According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — the agency responsible for evaluating the safety of all new and existing pesticides — the fruits, vegetables and soy foods we eat today are safer than they’ve ever been. This is all thanks to a strict pesticide evaluation process that puts food safety and the environment first.
Here are five ways the EPA works to ensure the food on your plate is safe to enjoy:
1. Extensive review
Registering a new pesticide can take nearly 10 years from start to finish. The manufacturer must first present evidence that its product is safe and effective according to strict EPA standards. It then faces multiple risk assessments and public comment periods. Finally, every pesticide goes through a team of expert scientists for review.
“The EPA works to make sure that registered pesticides pose no unreasonable risks to people or the environment,” said Bill Chism, a senior biologist who has been with the EPA for nearly two decades. “I believe that American families have very safe food and that farmers have a wide range of pesticides available to them so that they can choose a product with the least impact on the environment.”
2. People First
In 1996, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act to improve food safety standards and place special emphasis on protecting children from pesticide exposure. Since then, the EPA has cancelled or restricted the use of almost 300 pesticides. It has also lowered the rates of pesticide residue allowed on foods popular with children such as apples, grapes and potatoes. The result has been an overall decrease in the amount of pesticide residues on food and use of safer crop protection products over time.
3. Farmer Safety
Safer pesticides don’t just protect the foods we eat, they also benefit the farmers who grow them. The EPA makes sure label instructions are clear and easy to use, and that the pesticide does not place workers at risk.
Chism, who grew up on a vegetable farm in the Salinas Valley of California, meets with farmers and crop consultants several times a year. They talk about how farmers use pesticides and ways to improve the safety of crop protection. Farmers are also required to attend local certification meetings to ensure they have the latest tools and information to safely protect themselves and their crops during pesticide application.
4. Environmental impact
All pesticides approved for use must demonstrate that they pose no undue risk to humans, wildlife, fish, waterways or plants, including non-target insects and endangered species. The EPA also establishes measures for effective use that help protect the environment. One example is creating “no-spray” buffer zones around communities and waterways. This helps provide a sustainable future for our food system.
5. Continued evaluation
The EPA re-evaluates product safety every 15 years. This includes reviewing new science or data that’s emerged. During this time, the EPA welcomes public comment to make the process transparent to consumers.
With pesticide residues being a concern for many families, it’s helpful to know there’s a rigorous approval process and continued testing to keep all of us safe. For more answers to your pesticide questions, check out this blog with weed scientist Dr. David Shaw or leave your questions in the comments below.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.