They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but the nutritious, fiber-rich fruit has again earned the number one spot in the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen,” a report that lists the fruits and vegetables most often carrying pesticide residues. On the other end of the spectrum, onions have again topped the group’s “Clean 15” report.
Celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries follow in the “Dirty Dozen” report, while sweet corn, pineapples and avocados are the next highest ranked among the “Clean 15.”
Both rankings appear in EWG’s 8th annual “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” released today.
The ranking system is based on the group’s analysis of more than than 60,700 samples taken from 2000 to 2010 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The consumer guide, however, does not include the pesticide contamination levels, nearly all of which were found to be below federal tolerance thresholds.
Most toxicology experts, nutritionists, and federal health officials agree that the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of low level pesticide exposure.
When USDA released the most recent round of its pesticide testing data last month, the Agriculture Marketing Service said the findings confirmed that “food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues.”
“Similar to previous years, the 2010 report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels well below the tolerances set by the [Environmental Protection Agency],” said AMS, in a release. “The report does show that residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.25 percent of the samples tested.”
In its guide, EWG notes that consumers should not shy away from fresh produce. “Eat your fruits and vegetables!” reads the first line of the EWG’s online report, which points out that a diet rich and fruits and vegetables is beneficial.
EWG says their ranking system is to help consumers who would like to reduce their exposure. The group recommends that consumers choose organic when it comes to produce items that land in the top 12.
“The explosive growth in market share for organic produce in recent years testifies to a simple fact that pesticide companies and the farmers who use their products just can’t seem to grasp: people don’t like to eat food contaminated by pesticides,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “Our shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce gives consumers easy, affordable ways to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while avoiding most of the bug killers, fungicides and other chemicals in produce and other foods.”
According to EWG’s analysis, around 98 percent of conventional apples were found to contain detectable levels of pesticides. Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues, every nectarine USDA tested had measurable pesticide residues, and 13 different pesticides were measured on a single sample of both celery and strawberries.
The Alliance for Food and Farming, a group supported by the produce industry, has launched an effort to counter the EWG shopper guide, which is popular with consumers.
“What [the guide] doesn’t do is give you any information as to whether or not those amounts represent a risk,” said Dr. Carl Keen, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California Davis, in a web video for the Alliance. “The average consumer doesn’t think about that. So I have concerns that he or she may shy away from consuming perhaps that apple, that banana, or that pineapple out of a fear that it’s unhealthy.”
“What’s occurring is they’re making this trade off, they’re not consuming it, which is quite bad in terms of their overall health, for a perceived risk that we can probably barely even quantify,” added Keen.
The Alliance is releasing a report today called “Scared Fat,” which outlines concerns some experts have about the negative impact pesticides worries can have on produce consumption — at a time when Americans need to consume more fruits and vegetables.
The group has also launched a pesticide calculator where consumers can plug in produce items and see how many servings they would need to consume to reach the known “No Observed Adverse Affect Level.”© Food Safety News