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Detecting Pesticides in Food Requires the Right Lab Equipment

The term farm-to-table whets taste buds and conjures images of fresh, ripe, locally-grown produce suitable for home cooking, restaurants, and takeout. Most of what we consume is derived from grains (wheat, rice, oats, barley, rye, maize), vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans, seeds and nuts, herbs and spices that are produced on farmland. However, few understand the rigorous testing involved with ensuring that farm-grown crops are safe for consumption.

In the U.S., produce is regulated by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Each of these government agencies, as well as others at the state level plays a critical watchdog role to ensure that our food is fit to distribute and safe to eat. In Europe, FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have similar oversight, while in China, farmers and food distributers are subject to oversight by SAMR (State Administration for Market Regulation). Many other countries have their own equivalent government agency that issues guidelines and implements independent testing for acceptable pesticide levels in food.

Agriculture is big business throughout the world and while the crops may vary from one country to the next, insects are everywhere. From aphids to zorapteras, bugs hold the power to single-handedly destroy a crop yield. Whether they’re eating their way through leaves, destroying fruit, dropping eggs and feces, or biting farm hands, they are a constant nuisance.

And insects are far from the only pests challenging farms. Rodents, weeds, bacteria, mold and fungus, all present unique challenges on farmlands around the world. For this reason, pesticides are widely used in food production all over the globe.

The good news is that modern pesticides do a great job of limiting damage from all these pests. The bad news is they leave behind residue that can be extremely harmful to humans when ingested. Chemicals like glyphosate (found in RoundUp), Imazalil, acephate, chlorpyrifos, and DCPA (found in Dacthal) have been classified by the EPA as poisonous. Some of these chemicals have been deemed carcinogenic, while others have been shown to adversely impact fertility and brain development.

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