On October 23, 2018, I ran across a tweet from Jon Entine at the Genetic Literacy Project that caught my interest. It was an article referencing a piece from Keith Nunes titled, “F.D.A pesticide data demonstrate industry commitment to food safety” published in The Food Business News. As Entine noted, the data should have helped to alleviate the public’s fear of chemicals in food, and yet no news organizations covered the story.
According to Nunes, The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) conducted a survey in 2018 that identified the top three food safety concerns for consumers. Foodborne illness was the top concern, followed by “carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food,” “chemicals in food,” and “pesticides/pesticide residues,” all of which are similar. As Nunes notes, “the IFIC survey clearly shows some consumers have significant concerns about how raw materials are processed, and food and beverage products are formulated.”
However, there is a report that has received little attention, and as Nunes and Entine note could help calm some of the fears that consumers have. The FDA’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring program released in October published findings from 7,413 samples in its regulatory monitoring program: 6,946 human foods and 467 animal foods in 2016.
Of the 6,946 human foods, 4,276 were imported foods, and 2,670 were from 46 states and U.S. territories. The FDA found that over 99 % of domestic and 90 % of import human foods were compliant with federal standards. Further, no pesticide chemical residues were found in 52.9 % of the domestic and 50.7 % of the import samples that were analyzed. In its regulatory pesticide residue monitoring program, FDA selectively monitors a broad range of import and domestic commodities for residues of over 700 different pesticides and selected industrial compounds.
The study also tested 527 samples of domestic milk, shell eggs, honey, and game meat samples. Only one of the 527 samples were found to be violative. 98.0% of the milk, 83.8% of the egg, and 72.9% of the honey samples had no residues.
Another aspect of the testing is a program called the Total Diet Study (TDS), which is based on what consumers eat, and they buy, prepare and analyze about 280 kinds of foods and beverages from representative areas of the country, four times a year. FDA analyzed 1,062 total samples in the TDS program and found no foods contained violative pesticide levels. Of all the residues found in TDS foods, 87 % percent were at levels below 0.01 parts per million (ppm), and 2 % were above 0.1 ppm or 100 parts per billion (ppb). (Remember the Cheerios scare?)
For the first time, the FDA conducted a study to test for the presence of glyphosate and glufosinate. The FDA analyzed, “glyphosate and glufosinate residue levels in 274 grain corn, 267 soybean, 113 milk, and 106 egg samples. No samples contained violative levels of glyphosate or glufosinate, and no residues were found in the milk and egg samples. Non-violative levels of glyphosate were found in 173 (63.1%) of the corn samples and 178 (67.0%) of the soybean samples and non-violative levels of glufosinate were found in 4 (1.4%) of the corn samples and 3 (1.1%) soybean samples.”
Lastly, the FDA also tested 467 animal food samples, 242 samples were domestic, and 225 samples were imports. No residues were found in 104 (43.0 %) of the 242 domestic samples, and 0.8 % (2 samples) were violative. Of the 225 import samples, 123 (54.7 %) contained no residues and 3.1 % (7 samples) were violative. Commodities used to feed livestock consumed by humans comprised a minimum of 81.8 % of the samples analyzed, i.e., Whole and Ground Grains/Seeds, Mixed Livestock Food Rations, Medicated Livestock Food Rations, Plant Byproducts, and Hay and Silage. Of the 367 samples analyzed from these five animal food categories, four violations (1.1 %) were found.
According to Nunes and the IFIC survey, consumers were also asked who they trust when it comes to making recommendations on what food to eat and avoid, and the FDA was listed at 38%. The only group that ranked higher was health care professionals and nutritionists. These professionals, along with those who talk about food, agriculture and the issues affecting consumers need to spread the information and to dispel those who continue to or will fight these figures and spread evidence based on what they deem to fit their views.