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Highlights

Pesticides play a significant role in increasing production of tobacco, food, and other crops by reducing the number of crop-destroying pests. However, if used improperly, pesticides can have significant adverse health effects. GAO was asked to (1) identify the pesticides commonly used on tobacco crops and the potential health risks associated with them, (2) determine how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses and mitigates health risks associated with pesticides used on tobacco, and (3) assess the extent to which federal agencies regulate and test for pesticide residues on tobacco.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. To better protect the public from exposures to residues of pesticides not approved for use on tobacco in the United States and ensure that domestic tobacco producers are not placed at an unfair disadvantage relative to producers in other countries, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture should direct the Administrators of the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Farm Service Agency to periodically review and update the pesticides for which they set residue limits and test imported and domestic tobacco.
Closed - Implemented
USDA has implemented GAO's recommendation to periodically review and update the pesticides for which the department sets residue limits and tests tobacco, thereby better protecting the public from exposures to residues of pesticides not approved for use on tobacco in the United States and ensuring that domestic tobacco producers are not placed at an unfair disadvantage relative to producers in other countries. Specifically, at the time of GAO's review in 2003, USDA tested tobacco for 20 pesticides using 15 residue limits (some including multiple pesticides). In response to GAO's recommendation, in 2004, USDA identified 16 other pesticides to test for. Under a voluntary program with the tobacco industry initiated in 2005, USDA currently tests imported and domestic tobacco for 36 pesticides using 44 residue limits (including metabolites, isomers, and degradatees) according to the Deputy Administrator, Science and Technology Programs, AMS/USDA. Further, USDA tests domestic tobacco for some additional pesticides at the request of tobacco manufacturers. The new residue limits cover three pesticides GAO identified as potential candidates for testing: lindane, trichlorfon, and diazinon. USDA and the tobacco industry will periodically review and update the pesticides for which USDA will establish residue limits and test tobacco.

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