Contrary to common belief, most Food & Drug Administration tests of food sold in the United States show little or no detectable pesticide residues, the FDA said.
While not every food sample is tested for every possible residue, FDA said in a report that summarizes a year's test:* Less than 1 percent of the fresh foods tested for pesticide residues had residues that exceeded federal tolerance levels. Even in these cases, FDA said, safety margins have been built into the federal tolerances to ensure that the residue should pose no health risk.
* Although another 3 percent of the foods tested by the agency had illegal pesticide residues, these were technical violations, such as an otherwise approved pesticide residue being found on the wrong crop - a crop for which Environmental Protection Agency approval had not been sought.
In addition, the FDA's Total Diet Study of prepared dishes shows that after cooking, peeling and cleaning, foods have so little residue that the
average American's intake is generally less than one-hundreth of the internationally recognized safety guidelines.
Consumer surveys show that many Americans express concern about pesticides. Many seem to believe that we are consuming large and harmful amounts of pesticide residues, FDA Commissioner Frank E. Young said in releasing the report.
That's a myth, and another myth is that any residue, no matter how little or how legal, is harmful, he said.
The data are contained in a report compiled by the agency for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1987. That is the latest year for which complete figures on the FDA's pesticide monitoring programs have been tabulated.
During that period, the FDA collected and analyzed 14,492 food samples, of which more than half were imported foods. No violative residues were found in more than 95 percent of these samples. In 57 percent, no residue was detected at all.
The FDA monitors the nation's food supply and enforces EPA tolerances except with regard to most meat and poultry, which are under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's jurisdiction.
An EPA tolerance level is the maximum amount of residue permitted on a food when a chemical is properly used according to label directions. These regulatory levels apply equally to domestic and imported foods.
A pesticide residue is violative if it exceeds a tolerance level established by the federal EPA or was used on a food for which no approval had been obtained. Tolerances normally incorporate a wide margin of safety.