The release of the United States Department of Food and Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program results should reinforce to consumers that both conventional and organic fruits and vegetables are being grown in an extremely safe manner.  Moreover, consumers shouldn’t hesitate to follow the advice of the First Lady and health officials everywhere and eat more servings of produce every day.  

“For all of us involved in promoting better consumer health, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables is among our main objectives,” says Dr. Carl Keen, Professor of Nutrition and Internal Medicine at University of California, Davis.  “The health benefits of consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is indisputable.  Currently research suggests that most individuals would benefit from increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables, and this is true regardless if the produce is grown using conventional or organic practices.  The potential health benefits of increasing one’s produce intake clearly outweigh the hypothetical risks associated with the ingestion of the trace amounts of pesticides that might be associated with these foods.  This new USDA report, in my opinion, underscores this point.”

According to a USDA press release, this year’s report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances (maximum legal residue levels) set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Using a rigorous statistical approach to sampling along with the most current laboratory methods, the PDP report findings show that more than 95 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. Environmental Protection Agency with the pesticide information to ensure that EPA’s stringent use standards are being followed.  

This year’s report is accompanied with information for consumers including a list of frequently asked questions and statements from a number of government entities stating as follows:

“Based on the PDP data from this report, parents and caregivers can continue to feed infants their regular baby foods without being concerned about the possible presence of unlawful pesticide chemical residues.”  U.S. Food and Drug Administration

“The data confirms EPA’s success in phasing- out pesticides used in children’s food for safer pesticides and pest control techniques.  The very small amounts of pesticide residues found in the baby food samples were well below levels that are harmful to children.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Age-old advice remains the same: eat more fruits and vegetables and wash them before you do so.  Health and nutrition experts encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in every meal as part of a healthy diet.  This message is affirmed in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released last year, in USDA’s My Plate, as well as federal nutrition guidance that urges people to make half their plate fruits and vegetables.” United States Department of Agriculture.

A full copy of the report and accompanying materials can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/pdp.

Stringent safety standards

In addition to USDA and EPA, the Federal Food and Drug Administration 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.

“Because of these stringent safety standards with compliance verified by monitoring programs, like the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, consumers should not let fears regarding pesticide residues become a barrier to their consumption of the produce commonly found in the U.S. marketplace, regardless if the produce was grown under organic or conventional practices,” says Dr. Keen.  “Very simply, you are compromising your health if you aren’t consuming enough fruits and vegetables.  This is why we are seeing the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move’ initiative carrying this important message to try and improve public health.”

The Alliance for Food and Farming recently began an effort to provide consumers with credible, trustworthy and easy-to-understand information about the safety of all fruits and vegetables. The cornerstone of this effort is a website http://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 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.  “Washing is a healthful habit that consumers should use for both organic or conventionally grown produce,” Dolan adds.