Confused About Chlorpyrifos? We Have Some Answers.

News stories and day-to-day conversations about the use of pesticides to protect our food supply can easily get misconstrued and leave us feeling confused about the safety of the foods we eat. We’ve even discussed the use of pesticides in both organic and conventional farming, detailing how both methods produce foods that are safe for consumption.  But recent coverage of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision not to ban the use of a pesticide called chlorpyrifos may have left you scratching your head all over again. Let’s do a little review on chlorpyrifos to shine some light on this “old, but new” pesticide.

What is Chlorpyrifos?

Chlorpyrifos is a conventional pesticide that has been used since 1965. It is one of the most widely applied (almost 100 countries worldwide). It is utilized for protecting a number of different crops around the country including peanuts, peaches, apples, corn, oranges, sugar beets, sunflowers, cotton and alfalfa. Basically, we can thank chlorpyrifos for helping to protect many of our favorite fruits and my favorite flower!

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of pesticides called organophosphates, which are able to control insects such as multiple types of aphids, weevils, ants, and rootworms are among them) that might harm crops.

Setting Standards for Using Chlorpyrifos

As part of chlorpyrifos’ registration eligibility (ability to be used as a crop protection chemical), the EPA sets strict standards. For pesticides to be approved by the EPA and others, vigorous research must be performed to establish the safety guidelines for use.

Extensive research is utilized to mitigate and monitor potential human exposure. Chlorpyrifos can be used to safely protect our food supply, but proper measures need to be employed as farmers apply this pesticide to their crops.  A large group of toxicological studies (laboratory animal testing and other scientific assessments) on chlorpyrifos exposure to humans and health impacts has been largely focused on occupational exposure, where levels of exposure can be high. These studies are important for ensuring the safety of workers who use it.

In addition, studies have been done to ensure that exposure to the average individual remains at a minimum. Exposure to chlorpyrifos from produce consumption is kept at a minimum level via the EPA’s tolerance establishments for pesticide residues in food. These low levels of residue exposure are established by extensive risk assessment research. Once the tolerance is set by EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforce tolerances to ensure that the nation's food supply is maintained safely.

What Does this Mean for the Foods I Eat?

The EPA, FDA, and USDA do not recommend any change in your diet or children's based on possible chlorpyrifos exposure. Further, EPA states, “….just because a pesticide residue is detected on a fruit or vegetable, that does not mean it is unsafe.” Just like all other pesticides, used in both conventional and organic farming, the exposure to residues is monitored in our food supply. 

This has also been supported by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s publication of the 2015 Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Annual Summary. For more than 25 years, the PDP has tested a variety of foods including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry, grains, fish, rice, specialty products, and water for the presence of pesticide residues. The most recent report notes that our food remains “safe and wholesome.”