International Food Safety:

Comparison of U.S. and Codex Pesticide Standards

PEMD-91-22: Published: Aug 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 3, 1991.


Kwai-Cheung Chan
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO compared current U.S. and Codex Alimentarius Commission pesticide standards to determine the potential implications of such differences for U.S. trade and food safety.

GAO found that: (1) key areas where differences existed between the Codex and U.S. processes for establishing pesticide standards include the mix of pesticides included in each system, the use of good agricultural practices, pesticide and commodity definitions, data availability and interpretation, treatment of carcinogenic pesticides, and the use of dietary risk exposure assessments; (2) the Codex system includes about 170 pesticides and, when commodity groupings are converted to individual commodities, over 3,300 pesticide-by-commodity maximum residue limits (MRL), compared to over 400 pesticides and 8,500 pesticide-by-commodity MRL in the U.S. system; (3) MRL cannot be directly compared in about two-thirds of the Codex cases because the United States either has no standard or standards are defined differently; (4) less than half of the one-third of the pesticide-by-commodity combinations that can be compared are numerically the same; (5) among pesticides that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rated as possible carcinogens, the U.S. had lower MRL in 55 percent of the cases; (6) differences between U.S. and Codex MRL for major U.S. agricultural exports and imports showed that the United States had lower MRL for about 20 percent and Codex for 37 percent of the pesticide-by-commodity combinations; (7) the potential for restrictions on exports and imports and greater consumer exposure to pesticide residues will remain as long as differences in pesticide standards exist; and (8) the United States needs to systematically review and assess existing pesticide-by-commodity standards to determine if harmonization improvements can occur.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, in cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture, should conduct further analyses to: (1) determine the likely effects that differences in standards would have on health and trade interests of the United States; and (2) set priorities for determining the extent of the scientific basis for differences in pesticide standards.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA, in setting U.S. pesticide standards, takes into consideration Codex standards and examines whether any existing differences could have effects on U.S. health or trade interests. In addition, EPA is involved in several international efforts to resolve scientific differences in pesticide standards setting among nations.

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