Pesticide Regulation Overview

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Pesticide residues found on domestic and imported produce pose little, if any, risk to public health, particularly compared with the enormous public health benefits of pesticide use. However, for more than a decade, federal pesticide policies have placed in jeopardy the ability to address the greater risks associated with insects and other pests. Applying federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned numerous pesticides that are both safe and useful for farming, home pest control, and other public health purposes. 

The EPA regulates pesticides under three laws: 

• Federal Food Drugs and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA). The FFDCA is the law under which the EPA sets tolerances for pesticides. The EPA can essentially ban a pesticide by not setting a tolerance—the amount of pesticide residue that is allowed to legally remain on food. The Agricultural Marketing Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is responsible for monitoring residue levels in or on food. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Food and Drug Administration uses this information to enforce tolerances on imported and domestically produced food in interstate commerce. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service enforces tolerances for meat, poultry, and some egg products. 

• Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). To sell a pesticide, a company must also register it with the EPA under FIFRA. For pesticides used on food, the EPA can register uses only for pesticides that have a tolerance. Pesticide registrants must register and gain EPA approval of their products as well as for each specific use (i.e., use indoors as a bug spray requires one registration and use outdoors for a specific crop requires another). The EPA must review registered pesticides on a 15-year cycle. To gain registration, applicants must submit scientific data and research demonstrating that the products pose minimal risk. The EPA can limit uses by denying registration for such uses. 

• Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The FQPA amended the first two laws. Details on these changes follow.