About the FQPA
After over 15 years of debate dating back to 1980, the U.S. Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) in August 1996. This historic legislation changed the basic standard governing allowable levels of pesticides in food. It replaced the existing "risk-benefit" balancing standard in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) with a health-driven, "reasonable certainty of no harm" standard.
The FQPA led to major changes in how EPA conducts pesticide dietary risk assessments and then uses the results of risk assessments to set acceptable pesticide tolerance levels. Access details on the provisions of the FQPA and EPA's implementation of the statute on the EPA website.
The Measure 2 Manage project has developed several tools to provide access to data on dietary risks associated with pesticides found in a wide variety of crops over a number of years:
The new safety standard in the FQPA has now been fully implemented. The tables below quantify the degree of aggregate FS-DRI dietary risk reduction achieved by Food Group in domestically grown (Table 1a) and imported foods (Table 1b) since the pre-FQPA baseline circa 1996. The tables below report changes from the 1996 baseline in 2000, 2004, and 2011.
Since the PDP tests different numbers of fruits, vegetables, grains, and other foods each year, the selection of which foods, and how many foods, in each Food Group leads to differences in aggregate FS-DRI values. For this reason, the most reliable metric to quanitfy changes in average FS-DRI risk levels over time by Food Group is "average per food tested" as shown in Tables 1a, 1b, 3a, and 3b. For example, 20 fresh fruits were tested at the pre-FQPA baseline (an average of values from 1994 to 1996), and the total aggregate FS-DRI is 21.268, yielding an average aggregate FS-DRI of 1.277. For one food -- peaches -- accounted for 54.7% of total "Fresh Fruit" Food Group pre-FQPA baseline aggregate FS-DRI, as shown in Table 2a when you select the "Fresh Fruit" Food Group in the "Select Data Parameters" box. Important findings in Table 1a include:
Other findings are highlighted in the "Key Findings" box below Table 1a. Click on the "Show Figures" icon for graphics covering selected findings.
Trends in Risks in Imports Versus Domestically Grown Food
One striking feature of the implementation of the FQPA is its differential impact on pesticide dietary risks in many imported versus domestically grown foods. Compare the results in Table 1b to those in Table 1a for an overview by Food Group. Comparable comparisons can be made using Tables 2b and 2a, and Tables 3b and 3a.
Domestic peach growers reduced FS-DRI risk by 94.9% from 1996 through 2011, while farmers exporting peaches to the U.S. were able to reduce FS-DRI levels by only 16.9%. For some other major crops, growers abroad have matched, or exceeded, FS-DRI reductions achieved by U.S. farmers. Carrots stand out as an example, given that while FS-DRI levels in domestically grown fresh sweet bell peppers actually rose 151% from pre-FQPA baseline to 2011, the FS-DRI in imported carrots fell by 30.9%.
Not all foods have seen a drop in FS-DRI values. For example, the FS-DRI in domestically grown green beans rose 19.6% from pre-FQPA baseline to 2011, and the FS-DRI in imported green beans rose 93.7%. Fortunately methamidiphos, an OP insecticide accounting for 77.3% of the aggregate FS-DRI value in domestically grown green beans in 2011 is subject to phase out, so the frequency and average levels of residues should be much lower today than reported in the most recent PDP testing.
Impacts of Ongoing Phase-Outs and Recent Label Changes
The tables below highlight the impact of the FQPA on residues and risk levels through 2011 testing by the PDP. A significant portion of the samples tested by PDP in 2011 were grown and harvested in 2010, or even 2009. Since 2009, the U.S. EPA has imposed a number of regulatory changes altering how certain pesticides can be used, or phasing out certain uses. In most cases, restrictions imposed via label changes apply only to the use of a particular pesticide in the U.S. Substantial additional reductions in risk have been brought about since 2011 in U.S. grown food by such EPA actions, although the impact on imported foods is harder to predict and is likely substantially less than the impact on domestic production.
Key Role of Actions Targeting Organophosphate (OP) Insecticides
At the time of passage of the FQPA, recent science had heightened concern over the neuro-developmental impacts of pre-natal and early life exposures to the organophosphate (OP) and carbamate insecticides. As a result, Congress directed the EPA to focus early FQPA implementation efforts on these and other possibly high-risk pesticides.
The OPs were the primary focus of EPA implementation efforts through 2000, the year a number of major actions were taken by EPA and industry to eliminate or reduce relatively high-risk uses of OP insecticides in several major children's foods. The achievements by the EPA, the pesticide industry, and farmers in reducing OP dietary risks are evident in Table 3a. Across all major foods tested five or more times between 1996 and 2011, there has been a 50.1% decline in aggregate FS-DRI risk. The risk level has declined 75.3% in the "Fresh Fruits" Food Group, and 30.5% in the "Fresh Vegetables" Food Group.
Again, it is clear that most of this OP-driven risk reduction was achieved by 2004.
OP-driven risks have also fallen in imported foods, by 16.9% across all major foods -- far less than the 50.1% reduction in domestically grown crops.
Limits and Caveats
1. The PDP does not test every food each year. Values for a given food are extrapolated unchanged from the "Most Recent Year" tested through 2011, and interpolated between years when a food was tested and not tested, assuming equal annual average changes in FS-DRI values. Some foods have been tested five or more times since passage of the FQPA, others only a few times. The selection of foods tested each year influences the sum of FS-DRI across all foods, or groups of food. To gauge the impact of the FQPA over time most accurately, focus on the trend in aggregate FS-DRI values for individual foods that have been tested at least five times since 1996 (see foods in Tables 2a and 2b). The most reliable indicator of overall impacts is the average FS-DRI value per food tested in a given year.
2. While the FQPA clearly drove most changes in organophostae (OP) insecticide use, and hence reductions in FS-DRI values linked to residues of OPs in food, other factors in the 1996-2011 period contributed to changes in FS-DRI values. In particular, changes in reliance on OPs were driven by the loss of efficacy as a result of resistance and the registration of important, new insecticides that helped farmers transition away from the OPs. OP alternatives include the neonicotinoids, spinosad, and a variety of insect growth regulators.
3. The limited number of samples taken of many imported food items reduces the statistical reliability of imported food FS-DRI values. In recent years, there have also been substantial changes in grower practices in countries shipping produce to the U.S., and many new supply-chain relationships have been established that have, and will continue to trigger changes in pest management systems abroad, often leading to reductions in residue levels and frequency.
4. The "Major Foods Tested Five or More Times" data for a given year in a table covering domestically grown food will, in most cases, reflect residues in a different set of imported foods that meet the "Major Foods Tested Five or More Times" criterion.