The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 established national standards for the production and handling of organic agricultural products. The Act authorized the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create the National Organic Program. This program is responsible for developing the USDA organic regulations and ensuring that organic farms and business comply with them. USDA accredits third-party certifying agents to certify organic farms and processing facilities, allowing them to sell, label, and represent their products as organic.
In 2010, the National Organic Program worked with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Science and Technology Program to evaluate pesticide residues on USDA organic produce. The study involved 571 domestic and foreign fruit and vegetable samples bearing the USDA organic seal, which were obtained from retail establishments across the United States. Using sensitive equipment, an accredited Government laboratory tested each sample for approximately 200 pesticides typically used in conventional crop production.
Overall, the pilot study demonstrated that it can serve as a model for future pesticide residue testing projects of organic produce. It should be noted that the pilot study did not measure pesticide levels in all types of USDA organic products; it only analyzed 571 samples across 6 select commodities. Organic certifying agents are encouraged to use the methods described in this report when conducting required periodic residue testing of organic products. Since certifying agents will be testing samples most likely to contain prohibited substances (and not selecting products at random), it will not be possible to draw overall conclusions from these results.