residues and environmental contaminants "are well below levels that trigger regulatory actions," the report says soothingly.
Only 0.2% of the 12,554 samples (excluding water) tested had residues that exceeded the established tolerance levels mandated by the Code of Federal Regulations. Hoping to be reassured, I looked up the relevant portion of that code (Title 40, Part 180), where I found the specifications for pesticides derived from known carcinogens such as methyl bromide, arsenic, and cyanide and others with really long names that made me think of 10th-grade chemistry and fall asleep.
All of a sudden the idea that 2 out of 1,000 bites of U.S. food contain higher-than-even-these-scary-levels of pesticide residues makes me even more committed to the idea of buying organic or at least no-spray local food.
Photo of pesticide application in North Carolina from the USDA's Online Photography Center
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