Crop & Pest Report


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Unwanted Pesticide Residues in Food (08/15/19)

Pesticide residues are found in most of the food that we purchase from the grocery store.

Pesticide residues are found in most of the food that we purchase from the grocery store.

However, only rarely are they found in enough quantity to pose a significant risk to consumers. That is because a pesticide use cannot be approved until it has been demonstrated to not exceed a maximum residue limit. The best way to avoid crossing over the limit is to follow the directions for use statements regarding application rate and the Pre-Harvest Interval (PHI) on the label.

This year, all pesticide users are experiencing unprecedented scrutiny by consumers. Especially regarding food that contains glyphosate herbicide. This is because, over the past couple of years, people have heard through the popular press, trial lawyer advertisements, and social media, that glyphosate causes cancer. This has led to multi-million dollar lawsuits against the developer of glyphosate, Bayer (formerly Monsanto). Unfortunately, that means the mere presence of glyphosate residue in food has a chilling effect on consumers. Therefore:

a)       Applicators need to be very mindful and scrupulous in following label restrictions.

b)      If a pesticide is applied by a custom applicator, it is essential that the PHI of all pesticides, not just glyphosate, be communicated to the farmer.

c)       Farmers should consult with the buyer(s) of the crop to make sure the pesticide residues, if any, do not exceed levels that would endanger the marketability of the crop. This is not a pesticide regulation issue or a food safety issue, but rather, a market decision between the seller and the buyer.

Finally, the 2019 growing season has been unusual in that most of the crops were put in very late, so pesticide applications went on much later than one would normally expect. Moreover, frequent rainfall further delayed applications. That means that complying with the PHI specified on the label may present more of a challenge this year. In sum, adhere to the label instructions and consult with buyer(s) to avoid problems.  


Andrew A. Thostenson

Pesticide Program Specialist

This site is supported in part by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program [grant no. 2017-70006-27144/accession 1013592] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the website author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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