Once again, the “Dirty Dozen,” the Environmental Working Group’s list of the types of produce with the highest loads of pesticide residues, has been released, and once again, it’s under attack by a produce industry group.
The 2017 Dirty Dozen list, released last week, includes in order: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.
Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. Pears and potatoes were new additions to the Dirty Dozen, displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year’s list.
The Alliance for Food and Farming, a nonprofit organization formed in 1989 which represents organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables and farms of all sizes, has repeatedly called for EWG to stop publishing the list. The group asserts that the information is negative and misleading and might be scaring people away from consuming a healthful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
The list is based on EWG’s analysis of tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues.
To read the USDA’s most recent Pesticide Data Program report, click here. The USDA report states that when pesticide residues are found on foods, they are nearly always at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Over 99 percent of the products sampled through PDP had residues below the EPA tolerances. Ultimately, if EPA determines a pesticide is not safe for human consumption, it is removed from the market,” the USDA report states.
The Alliance for Food and Farming’s executive director Teresa Thorne had this to say:
“In light of new science and information about how safety fears are impacting low income consumers, it is concerning that EWG still releases a 'dirty dozen' list in 2017. EWG’s list has been discredited by scientists, it is not based upon risk and has now been shown to potentially discourage consumption of healthy and safe organic and conventional fruits and vegetables. If EWG truly cares about public health, it will stop referring to popular produce items that kids love as 'dirty' and move toward positive, science-based information that reassures consumers and promotes consumption.”
Recent peer-reviewed research by the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Center for Nutrition Research and published in Nutrition Today found that EWG’s messaging, which inaccurately describes certain fruits and vegetables as having “higher” pesticide residues, results in low-income shoppers reporting that they would be less likely to purchase any fruits and vegetables – organic or non-organic. The IIT scientists surveyed 510 low-income consumers in the Chicago area to learn more about what terms and information about fruits and vegetables may influence their shopping intentions, Thorne said.
“We were surprised to see how informational content that named specific fruits and vegetables as having the highest pesticide residues increased the percentage of shoppers who said they would be unlikely to purchase any type of fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, associate professor of food science and nutrition at IIT’s Center for Nutrition Research. “The concern is that depending on the structure of the communication about pesticides and fruits and vegetables, this could turn people away from wanting to purchase any fresh produce.
“In addition to this recent research, the other important reason that we remain frustrated that EWG continues to use this decades-old tactic is that the Centers for Disease Control reports that only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and veggies each day,” Thorne added. “This CDC statistic is especially concerning since decades of nutritional research shows that increasing consumption of conventional and organic produce can improve health and prevent diseases, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”
One example of that type of nutrition research comes from a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, which found that if half of Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and veggie by a single serving per day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually.