Pesticides are used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests. Pesticides are also
used as a plant regulator, defoliant or drying agent. Pesticides protect plants
against molds, fungi and insects, decrease crop loss and damage and can improve
food safety. There are many different types of pesticides used. Herbicides
control weeds. Fungicides control mold and fungi. Insecticides control harmful
insects. Disinfectants act against bacteria and other disease carrying
When foods are grown with pesticides, the pesticides can often be found on the
food. Some examples are tomatoes, broccoli, apples and grapes. Any pesticide
residue left on raw foods is usually removed when the food is washed or peeled.
The Food and Drug Administration closely monitors and enforces the amount of
residue that can be left on the food. Pesticides can build up in the
environment, for example in soil. If pesticides build up in the environment,
trace amounts can appear in animal products such as milk, beef and poultry.
Government agencies make sure the pesticides used to grow food will not make
people sick. These agencies are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Safety and Inspection Service of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The EPA looks at data on all
pesticides before the pesticides can be used. If a pesticide is to be used on
food, the EPA decides how much can be used. The EPA levels protect public
health. The FDA makes sure the EPA rules are followed. The USDA enforces EPA
rules for meat and poultry. Growers who misuse pesticides can be charged with
The effect of pesticides on children is often a concern for parents. The FDA
published a report about pesticide exposure in children and infants through
diet. The FDA collected information for 7 years. The report found that
pesticide residues on foods eaten by infants and children are almost always
well below EPA limits.
Nevertheless, pesticide exposure is still a concern. Many people eat
organically grown foods, or foods grown without chemicals, instead of foods
grown with pesticides. Organic foods are now sold in most major supermarkets.
The following can minimize the amount of pesticide residues on food:
Wash fresh produce before eating it. This includes salad greens, fruits,
and sprouts. Vegetables and fruits are rarely washed at the supermarket.
Supermarkets may mist the produce but misting does not remove pesticides.
Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and
cabbage. Most pesticide residues collect on the surface of produce.
Trim fat from meat and remove skin from poultry. Many chemicals used as
pesticides are fat soluble, which means that the chemicals can accumulate in
the fatty tissues of animals. For example, the pesticide DDT was banned many
years ago but residues are still found today in the fatty tissues of
Choose produce carefully. Don't pick any that have insect holes, cuts or
signs of mold and decaying.
For home gardeners, minimize the use of pesticides in the garden.
Low levels of pesticides do not pose a health risk. Levels are set far below
what is considered safe for the most sensitive part of the population.
Pesticides help ensure a safe variety of produce that provide vitamins,
minerals, fiber and other important nutrients. Individuals should weigh the
benefits and risks and choose what is for them.