ISSUED: 7-90
Ricardo Bessin, Gerald R. Brown, John R. Hartman, and James R. Martin

Why the Concern About Pesticide Residues?
Everywhere we turn today, questions arise about food safety. In fact, three out of four Americans believe pesticide residues are a major health hazard. How do we help Kentucky consumers feel more confidence in their food supply? Should we advise Kentucky farmers to change their production practices? When a crisis comes, how can we help?
People are more aware of food safety than ever before. The scares of the past few years, including concern over Alar, have sharpened many Americans' perceptions. Consumers are concerned because they have no way to detect levels of pesticide residues, and no control over what is applied. So, consumers must figure out whom to trust: Government regulating agencies? Scientists? The people who grow and market the food we eat? How do consumers know what is safe?

Why Use Pesticides?
If so many concerns have been raised about pesticides, why use them? Currently, pesticides are an important part of food production. Without pesticides,
American food would be more expensive.
Food production would require more labor and more intensive, knowledgeable management.
American farmers would produce less food and supplies would be more variable.
Our food supply's quality would be lessened.
Storage life of some fresh foods reduced.
Some food would be less safe (because it would contain harmful organisms).

Pesticides, like other chemicals used in our society, have possible health and environmental risks and definite benefits for both producers and consumers. At present, pests destroy 30% ($20 billion worth) of crops each year in the US. Without pesticide use, crop losses and food costs could increase up to 50%. Pesticides lower food costs by preventing direct loss of a product due to pests. Their usage also increases food's value (often cosmetically), food's safety (by reducing harmful organisms) and its storage life.

Putting the Concern About Pesticide Residues in Perspective
Other factors besides pesticides affect Americans' diets. In reality, food-borne disease, malnutrition, environmental contaminants and naturally-occurring toxins pose more risk than pesticide residues. For example, in one year the average consumer of commercial foods consumes .0014 ounce of pesticides which has about the same toxic effect as consuming one cup of coffee or one aspirin.
Of course, most pesticides, if eaten in high enough amounts, are unsafe to humans. In addition, some possibly cause cancer, mutations or other ill-effects.
How do we know that we are avoiding these potentially dangerous amounts? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both federal agencies, are responsible for evaluating, setting and enforcing safe levels of pesticide residues which are allowed to remain in food for human consumption. Pesticides cannot be registered (that is, they cannot be sold in the US) unless the safe level (tolerance) is set. These tolerances are set after rigorous field tests, which involve the maximum usage of that pesticide. Also, scientists must determine that no observable effect is found in sensitive laboratory animals.
EPA scientists calculate the safe daily intake of any particular pesticide for humans, and build in a 100 fold safety factor. They base their calculations on results from non-injurious laboratory animal tests. This procedure sets a legal residue level. The EPA determines how much of that pesticide's residue consumers are exposed to and what the maximum possible exposure could be. To figure that out, they suppose that a certain crop is treated with the highest legal rates of a pesticide and that consumers eat that crop every day for a lifetime. If the maximum possible exposure to a chemical is less than the legal residue level, the EPA grants the tolerance.
The EPA considers the risk that any particular pesticide will cause cancer to be negligible (almost non-existent) if less than one person out of a million develops cancer as a result of the pesticide. Of course the EPA recognizes that different segments of the population have different eating habits and therefore some people may consume greater (or smaller) than average quantities of some foods.
The FDA has responsibility for enforcing EPA pesticide tolerances in food. It also enforces any prohibitions of pesticide residue in food for which there is no tolerance. Their labs use sophisticated instruments to determine extremely low levels of pesticides in food, so if a chemical is misused, the lab should find it. This threat of discovery and punishment for pesticide misuse encourages growers and processors to comply with the EPA rules. In 1987 the FDA found that less than 1% of nearly 15,000 imported and domestic food samples contained violative residues. The majority of these violations involved residues for which no tolerance was granted on the crop rather than excessive residues.
Some food processors and retailers are beginning to set more stringent standards than the EPA and FDA require. These retailers ban certain pesticides on foods they sell.

Alternate Food Production Systems and Cost/Benefit Ration
Currently, many people are interested in systems that grow food without pesticide residues. While there is much interest in organic alternatives, some of these alternatives also may be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic. Pesticide reduction on foods (that is, using the least amount of pesticide needed to get the job done) may be best accomplished through Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs.
IPM integrates all pest management techniques into one crop management strategy. Pesticides may be used, but only when economic thresholds (damaging population levels) are reached. In other words, the producer does not routinely spray for a certain pest, but waits until that pest is at a level where it will economically damage the crop. IPM programs also use biological controls and other cultural practices like rotating crops.
In the debate about organic food, remember one thing: A certain food has the same calories and nutrients no matter how it is produced. "Organic" vegetables and fruit are not more nutritious than their "non-organic" counterparts.

Undoubtedly, many of the pesticides used today cause cancer, mutations and other problems. Some are just toxic. Exposure to high levels of these materials is assumed to be risky. Despite assurances of negligible risk, the health effects of exposure to multiple chemicals and their carriers are largely unknown. Thus, anyone using pesticides should only use them safely and wisely.
Remember that many of the foods we eat contain numbers and levels of cancer-causing agents that do not come from pesticides and that are higher than the levels posed by pesticides. More research on biology and non-chemical control of pests is needed, so that in the future non-chemical treatments can be an option for farmers and consumers alike. We hope that methods will be developed to determine more precisely the real risks of pesticide residues as compared to natural toxins. With greater information and a rational perspective, the consumer will be able to make better informed choices.

What We Suggest
The Cooperative Extension Service recommends that farmers carefully use only the amount of pesticide necessary to control correctly identified, economically important pests. We believe that the health benefits of today's foods far exceed the risk of pesticide residues. In fact, today's food is the safest and least expensive in history. FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT YOUR UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY COUNTY EXTENSION SERVICE COUNTY OFFICE.

Useful Information
1-800-858-7378 National Pesticide Telecommunications Network. This is a 24 hour free service funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency: Purpose to provide a variety of impartial information about pesticides to anyone.
1-800-722-5725 Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center of Kosair Children's Hospital. Anyone with a poisoning emergency can call this number for help. Personnel at the Control Center will give you first aid information and direct you to local treatment centers if necessary.

Pesticide Residues in Grains, Vegetables, Fruits and Nuts Reference List
General Information
America's Growing Dilemma: Pesticides in Food and Water. Publication #887. League of Women Voters, Washington, D.C. 19 p. 1989.

Kendall, Pat. Pesticides in Food: A Look at the Issues. Food and Nutrition Issues. V6.#3. Colorado State University. June 1989.
Why The Concern About Pesticide Residues?
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Ott, Stephen L. Pesticide Residues: Concerns and Direct Marketing Opportunities. Research Report 574, The Georgia Agri. Exp. Station, The University of Georgia, Athens. 11 p. 1989.

The Packer Focus. Fresh Trends 90. 91 p. Vance Publications. 1989.

Smallwood, David. Consumer Demand for Safer Foods. National Food Review 12:(3) 9-11. 1989.
Why Use Pesticides?
Abernathy, J. R. Estimated Crop Losses Due to Weeds with Nonchemical Management. Handbook of Pest Management in Agriculture. Vol. ICRC Press. pp. 159-167. 1981.

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Putting The Concern About Pesticide Residues in Perspective
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Anon. Federal Pesticide Residues in Food Monitoring Programs, EPA Environmental Update. March 9, 1989.

Anon. Regulating Pesticides: FIFRA Amendments for 1988. Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Washington, D.C. Vol. 12, No. 40. January 1989.

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NAS. Regulating Pesticides in Food: The Delaney Paradox. Board of Agriculture, National Research Council. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 272 p. 1987.

Papendick, R.I., L. F. Elliott, and R. B. Dahlgren. 1989. Environmental Consequences of Modern Production Agriculture: How Can Alternative Agriculture Address These Concerns? Am. J. Alter. Agric. Vol. 1.

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Stimmann, M.W. Sources: Pesticides. In: Chemicals in the Human Food Chain: Sources, Options and Public Policy. (Proceedings of the Agricultural Issues Center Symposium, June 2-3, 1988). Carter, H. O. and C. F. Nuckton (Eds.) Davis; University of California Agricultural Issues Center, pp. 37-43.
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What We Suggest
Anon. Tough Questions and Frank Answers. National Agricultural Chemical Association. February 1989.

EPA. Human Exposure to Pesticides. EPA Journal. pp. 15-18. May 1987.

Kendall, Pat. Pesticides in Food: A Look at the Issues. Food and Nutrition Issues. V6:#3, June 1989. Colorado State University.