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Many different federal agencies share responsibility for monitoring chemical residues and environmental contaminants in food. The Federal Drug Administration has primary responsibility for these matters, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries also have responsibility for monitoring chemical residues in food.
Since the 1970s, more than 90 reports have been issued by the General Accounting Office and other federal agencies criticizing the effectiveness of the federal system in monitoring chemical contamination in food.37 Though some of the problems with the monitoring system have been addressed, a General Accounting Office study issued in September 1994 states that many of the problems are as important today as they were 20 years ago.(38) For example, the General Accounting Office points out that "Federal agencies responsible for ensuring that food is safe from harmful chemicals do not assess risk in the same way; as a result, they may arrive at different risk estimates for the same chemical. This inconsistency raises questions about the reliability of agencies' decisions on which chemicals and what levels of chemicals may be in food."(39)
Since 1991, the USDA has coordinated and funded a nationwide food testing program known as the Pesticide Data Program. Under a contract with the USDA, the Texas Department of Agriculture receives funds to conduct an annual testing program in the state.(40) The two major objectives of the program are to 1) determine whether produce has pesticide residues beyond the limits allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency and/or 2) determine whether the residues are from pesticides which are not registered for use on a particular produce.
Throughout the year, the Texas Department of Agriculture takes samples of produce from wholesale outlets and tests them in the Texas Department of Agriculture laboratories. The test results are sent to the USDA. If the test results indicate there is a problem with the produce, this information is sent to the FDA for enforcement follow up. This program was not designed, however, to take adulterated produce off the market. It was designed to "provide government agencies with a data base to react to food safety issues. The main recipient of the program's data is the Environmental Protection Agency, which uses this information to support its risk assessment process."(41)
The Federal Drug Administration also collects residue data to enforce EPA-established tolerances. In 1992, the USDA's Pesticide Data Program analyzed residues on 12 fruits and vegetables from major agricultural production regions in the United States, including Texas.(42) Unlike other pesticide residue studies performed by the FDA or USDA, this was the first that tested residue on fruits and vegetables after they were peeled and washed. The results of this study showed that fresh fruits and vegetables routinely contain residues of several different pesticides.(43) According to the USDA, 5,592 samples were analyzed for PDP compounds. "Residues of 49 different pesticides were detected in approximately 60 percent of all samples. Many samples contained multiple residues, with as many as eight found in one sample. In other words, neither the washing nor peeling of food guarantees the removal of pesticide residues."(44)
Legally, of course, food may contain a number of chemical residues as long as they are within allowable tolerance levels. This study revealed that the levels of pesticide residues were substantially below tolerances, but residues in violation were found in 63 samples, 15 of which were in imported commodities. "Of the 63 violative samples, 10 exceeded the tolerance level and the other 53 had residues where no tolerance was established."(45)
|TWELVE DIFFERENT CANCER-CAUSING PESTICIDES WERE FOUND ON 12 READY-TO-EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES ANALYZED BY USDA.|
Apples: Benomyl, Captan, Chlorthalonil, DDE, Iprodione, O-Phenylphenol
Broccoli: Chlorthalonil, DDE, Permethrins
Carrots: DDE, Iprodione, Trifluralin
Celery: Chlorthalonil, DDE, DDT, Iprodione, Lindane, Permethrins
Grapes: Captan, Iprodione
Green Beans: Benomyl, Captan, Chlorthalonil, DDE, Iprodione, Permethrins
Lettuce: Chlorthalonil, Cypermethrin, DDE, DDT, Iprodione, Permethrins
Peaches: Captan, DDT, Iprodione, Permethrins, Propargite
Potatoes: DDE, DDT
Pesticide residues on these products did not exceed allowable tolerance levels set by the EPA.
Source: Environmental Working Group, Washed, Peeled-Contaminated (Washington, DC: 1994), 18.
Unlike air, water and waste laws which seek to reduce human exposure to chemicals by reducing chemical use, federal and state pesticide laws do not focus on use reduction. There are several state-level efforts, however, to decrease pesticide use in crop production as well as in the home, garden care and public schools.
The reduction of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals in agriculture is often called "alternative agriculture" or "sustainable agriculture." These terms generally refer to a variety of practices, including crop rotation, integrated pest management, reduced chemical inputs and organic farming. Many of these are centuries-old successful farming practices that were abandoned with the advent of chemical pesticides. Farmers face substantial barriers to the adoption of alternative practices, including federal farm policies and the lack of adequate research and training for farmers on alternative practices.(46) Seven percent of the USDA's research budget goes to study pesticide alternatives, and 3 percent of the EPA's research budget is spent on pesticide alternatives.(47)
The Texas Department of Agriculture developed a voluntary organic farm certification program in 1988. Under this program, the department inspects and certifies producers and other businesses that process or handle organic food or fiber. To be certified, these operations must comply with the department's growing and handling standards. Producers who comply are able to use "Certified Organically Produced" labels on their products. A 1993 state law prevents a person from labeling, marketing or presenting their products as organic without Texas Department of Agriculture certification. The Texas Department of Agriculture also supports several Integrated Pest Management programs.
In 1994, 180 organic Texas growers were certified. (There are 183,000 farms in Texas.) The Texas Department of Agriculture expects to have 250 certified organic growers by 1995. In Texas, 60,000 of the 32 million acres in production are certified as organic. Of that 60,000 acres, approximately 30,000 acres are currently producing certified organic crops.
Demand for both "green apparel" and organic food products is expected to increase the amount of acreage for organic products. Texas Department of Agriculture expects clothing manufacturers to continue to create a demand for natural fibers.(51)
PESTICIDE RESIDUES ON FRUITS AND VEGETABLES HEAVILY CONSUMED BY YOUNG CHILDREN|
(SUPERMARKET WAREHOUSE DATA 1990-1992)
|FOOD||NO. OF SAMPLES||NO. WITH 1 OR MORE PESTICIDES DETECTED||% WITH 1 OR MORE PESTICIDES DETECTED||NO. OF DIFFERENT PESTICIDES DETECTED|
|Pesticide residues on these products did not exceed allowable tolerance levels set by the EPA.|
|Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from EPA Office of Planning, Policy and Evaluation, Pesticide Food Residue Database, Anticipated Pesticide Residues in Food: Availability of Document. Federal Register.|
Organic farming. A system of ecological soil management that relies on building humus levels through crop rotation, recycling organic waste and applying balanced mineral amendments and that uses, when necessary, mechanical, botanical, or biological controls with minimum adverse effects on health and the environment.(48)
Organic fiber. Fiber that is produced under a system of organic farming and that is pro-cessed, packaged, transported and stored so as to maintain segregation and prevention of contamination from other fiber and from synthetic pesticides, prohibited defoliants and/or desiccants.(49)
Organic food. Food for human or livestock consumption that is produced under a system of organic farming and that is processed, packaged, transported and stored so as to retain maximum nutritional value without the use of artificial preservatives, coloring or other additives, ionizing radiation or prohibited materials.(50)
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