US agency urges strengthening of pesticide residue monitoring programs

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency that reports directly to Congress, has published a report that is highly critical of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture which monitor pesticides in food. The report states:

  • monitoring and enforcing pesticide residue tolerances associated with thousands of pesticides currently in use is a formidable task.
  • FDA tests for the majority of pesticides that have established tolerances, but the agency does not disclose the pesticides for which it does not test or the potential effect that not testing could have on its detection of violations.
  • FDA does not test for several commonly used pesticides, including glyphosate, or disclose the potential effects of not testing for these pesticides.
  • though USDA has recently increased the scope of its testing, the agency does not disclose that it does not test for specific pesticides that have tolerances for animal products or their feed or the potential effect of not testing for these pesticides.
  • users of the agencies’ annual reports may not have accurate information and may misinterpret the results of the programs.
  • the annual pesticide monitoring reports do not reliably reflect the rate at which pesticide violations occur in the U.S. food supply.

The GAO recommends:

  • design and implementation of a statistically valid sampling methodology that would gather nationally representative pesticide residue incidence and level data for both domestically produced and imported foods.
  • identification of any types of domestic and imported foods that are at high risk for pesticide residue tolerance violations.
  • disclosure of all pesticides with EPA-established tolerances which the agency did not test for in its National Residue Program and the potential effect of not testing for those pesticides.
  • providing more complete information on the sampling methodology used, such as how the agency identifies and selects states, food distribution centers, and commodities for pesticide residue testing.
  • reporting on the extent to which the survey covers commodities in the U.S. food supply and any limitations associated with its survey.

FDA and USDA have agreed with many but not all of the recommendations of the GAO.

A summary and the full report are available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-38

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