According to its latest Pesticide Data Program annual summary, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) feels that “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues.”

The USDA bases this off of the assertion that 99 percent of products sampled “through PDP had residues below the EPA tolerances.” Then, as reported via Food Safety News, there were some violations noted: “Residues above the tolerance levels were detected in 0.53 percent of the samples. In analyzing the data, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) noted that there were 63 tolerance violations, which included methamidiphos and acephate residues on 24 samples of cherry tomatoes and 32 samples of snap peas.”

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Even with these violations in mind, the EPA asserts “the extremely low levels of those residues are not a food safety risk, and the presence of such residues does not pose a safety concern.”

Our thoughts? Exactly summed up by EWG Senior Analyst, Sonya Lunder: “It’s true that most samples meet legal limits every year, but legal doesn’t always mean safe.” She notes how these levels may be set more for adults than children. She also notes problems in the limits overall: “Some liken pesticide tolerances to a 500-mph speed limit,” Lunder said via Food Safety News. “It is too easy to comply and does not guarantee anyone’s safety.”

As Lunder states, the limits for these foods are determined safe by a regulatory agency — it’s not like these levels are disclosed on the foods you pick up at the supermarket, which would give you more of choice as to whether you want to eat a cherry tomato laden with some chemical. And the fact is, even when you wash produce, the chemicals applied during the growing process can often still remain, even if at small amounts.

For me, it’s not occasional exposures that are worrisome: it’s the cumulative impact of eating foods with small amounts time and time again. The easy answers? Scrutinize these reports by the USDA and decide if buying organic (or perhaps growing your own) might be the better option, even if the regulatory agencies are telling you “don’t worry, you’ll be fine if you eat this.”

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Image Source: Michelle Tribe/Flickr

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