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FDA to begin testing for glyphosate residue

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

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.

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