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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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Concerned about pesticide residue?

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Hodge-Bell2014-001copyBy Kimberly Hodge-Bell
Senior Toxicologist

The food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, thanks to an established system that includes clean water, refrigeration, national standards and oversight.

Yet some groups are testing for trace residues in our food and trying to raise concerns. I’ve dedicated most of my 12-year career to product safety. As part of our ongoing conversation with consumers, I’d like to share some key facts and put these concerns into perspective.

According to physicians and other food safety experts, the mere presence of a chemical itself is not a human health hazard. It is the amount, or dose, that matters. In the United States, the maximum amount of pesticide residue that can be consumed and considered safe is set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Maximum amounts allowed (known as tolerances) are also established by the EPA for all pesticide residues on food commodities, like corn and soybeans. You can read more about this on the EPA’s website.

Take glyphosate, for example, the active ingredient in Roundup® brand herbicides. Recently groups opposed to GMOs have circulated residue testing results of certain foods, such as cereal and corn chips, which indicate that trace amounts of glyphosate are present. In some cases, attempts are made to imply these levels are unsafe, but this is not based on any science and rather is a public scare tactic according to respected organizations such as the American Council on Science and Health.

So how can you assess what this means to you and your family? While sampling and analysis methods were not provided, let’s assume for this purpose that the levels reported are accurate. We can then compare these levels to the safe levels determined by the EPA. It turns out that you could eat 450 boxes of cereal every 24 hours for the rest of your life and still be at a level of glyphosate exposure considered safe by the EPA. That equals 150 boxes at every meal!

I understand some consumers may think zero is the only acceptable exposure level. However, as both a mom and a scientist, I am comfortable with the negligible amount of daily residues compared to real risks that I face in my daily life.

  • The EPA conservatively sets the acceptable daily intake (ADI) from all food and water sources at least 100 times lower than levels that have been demonstrated to cause no effect in animal testing.
  • In May 2013, the EPA found that all glyphosate exposures through food crops and water sources were no more than 13 percent of the ADI based on a highly conservative assumption that all crops are treated with glyphosate and carry maximum allowable levels. The reality is that not all crops on all farms are treated, and those crops that are treated generally have well below the maximum allowable limit, leaving a wide margin of safety. This is confirmed by available monitoring data in humans, which indicate actual exposures are far below allowable intake levels.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released its Pesticide Data Program annual report. As with previous reports, the results continue to demonstrate that pesticide residues on food do not pose a safety concern for consumers. Glyphosate was not included in this analysis, but with good reason, because we know that exposures are far below allowable intakes, and expending resources to measure levels that are not of concern and will not trigger regulatory action is a misuse of valuable resources.

Modern farm practices are the result of collaboration of farmers and thousands of scientists in universities, industry and regulatory agencies and are why we have plentiful, safe and affordable food. I know that these strict regulations help ensure that it is safe to feed my family. Not only is food grown with advanced agriculture practices safe, it also helps growers reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. And abundant harvests help feed more people on the same land which is important for the environment.

At Monsanto, we appreciate the opportunity to share these facts because research and education are at the heart of what we do. It is one of the reasons that I invite you to join the conversation about nourishing our growing world at discover.monsanto.com.

3 Responses to "Concerned about pesticide residue?"

  1. Great article and it really puts things in perspective. I really do get tired of the “fear industry” putting out inaccurate information for the soul purpose of creating panic. The amount of ceral a person needs to eat on a daily basis was the perfect way to show the reality of the situation.

    Reply
  2. As a young wife and a someday mother, I am deeply concerned about the possibility that my children may never taste food that hasn’t been sprayed, altered, or picked so early in the ripening process that it is void of nutrients. Knowing that you are a mom eases these concerns to a point. But I still wonder about statements like this one in your article, “… still be at a level of glyphosate exposure considered safe by the EPA.”

    “… considered safe by the EPA.” What does “considered” mean. It is not the same as proven. I consider the idea that where there is smoke, there is fire. But I cannot, in fact, prove it.

    Reply
  3. I appreciate this information about the concerns of pesticide residue. It is good to know that there are programs that give daily reports about data collected in regards to residue. Something to consider would be to seek professional help if this is a concern. This would increase safety and ensure that the issue is resolved correctly.

    Reply

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