Need To Enhance FDA's Ability To Protect the Public From Illegal Residues

RCED-87-7: Published: Oct 27, 1986. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) activities to protect the public from exposure to illegal pesticide residues in the domestic food supply under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, specifically its: (1) monitoring of the nation's domestic food supply for illegal residues; and (2) efforts to prevent food containing illegal residues from reaching the market.

GAO noted that, since FDA could not monitor all food that might contain illegal pesticide residues, it designed its monitoring program to selectively spot-check a very small amount of domestically produced food and remove food that it found to contain illegal residues. GAO found that the FDA pesticide monitoring program has two major shortcomings because FDA does not: (1) regularly test food for a large number of pesticides that might be present in food, including a number of pesticides that, according to FDA, require continuous or periodic monitoring because they are known as potential health hazards and are likely to be used; (2) prevent the marketing of most of the food that contains illegal pesticide residues; and (3) penalize growers who market food with illegal pesticide residues when FDA is unable to remove it from the market.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Two bills, (S. 2084 and H.R. 4362 were introduced in the 103rd Congress, but neither were enacted. No legislation that would implement this recommendation has been introduced in the 104th Congress.

    Matter: In view of the difficulties that FDA faces in trying to use existing authorities to prevent the marketing of domestic food containing illegal pesticide residues and the need to provide a strong deterrent against such shipments, Congress may wish to give FDA legislative authority to assess civil penalties against growers of such food when it is not removed from the marketplace.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA stated that it plans to: (1) give more emphasis to headquarters-directed surveys; (2) increase the number of samples; (3) improve planning and evaluation of FDA sample coverage; and (4) expand FDA-state cooperative sampling. Without a complete review, GAO is not in a position to evaluate whether FDA has taken action that fully complies with the recommendation; GAO started a review of this area in late 1993 but it was terminated by the requesting committee with jurisdiction over the area.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner, FDA, to establish specific criteria for the level of testing that is required for continuous and periodic monitoring and require FDA laboratories to test in accordance with such criteria.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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