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By law, EPA is responsible for regulating the pesticides that are used by growers to protect crops and for setting limits on the amount of pesticides that may remain in or on foods marketed in the USA. These limits on pesticides left on foods are called "tolerances" in the U.S. (they are referred to as maximum residue limits, or MRLs, in many other countries).
EPA establishes tolerances for each pesticide based on the potential risks to human health posed by that pesticide. Some risk assessments are based on the assumption that residues will always be present in food at the maximum level permitted by the tolerance. Other risk assessments use actual or anticipated residue data, to reflect real-world consumer exposure as closely as possible.
In 2005, Health Canada?s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and EPA?s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) jointly released a spreadsheet to calculate statistically-based legal limits for pesticide residues, referred to as maximum residue levels (MRLs)1 or tolerances2. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) MRL Harmonization Working Group developed this spreadsheet to better coordinate the pesticide regulatory framework among NAFTA partners with the goal of minimizing trade barriers of pesticide-treated commodities between the United States and Canada.
As stated above, EPA sets the tolerance limits for each pesticide that may be found on foods. But the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforces tolerances established for meat, poultry and some egg products, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces tolerances established for other foods. In this way, these federal agencies ensure that the nation's food supply is maintained safely at all times.
In August 1996, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was amended to include the Food Quality Protection Act or FQPA. This Act required EPA to reassess by August 2006 all of the pesticide tolerances that were in place in early August 1996 to ensure that they met current safety standards and were supported by up-to-date scientific data. Read more about tolerance reassessment status and FQPA accomplishments.
In addition, EPA is reviewing tolerance tolerance decisions that were based on:
- the anticipated residue levels of the pesticide in or on food, as reflected in crop field trial or food processing studies, or
- the actual levels of the pesticide that have been measured through food monitoring studies.
Periodically, and depending on the specific pesticide tolerance in question, EPA will re-check the risk assessments used to set tolerances, to ensure that tolerances remain safe over time and accurately reflect actual or anticipated residue levels in foods. Read more about Process for Reviewing Tolerance Decisions Based on Anticipated or Actual Residue Data and also Status of Anticipated/Actual Tolerance Review Process.
Actions on pesticide tolerances
EPA publishes a notice in the Federal Register for several tolerance-related actions:
- Notice of filing of a petition to establish a tolerance
- Establishment of a tolerance
- FIFRA Section 18
- Revoking a tolerance
In addition, if an objection to a tolerance is filed, EPA will make this information available.
Sources of information on tolerances or maximum residue limits (MRL) on food
Tolerances are published in the :
- Federal Register - publishes new tolerances and changes to tolerances
- Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
- To search for tolerances, see Indexes to Part 180 Tolerance Information for Pesticide Chemicals in Food and Feed Commodities.
To search for tolerances or maximum residue limits (MRL) on food, see Pesticides and Food: What the Pesticide Residue Limits are on Food.
The names of agricultural food and feed products, or commodities, are being standardized. The tolerance information provided in the CFR and Federal Register is using these standardized commodity names. Standardized commodity names are found in the Food and Feed Commodity Vocabulary. These commodity terms are the only terms accepted in establishing pesticide tolerances.