In a recent report, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) urges FDA and USDA to bolster their pesticide residue monitoring programs and further disclose monitoring limitations and data collection efforts.
GAO was asked to review federal oversight of pesticide residue in food, specifically, “what FDA data show with respect to pesticide residue violations in the foods that it regulates; what FSIS data show with respect to pesticide residue violations in the foods that it regulates; and what AMS data show with respect to pesticide residue levels in fruits and vegetables.”
In the study, GAO evaluated if there were any limitations in the agencies’—FDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—monitoring of foods for pesticide residue.
GAO provided eight recommendations to the government agencies regarding pesticide monitoring, which can be read in detail here.
GAO says FDA is considering methodological changes and will disclose limitations; USDA has agreed with its recommendations.
According to GAO, FDA’s most recent data from 2008 through 2012 reveal the rates of pesticide residue violations were low in 10 selected fruits and vegetables, but the agency’s approach to monitoring for violations has limitations.
GAO also found FDA tests relatively few targeted samples for pesticide residues and points to 2012, when FDA tested less than one-tenth of 1 percent of imported shipments. Further, GAO says FDA does not disclose in its annual monitoring reports that it does not test for several commonly used pesticides with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-established tolerance (the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that is allowed to remain on or in a food). This includes glyphosate, a widely used agricultural pesticide.
“Although FDA is not required by law to select particular commodities for sampling or test for specific pesticides, disclosing this limitation would help meet Office of Management and Budget (OMB) best practices for conducting and reporting data collection and help users of the reports interpret the data,” the report states.
GAO says data from FSIS on imported meat, poultry and processed egg products also revealed low rates of pesticide residue violations, though its monitoring also had limitations.
In its analysis, GAO notes similarities between FDA and FSIS, which the agency says did not test meat, poultry and processed egg products for pesticides with established EPA tolerance levels.
When it comes to AMS, the report indicates the most recent data regarding its annual survey of highly consumed commodities revealed pesticide residue detections varied by commodity and were generally well below EPA tolerance levels. While AMS’s sampling methodology meets OMB’s best practices for releasing information to the public, GAO says it fails in other areas.