Consumer exposure to pesticide residue far below levels of health concern

By ACSH Staff — Jul 16, 2015
A new study published in International Journal of Food Contamination shows that pesticide levels in food are far below levels that would warrant health concern.

lots-of-cabbage-1431124-mA new study published in International Journal of Food Contamination shows that pesticide levels in food are far below levels that would warrant health concern.

The author of the study, Dr. Carl K. Winter of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California Davis, used FDA data on pesticide residue findings collected between 2004 and 2005 on 2,240 food items. A total of 77 pesticides were detected in the samples. (Dr. Winter is a member of ACSH s Scientific Advisory Panel).

All estimated exposures to the 77 pesticides were well below the chronic reference dose (RfD) the EPA s estimate of the maximum amount of a substance that a person could be exposed to daily without risk of harm over a lifetime. As Ross Pomeroy at Real Clear Science notes, These doses are extremely conservative, often inflated by two orders of magnitude to ensure consumer safety.

Only three pesticides exceeded 1 percent of the chronic RfD the insecticides methamidophos (16 percent of chronic RfD), DDT (1.3 percent of chronic RfD) and dieldrin (2.0 percent of chronic RfD). The latter two are a surprise as they both have been banned in the United States for decades. Dr. Winter explains, their presence in food results from low environmental degradation and uptake from contaminated soil by plants.

Dr. Winter concludes, Chronic dietary exposure to pesticides in the diet, according to results of the FDA s 2004 2005 TDS, continue to be at levels far below those of health concern. Consumers should be encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and should not fear the low levels of pesticide residues found in such foods.

He goes on: Findings from this study also indicate that the potential health benefits from further reducing one s exposure to pesticide residues through purchase of organic foods may not provide any appreciable benefit given the very low level of pesticide residues consumers are typically exposed to from conventionally produced foods and the finding that organic foods commonly have been shown to contain pesticide residues as well, although at lower frequency than their conventional counterparts.

A limitation of the study is that it uses data from almost 10 years ago, however, Dr. Winter says it is unlikely that more recent data would have changed the conclusions of the study: Unless significant changes in pesticide use patterns and food consumption behavior become evident, it is unlikely that the use of more contemporary data will alter the conclusion that chronic dietary exposure to pesticides is typically well below chronic RfD levels.

Dr. Gil Ross, ACSH s Director of Medicine and Public Health, added this: Despite these data which merely confirm numerous prior similar studies, we anticipate no respite from the predictable-as-clockwork alarms emitted by scare-mongering activist groups like EWG about toxic pesticides on fruits and vegetables. Hopefully, consumers will grow (or, who knows, have grown?) tired of paying any attention to these sky is falling warnings, designed to promote the organic agendas of the funders of these groups by scaring folks away from cheaper, safe foods.