New CAST Report Concludes Pesticide Residues in Food Are Safe

All too often, consumers are misled into thinking that any pesticide residues appearing on foods are potentially harmful. A new report from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), Interpreting Pesticide Residues in Food, debunks this myth by concluding that “there is no direct scientific or medical evidence indicating that typical exposure of consumers to pesticide residues poses any health risk.”  The CAST report describes the numerous benefits of pesticide use in agriculture, explains the Federal regulatory structure applicable to pesticide use in the United States, and provides a science-based explanation that the likelihood of actual adverse health impacts resulting from exposure to pesticide residues in or on foods in the United States is extremely low.

A key factor in whether exposure to pesticide residues may result in adverse health impacts is the magnitude of such exposure. The principle enunciated by Paracelsus, that “the dose makes the poison,” still holds true. In other words, it is not the mere presence of pesticide residues on foods that establishes risk, rather, risk is a factor of the amount of the pesticide residue that an individual is exposed to. As detailed in the CAST report, exposures to pesticide residues in the United States are very low and typically not of toxicological concern.

To approve a proposed pesticide use that may result in dietary exposure to pesticide residues, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must determine that there will be a “reasonable certainty of no harm” resulting from such exposures. The “reasonable certainty of no harm” standard is the most stringent regulatory standards in U.S. environmental law. In setting pesticide residue “tolerances,” i.e., acceptable levels of pesticide residues that may occur in or on food, EPA conducts a regulatory process that is highly protective of human health, and that results in allowable concentrations of pesticide residues that are far below the levels determined to be of toxicological concern.

Unfortunately, average consumers often receive information that does not accurately convey the stringent regulatory process applicable to pesticide use in the United States. Moreover, federal pesticide residue monitoring programs often find that most sampled foods do not contain detectable amounts of pesticides, and those that do usually have concentrations of pesticides that are so low as to constitute no concern for human health.

Notwithstanding the Federal monitoring results and determinations of low to non-existent risk of adverse health effects from typical exposures to pesticide residues, many consumers are concerned that exposure to pesticide residues may lead to certain diseases. This concern is exploited and compounded by activists that encourage consumers to purchase and consume organic foods. The CAST paper notes that research has shown that such advice can have the perverse impact of causing some consumers to reduce their consumption of fruits and vegetables – which can have actual adverse consequences on the health of those so misled.

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