Each year, the Environmental Working Group releases guides to help shoppers pick fruits and vegetables with the fewest pesticide residues. Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center has now released similar guidelines.
According to the organization’s survey conducted in November 2014, pesticide exposure in food is a concern for 85 percent of Americans.
For its report released Thursday, Consumer Reports analyzed 12 years of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) to determine the number of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables, the frequency with which they were found, and the toxicity of the pesticides. They then placed each of the 48 foods into one of five risk categories ranging from very low to very high, based on the risk to a 3-year-old.
The organization found that organic produce falls into the low- or very low-risk categories, so it advises consumers to choose organic fruits and vegetables when possible. In particular, Consumer Reports said that shoppers should always choose organic options for peaches, tangerines, nectarines, strawberries, cranberries, green beans, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, sweet potatoes and carrots.
“If organic produce is too pricey or not available, our analysis shows that you often have a low-risk conventional option” based on the country where it was grown, the guide stated.
Bananas, cherries, oranges, broccoli, lettuce and onions were included among the very low- and low-risk conventionally grown produce Consumer Reports identified.
PDP has consistently found that, “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues” because nearly all residues identified are below the tolerance levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
But Consumer Reports pointed out that multiple pesticides are often found on samples. The tolerance levels are set for individual pesticides, but the effects of these pesticide combinations are untested and unknown, the organization said.
And a report released by the Government Accountability Office last November identified issues with residue testing conducted by USDA, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration.
Some pesticides, including organophosphates, have been shown to be toxic at high levels, but GAO said that it’s difficult to associate the amount of pesticides used in farming with the risk to human health.
“The overall use of pesticides in agricultural settings is not necessarily indicative of the risk associated with those pesticides,” the authors wrote. “We were unable to find publicly available estimates of the overall toxicity or risk associated with the use of agricultural pesticides in the United States.”
Those concerned about pesticide residues on food frequently cite studies suggesting that the chemicals can negatively impact neurodevelopment and behavior in children.
Ultimately, Consumer Reports warned that despite the risks posed by pesticide residues, eating fruits and vegetables is extremely important for your health.
“Your primary goal is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables — ideally five or more servings a day — even if it’s a type that falls into our very high-risk category,” their guide read.
Or, as Environmental Working Group has stated along with its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists, “eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables.”
The new Consumer Reports guide also included a number of policy recommendations for the federal government.
They called for EPA to ban or take immediate action on acephate, iprodione, fludioxonil, imazalil, oxamyl, methyl bromide, chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates.
And EPA should also take immediate action on neonicotinoids because of their contribution to the decline of pollinators, complete the delisting of arsenical pesticides, improve the science behind tolerance limits, rein in emergency exemptions and conditional registrations, and require public access to all ingredients in pesticides, the organization said.
In addition, Consumer Reports recommended that USDA expand pesticide residue testing in PDP and protect and promote organic standards, and that FDA should expand and improve its pesticide residue testing and enforcement.© Food Safety News