FDA’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring Report -something consumers should know, but nobody’s talking about

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.

 

 

 

 

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Green New Deal: Most Farms are Family Farms

With much anticipation, the Green New Deal has been presented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to much brouhaha. While the plan has lofty goals with no specifics, an area that needs to be addressed is in regards to agriculture. That portion of the bill reads:

“(G) working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—

  • by supporting family farming;
  • by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and
  • by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food;”

Sustainable farming organizations and organic producers are optimistic about the proposed changes in promoting these practices, but there is little mention of supporting family farmers. A common misconception is that the majority of farms are not family owned, when in fact, only 2.2 percent of farms are nonfamily owned. This figure can be found in the report titled “America’s Diverse Family Farms” published by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) in December 2018. According to the USDA, the figures are derived based on, “annual revenue of the farm, major occupation of the principal operator, and family/nonfamily ownership of the farm.” Some facts of note in the report are:

  • Eighty-nine percent of farms are small (income < $350,000), and these farms accounted for 52 percent of the land operated by farms in 2017.
  • Large-scale family farms (income > $1 million) accounted for the largest share of production, at 39 percent.
  • Family farms of various types together accounted for 98 percent of farms and 87 percent of production in 2017.
  • Nonfamily farms accounted for the remaining farms (2 percent) and production (13 percent). Fifteen percent of nonfamily farms had gross cash farm income (GCFI) of $1,000,000 or more, and they accounted for 89 percent of nonfamily farms’ production. Examples of nonfamily farms include partnerships of unrelated partners, closely held nonfamily corporations, farms with a hired operator unrelated to the owners, and (relatively few) publicly held corporations.

 

A breakdown of production shows the difference in crops between family farms versus nonfamily farms:

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The idea of corporate farming and industrial agriculture producing the majority of food is a misnomer. The concept of these terms can also be explained by the Center for Rural Affairs as, “a system where the farm owner, the farm manager and the farm worker are different people. That’s a dramatic change from the historic structure of agriculture, where the people who labor in farming also make the decisions and reap the profits of their work.” It behooves farms to be placed in a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or an S Corporation for tax, liability purposes and estate taxes. Putting farms into these kinds of structures ensures that the family farm is passed down to other generations. To put it into perspective Ocean Spray, Blue Diamond and Sunkist are familiar names that are a farmer-owned cooperative of growers and are corporations. They are family farms that have agreed to form this entity for the benefit of marketing, discounts on purchases and other advantages of working together.

As the Green New Deal states it wants to “support family farms,” it needs to take into account that 97.8 percent of farms are family farms regardless if the income is $10,000 or $1 million. Supporting family farms should instead involve reform of existing programs that benefit young farmers, ensures transfer to future generations, free trade, supply chain management, less government overreach and comprises real Farm Bill reform.