FDA Report Finds Pesticide Levels Higher in Imported Food Than in Domestic

Imported food products were more likely to contain levels of pesticides which exceeded federal safety standards.

Federal regulators indicate that one in ten inported food samples contain pesticides at levels that exceed safety limits, which could carry adverse health implications, according to a recent pesticide monitoring report.

While the majority of domestic and imported food tested has safe levels of pesticides, more than half of all foods samples tested positive for at least one potentially harmful pesticide and many contain high levels with potentially unsafe amounts.

The data was released this week by the FDA in its Pesticide Residue Monitoring Report for Fiscal Year 2020, summarizing the findings from monitoring of human and animal foods, both domestic and imported. The report includes samples taken from October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020.

Overall, there were no residues or pesticides found in 41% of domestic food samples and 48% of imported food samples. However, nearly 60% of domestic samples and more than half of imported samples contained at least one harmful pesticide.

Three percent of domestic food samples, and 11% of imported human food samples, were in violation of pesticide safety standards, according to the findings.

More Pesticide Violations Linked to Imported Foods

Violations were much more common among imported foods compared to domestic foods, the report noted. However, the FDA did not take samples from “domestically produced animal derived foods.”

In general, more imported foods contained pesticide residue and were a greater risk to human health compared to domestic food samples. The greatest number of violations came from Mexico, India, and Pakistan.

Furthermore, 97% of domestic human foods and 88% of imported foods were compliant with federal standards, meaning any pesticides found were within the safe limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Levels of pesticide residues measured by the FDA are generally in compliance with EPA pesticide tolerances.

Additionally, the FDA also analyzed 102 animal food samples. Overall, 100% of domestic animal food samples and 97% of imported animal food samples were compliant with EPA standards.

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The FDA tested for 750 different pesticides and industrial compounds on 2,078 human food samples. The agency collected samples from human food samples from 35 states and 79 countries.

In total, 185 different pesticides were detected in food samples during testing. The most common was the fungicide azoxystrobin, which was found 146 times, as well as imidacloprid, found 143 times, and the fungicide boscalid, found 124 times. Additionally, neonicotinoids, compounds known to kill bees, made up three of the 10 most commonly detected chemicals in food samples. These pesticides are difficult to wash off foods, increasing the risk of human exposure once the food has entered the consumer food pipeline.

Other pesticides detected included controversial chemicals like chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, thiamethoxam, and acetamiprid. The most commonly tainted foods included basmati rice, green onions, and jackfruit,

Despite the wide sampling done by the FDA, it was still not as extensive in years past. The COVID-19 pandemic affected FDA’s sample collection. For 2020, the FDA collected 50% fewer human food samples and 70% fewer animal food samples. So despite the widespread compliance among sample testing, the FDA is not accounting for more than half of food samples in the US.

The FDA has prepared annual pesticide reports for the public since 1987. The reports are intended to summarize the results of pesticide residue monitoring program.

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