Open Access Open Badges Research

A comparative study of allowable pesticide residue levels on produce in the United States

Roni A Neff12*, Jennifer C Hartle12, Linnea I Laestadius13, Kathleen Dolan14, Anne C Rosenthal15 and Keeve E Nachman12

Author Affiliations

1 Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St. Suite W7010, Baltimore, MD 21205-2179, USA

2 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 N. Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205-2179, USA

3 Department of Health Policy & Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21205-2179, USA

4 Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, 2231 Crystal Drive, Suite 450, Arlington, Virginia 22202, USA

5 Fulbright Scholar, Center for Studies on Sustainable Development, CP 130/02, 50 av. F. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

For all author emails, please log on.

Globalization and Health 2012, 8:2  doi:10.1186/1744-8603-8-2

Published: 31 January 2012



The U.S. imports a substantial and increasing portion of its fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently inspects less than one percent of import shipments. While countries exporting to the U.S. are expected to comply with U.S. tolerances, including allowable pesticide residue levels, there is a low rate of import inspections and few other incentives for compliance.


This analysis estimates the quantity of excess pesticide residue that could enter the U.S. if exporters followed originating country requirements but not U.S. pesticide tolerances, for the top 20 imported produce items based on quantities imported and U.S. consumption levels. Pesticide health effects data are also shown.


The model estimates that for the identified items, 120 439 kg of pesticides in excess of U.S. tolerances could potentially be imported to the U.S., in cases where U.S. regulations are more protective than those of originating countries. This figure is in addition to residues allowed on domestic produce. In the modeling, the top produce item, market, and pesticide of concern were oranges, Chile, and Zeta-Cypermethrin. Pesticides in this review are associated with health effects on 13 body systems, and some are associated with carcinogenic effects.


There is a critical information gap regarding pesticide residues on produce imported to the U.S. Without a more thorough sampling program, it is not possible accurately to characterize risks introduced by produce importation. The scenario presented herein relies on assumptions, and should be considered illustrative. The analysis highlights the need for additional investigation and resources for monitoring, enforcement, and other interventions, to improve import food safety and reduce pesticide exposures in originating countries.

Pesticides; Agriculture; International Trade; Policy; Food Safety