USDA, USDA, How Many Consumer Protection Programs Have You Killed Today?


Buyer Beware. At the end of September, the USDA quietly halted a program called the Agricultural Chemical Usage Program. The program’s purpose was to measure pesticide use in fruit and vegetable crops. Data from the program was widely used by the EPA to set allowable pesticide levels and also by university researchers and other groups that help farmers minimize the amount of pesticides they apply to their crops.

The reason cited for the move was cost. I don’t know about you, but $8 million a year seems a small price to pay for safer food.

A little background: remember the Alar scare in 1989? Alar was a carcinogenic chemical widely sprayed on apples and when its residue ended up in the apple sauce and apple juices so often eaten by children, a public furor erupted. The flap over Alar resulted in the banning of the chemical, a new slate of food laws, and the enactment of the Agricultural Chemical Usage Program in 1990.

Fast forward: university researchers and EPA policy makers must now purchase the data privately at a cost of $500-$800 a year from a company called Dmrkynetec. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dmrkynetec has a few lobbyists roaming the halls of the USDA. After all, the USDA is the same government agency that was recently ordered by a federal judge to stop buying ads against Proposition 2 in California (a proposition that will ban some of the worst confined feeding practices in industrial meat and egg production). Last time I checked it was illegal for government agencies to try to influence elections.

This development is just another reason to buy your produce from a local, organic farmer you trust. There is a bright side. If word gets out, this will only help the community farmers who are doing it right. So after you hit your local farmers’ market, tell a few friends about what the USDA isn’t doing to ensure safe food supplies.


SFGate: Prop 2 Story
Chicago Times: Pesticide Program
More on the Program

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Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.