Pesticides:

Better Sampling and Enforcement Needed on Imported Food

RCED-86-219: Published: Sep 26, 1986. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) efforts to protect the public from exposure to illegal pesticide residues in imported food.

GAO found that: (1) the FDA pesticide monitoring program provides limited protection against public exposure to illegal residues in food; (2) FDA samples less than 1 percent of 1 million imported food shipments annually; (3) FDA inspectors at various ports of entry decide the extent to which they apply sample criteria; and (4) FDA uses five multi-residue tests that individually detect many pesticides on a single sample; however, FDA laboratories normally use only one method for each sample. GAO also found that: (1) although FDA policy requires importers to maintain all sampled shipments intact until FDA determines that the product is residue-free, FDA permits importers to release the majority of sampled shipments to U.S. markets before they spoil; (2) of 164 adulterated samples, 73 were not recovered before public consumption; and (3) there were only eight documented cases where FDA assessed importers damages when adulterated food reached the marketplace.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA plans to re-examine its current policy concerning the assessment of damages in connection with the import of perishable foods that FDA samples on a surveillance basis (sampled without suspicion of violation). FDA also plans to automate its tracking system of violative products. GAO is currently reviewing the disposition of adulterated food which will also include an assessment of penalties.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to recommend to Customs that liquidated damages be assessed for all shipments found to contain illegal pesticide residues if the shipment is not recovered. This assessment should apply whether the shipment was sampled under surveillance or compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA claims it is using this data but until GAO conducts a review, which is scheduled to begin in spring 1992, the agency will not be in a position to state whether it is in fact implementing the recommendation.

    Recommendation: As better information becomes available on foreign pesticide uses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to test imported food for the pesticides used or suspected of being used on imported foods.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA chose to dismiss the three options GAO identified in favor of buying pesticide use data from an unproven commercial database. This data bank was judged by FDA to be the most useful and comprehensive source of foreign pesticide use information. The Pesticide Monitoring Improvements Act of 1988, however, requires FDA to enter into cooperative agreements with foreign countries.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to assess the relative merits of the alternative means to obtain information on actual foreign pesticide use, including current legislative and regulatory authority, and: (1) require U.S. pesticide manufacturers who export pesticide chemicals to foreign countries to report the pesticides and quantities sold overseas; (2) require importers of food to certify which pesticides were used during production; and (3) develop cooperative agreements with foreign countries for the exchange of information on pesticide usage in food production.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA District Offices are now required to prepare annual import sampling plans. FDA has developed automated data on what is being imported into the United States, which will serve as the basis for measuring sampling coverage and identifying gaps. The Pesticide Monitoring Improvements Act of 1988 requires FDA to establish computerized data management systems to track the results of its program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to: (1) redirect resources away from highly sampled commodities with low violation rates to provide coverage of a wide range of imported commodities and importing countries, using a comprehensive monitoring summary to assist in the analysis; and (2) improve monitoring of importers and commodities with histories of pesticide violations by continuing follow-up sampling and certification requirements through successive growing seasons.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs is automating its fines, penalties, and forfeiture activities to ensure that, when directed by FDA, damages will be assessed and collected. Customs is in the process of following up on uncollected damages, but GAO has not been able to ascertain the results. GAO is currently reviewing the disposition of adulterated food which will also include assessing and collecting liquidated damages.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to assess and collect liquidated damages from importers in all cases when FDA determines that imported food has been adulterated with illegal pesticide residues and the food is not recovered.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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