Citing cost, USDA halts pesticide monitoring

The Bush administration has halted a government program that tests pesticide levels in fruits, vegetables and field crops, arguing the $8 million-a-year program is too expensive – a decision critics say could make it harder to protect consumers from chemicals in food.

Data from the 18-year-old Agricultural Chemical Usage Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were collected until this year, and the Environmental Protection Agency used the data to set safe levels of pesticides in food.

The information was also widely used by university and food industry researchers, including a University of Illinois program to help farmers reduce their use of pesticides.

The program was launched in 1990 to answer congressional concerns over the use of the chemical daminozide, or Alar, on apples.

“We looked at the budget and said, ‘We can't do everything we have been doing, and what are we going to get rid of?'” said Mark Miller of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, which administered the program.

The decision shocked researchers at the EPA and elsewhere who have come to rely on the data.

“Elimination of this program will severely hamper the efforts of the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), land grant scientists, and state officials to perform pesticide risk assessments and make informed policy decisions on pesticide use,” the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.