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GAO study finds pesticide residue programs can improve

















11/18/2014 01:20:00 PM
Tom Karst





 



The Food and Drug Administration sampling program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program have room for improvement in the way they collect and share data on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables and other food, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.



The GAO study recommends that FDA improve its methodology and FDA and USDA disclose limitations in the monitoring and data collection efforts. FDA said it will consider methodological changes and will disclose limitations, and USDA also agreed with GAO’s recommendations to disclose limitations of its annual report on pesticide residues, according to a summary of the GAO report.




Industry sources said the report doesn’t change the fact that government tests show that fruits and vegetables are safe for consumers.




“While the report provides recommendations to USDA and FDA for enhancing their respective pesticide monitoring programs, there is nothing in OMB’s report that disagrees with both agencies’ annual bottom line conclusion: that residue violations on fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S. are a rare event, and in virtually all detections, residue levels are well below any public health risk,” said David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.




Teresa Thorne, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Food and Farming, said FDA and USDA sampling shows an extremely high level of compliance with existing pesticide laws and regulations. “The consistency of the residue level across multiple sampling programs is an important indication that compliance is quite high and produce is very safe,” she said.




The November GAO study, titled “FDA and USDA Should Strengthen Residue Monitoring Programs and Further Disclose Monitoring Limitations,” was requested by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, Committee on Energy and Commerce. The report was compiled from November 2012 to October 2014.




The FDA’s most recent data from 2008 through 2012 show that pesticide residue violation rates in 10 selected fruits and vegetables were low, but FDA’s approach to monitoring for violations has limitations, according to the GAO. The FDA tested less than one-tenth of 1% of imported shipments in 2012, according to the report. In addition, the GAO said that the agency does not disclose in its annual monitoring reports that it does not test for several pesticides with an Environmental Protection Agency established tolerance (the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on or in a food) — including glyphosate, the most used agricultural pesticide. Glyphosate can be applied directly to genetically modified grain, soybeans and cotton crops designed to be resistant to the herbicide, but also is applied to soil prior to planting a wide variety of crops, including fruits and vegetables.





Though the agency is not required by law to select particular commodities for sampling or test for specific pesticides, the GAO said that disclosing this limitation would help meet Office of Management and Budget best practices for conducting and reporting data collection and help users of the reports interpret the data. Finally, the GAO said that FDA doesn’t use statistically valid methods consistent with OMB standards to collection national information on the incidence and level of pesticide residues.





FDA officials said that it would be costly to calculate national estimates for the foods it regulates because it would require a large number of samples for a wide array of products, but did not provide documentation on the cost of doing so or an assessment of the trade-offs of doing less targeting and more random sampling, according to the GAO. Limitations in FDA’s methodology hamper its ability to determine the national incidence and level of pesticide residues in the foods it regulates, the GAO report concluded.





The GAO report said the most recent data from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s annual survey of highly consumed commodities, including fruits and vegetables, show that, from 1998 through 2012, pesticide residue detections varied by commodity and were generally well below tolerance levels. EPA and others praise AMS’s data collection efforts as providing valuable information on the incidence and level of pesticide residues in foods, according to the GAO. In addition, while the sampling methodology used by AMS in the Pesticide Data Program meets many of OMB’s best practices for conducting and releasing information to the public concerning a data collection effort, the GAO said the program falls short in probability sampling of commodities.







“AMS does not disclose these limitations in its annual monitoring reports, users of the data may misinterpret information in these reports and draw erroneous conclusions based on the data,”
according to the GAO report. 




The USDA AMS, in response to GAO recommendations, said that it plans to add a description of the sampling methodology employed for site selection (including how states, food distribution centers/sites, and commodities are identified and selected) for inclusion in the PDP Annual Summary report.




- See more at: http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-enewsletter/packer-daily/GAO-study-finds-pesticide-residue-programs-have-room-for-improvem-283083381.html?view=all#sthash.5rYtdlZd.dpuf

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