Overall pesticide residues found on fresh produce and other foods are at levels below the tolerances set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That was the lead message from USDA Agricultural Marketing Service administrator Rayne Pegg in a letter accompanying the much anticipated release of the Pesticide Data Program summary for 2009.
The 19th annual summary showed that in 2009, residues exceeding the EPA tolerance were found in 0.3% of the samples tested. Residues with no established tolerance were found in 2.7% of the samples, according to the report, released May 24.
In comparison, residues exceeding EPA tolerances in 2008 were detected in 0.5% of the 11,960 samples. Residues with no established tolerance were found in 3.7% of the samples in 2008, according to the USDA.
The 2009 annual report also included a two-page file called “What consumers should know.” That document explained the regulatory framework in place to protect consumers.
“There are many pesticides available for use on the same crop. However, not all crops are treated with these pesticides, and pesticide treatments vary according to crop geographical location, time of year, climatic conditions, and pest and disease pressures,” the document said.
In 2009, fresh produce accounted for 9,231 of the more than 13,000 samples of food tested, AMS spokesman Michael Jarvis said. More than 1.8 million analyses were performed on the 13,000 samples tested, Jarvis said.
“We still encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in every meal as part of a healthy diet,” he said.
Consumers also are encouraged to rinse fruits and vegetables before consuming, he said.
Jarvis said the USDA report aims to be clear.
“There is a lot of confusion out there about pesticide residues, we are just trying to demystify that,” he said.
The report, along with an explanatory guide for consumers, can be found here.
The annual summary has become a flashpoint for the produce industry as mounting anecdotal evidence suggests a substantial number of consumers use a “Dirty Dozen” list created by an activist group make shopping decisions.