Federal tests detect only about half the pesticides that may contaminate fruits, vegetables and other food, and regulators are relatively unconcerned, a congressional report said Monday.
The Office of Technology Assessment, the bipartisan research arm of Congress, found the multi-residue methods the Food and Drug Administration uses for most screening can detect only 163 of 316 pesticides registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
The study also said the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors meat and milk, uses tests that can pick up only about 40 of 227 pesticides listed for consideration.
Question Proper Concern
“In contrast to the general public’s uneasiness over pesticide residues in food, the federal agencies responsible for regulating foods do not have the same level of concern for the situation as it exists,” the study said.
Recent polls, including a nationwide survey this year by the Food Marketing Institute, have found that pesticide contamination is the top food worry of consumers--but the OTA report said regulators place greatest emphasis on food contamination by microorganisms and drugs.
The report concluded that the technology exists to improve pesticide tests, but the government has been slow to adopt more up-to-date procedures.
“The barrier to expanding the detection of pesticide residues in food seems to stem less from the scientific arena than from the policy one,” the study said.
The report acknowledged that some pesticides posing a low health risk do not require routine monitoring. But investigators cited an earlier federal study that found routine FDA testing failed to detect 33 pesticides with moderate to high risks for health problems, such as cancer and birth defects.
The FDA development of new detection methods has not kept pace with approval of new pesticides or with identification of foreign pesticides not approved for use in the United States, the study said.
‘We Care About Pesticides’
Pasquale Lombardo, program manager for the FDA’s pesticides program, said: “It’s safe to say the FDA does not think pesticides in foods are the No. 1 threat. But we care about pesticides.