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FDA to begin testing for glyphosate residue

Streamlined methods lead FDA to measure glyphosate in soybeans, corn, milk and eggs.

Jacqui Fatka

February 18, 2016

2 Min Read
FDA to begin testing for glyphosate residue

Recently, the Food & Drug Administration developed streamlined methods to test for glyphosate. The agency is now preparing plans for fiscal 2016 to measure glyphosate in soybeans, corn, milk and eggs, among other potential foods, according to FDA spokesperson Jason Strachman Miller.

“The FDA has not routinely looked for glyphosate in its pesticide chemical residue monitoring regulatory program in the past for several reasons, including that available methods for detecting glyphosate were selective residue methods that would have been very cost and labor intensive to implement in FDA field labs,” Strachman Miller said.

Also, glyphosate levels, if present in genetically engineered corn and soybeans, are likely to be reduced by the processing done to those foods, he added.

The action follows an October 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that said FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should strengthen pesticide residue monitoring programs and further disclose monitoring limitations.

The report points out that although FDA is not required by law to select particular commodities for sampling or test for specific pesticides, disclosing this limitation would help meet Office of Management & Budget best practices for conducting and reporting data collection and help users of the reports interpret the data.

The start-up costs to implement selective residue methods for glyphosate at six FDA testing laboratories is pegged at about $5 million, according to a statement FDA gave GAO after GAO criticized FDA for not testing for glyphosate in the 2014 audit.

Under the existing regulatory framework, the Environmental Protection Agency sets standards — or tolerances — for pesticide residues on foods. An arm of USDA monitors meat, poultry and processed egg products to ensure that they do not violate EPA's tolerances, while FDA monitors other foods, including fruits and vegetables. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service gathers annual residue data for highly consumed foods.

Consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know applauded FDA for examining residues in soybeans, corn, milk and eggs. Although FDA has responsibility for food safety and routinely measuring for pesticide residues on certain foods, the agency has not routinely looked for glyphosate in its pesticide chemical residue monitoring regulatory program in the past.

“The FDA move is a good first step, but the testing must be thorough and widespread,” said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “USDA also should get on board.”

USDA conducts its own annual testing of foods for pesticide residues through a “pesticide data program” that typically tests for several-hundred different pesticides each year.

Still, only once in the history of the 24-year program has the agency conducted tests for glyphosate residues. Those tests, conducted in 2011, were limited to 300 soybean samples and found that 271 of the samples had glyphosate residues.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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