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1998-2000 Residues in Fresh Produce


About California’s Pesticide Regulatory Program

California spent $53.4 million in the 1998/99 fiscal year and $55.4 million in the 1999/00 fiscal year for the nation's most comprehensive program to regulate pesticide use. Under this program:

  • A pesticide's safety and efficacy is evaluated before it is allowed to be used.
  • All agricultural pesticide use must be reported.
  • Pesticide specialists enforce restrictions intended to ensure the proper and safe use of pesticides.
  • Domestic and imported produce is sampled and tested for pesticide residues.
  • Annually, only a small fraction of the samples violated established standards. According to scientific experts, illegal residues rarely present a significant health risk.

Residue Monitoring

The Department of Pesticide Regulation's (DPR) Residue Monitoring Program is the most extensive state residue monitoring program in the nation. It is the final check in an integrated network of programs designed to ensure the safe use of pesticides in California. There are two elements in the Residue Monitoring Program: Marketplace Surveillance and Priority Pesticide. Between 1998 through 2000 these two programs together analyzed 23,451 samples of fresh produce. Samples were collected throughout the channels of trade: at seaports and other points of entry into the State, packing sites, wholesale, and retail outlets. The findings are consistent with those from previous years: there are few violative residues, and pesticide detections in produce are generally well below the allowable levels.

Marketplace Surveillance Program

The Marketplace Surveillance Program is a regulatory program designed to monitor compliance with pesticide laws and to help ensure that any detected pesticide residues are within the established tolerance levels. Between 1998 to 2000 there were 18,432 samples of more than 117 kinds of commodities. Domestic and imported produce were tested. All samples were tested with multi-residue screens capable of detecting more than 200 pesticides and breakdown products. No residues were detected in 58.7 percent of the samples. Residues within tolerance (the legal limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA]) were found in about 40 percent. There were 1.31 percent of the samples with an illegal residue.

Priority Pesticide Program

In this program, DPR concentrates monitoring on commodities with dietary significance based on consumption frequencies and quantities consumed, taking into consideration the dietary patterns of adults, infants, children, and ethnic groups.

In 1996, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). It mandated that U.S. EPA consider cumulative exposure to pesticides when conducting dietary risk assessments. To help generate data for accurate cumulative risk assessments, DPR changed the focus of the Priority Pesticide Program from testing for one pesticide residue in a given sample to many residues. Possible detection of multiple pesticide residues on a given commodity provides useful information to evaluate the cumulative effects of residues that have a common mechanism of toxicity.

Between 1998 through 2000, analyses were completed on 5,019 samples. All samples were tested with multi-residue screens capable of detecting more than 200 pesticides and breakdown products. Domestic and imported produce were tested. No residues were detected in 61.1 percent of the samples. Residues within tolerance (the legal limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) were found in about 38.5 percent. There were 0.40 percent of the samples with an illegal residue.

Findings and Significance

The validity of any sampling program lies in its design and in its ability to replicate the results. Over the past decade, even as the number of samples varied, the findings have been consistent from year to year. Most residues are below detectable limits. Residues that are found are usually at levels that are measured at a fraction of a part per million (ppm). Less than one percent of samples have residues over the tolerance levels. A tolerance is the highest residue level of the particular pesticide that is legally allowed on the particular commodity. A tolerance is set by U.S. EPA for regulatory purposes and is established at a level that incorporates a margin of safety, and usually assumes a lifetime of consumption of the commodity at the maximum allowable residue level.

While the goal of DPR's regulatory program is to ensure that all food is in compliance with pesticide safety standards, an occasional produce item slightly above tolerance should not automatically be considered a health hazard. The results from years of DPR residue monitoring document the safety of produce grown and consumed in California.

The data collected for 1998 through 2000 are extensive and available for downloading.