Apples, celery and strawberries are at the top of the latest “Dirty Dozen” list compiled by the Environmental Working Group, while onions, sweet corn and pineapples are among the “Clean 15” fruits and vegetables the EWG says are least likely to carry pesticide residue.

pesticidespray-iphone.jpgIn releasing the 2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, its seventh edition, the advocacy group emphasized that the health benefits of a diet abundant with fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure.

That observation wasn’t enough to prevent a withering reponse from the United Fresh Produce Association, which detests the regularly released lists. United Fresh blasted EWG for “misleading consumers” with “a sensational publicity stunt disguised as science,” that it claimed “will almost certainly discourage many people from eating the recommended amounts of fresh produce.”

Studies have linked pesticides to nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone system disruption and IQ deficits. But there’s debate and uncertainty about the relative health risks of trace amounts of residue.

The EWG says it uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual reports on pesticides in food, and rates produce based on a composite score, equally weighing six factors that reflect how many pesticides were found in testing each type of produce and at what levels.  

It said “most samples were washed and peeled prior to being tested,” so the rankings reflect the amounts of chemicals that would likely be present on food when is it eaten.

USDA says in its latest report, released last month, that less than one-third of 1 percent of the food samples it tested contained pesticide residues exceeding the safe intake tolerances set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although about three percent of the foods USDA sampled contained pesticides for which the EPA hasn’t set standards, the department’s overall conclusion is that pesticide contamination of food is below the EPA limits.

United Fresh Produce Association president and CEO Tom Stenzel noted, in a prepared statement, that “If anything, the USDA data report, from which the Dirty Dozen is purportedly created, underscores the safety of fruits and vegetables.”

EWG said the latest USDA report showed that 98 percent of apples tested had at least one pesticide residue, which pushed apples up three spots from the last list, bumping celery from the top of the “Dirty Dozen.”  On the other hand, only 0.1 percent of fresh sweet corn had a detectable pesticide.

Cilantro made its debut in the new shopper’s guide. In testing the herb for the first time, USDA found 33 unapproved pesticides on 44 percent of the samples tested. EWG said that is the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded on any guide item since the organization started analyzing the data in 1995.

For those fruits and vegetables listed as most likely to carry pesticide residues, the EWG suggests shoppers buy organically grown varieties.

Here are the EWG’s lists:

Dirty Dozen:  Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grades, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce, kale/collard greens.

Clean 15: Onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, mushrooms.

  • Doc Mudd
  • I realize that pesticides are a concern when choosing fruit; however, there is always the organic option. This doesn’t negate that the levels of pesticides are unsafe in the fruit, but in moderation are they really that bad for you? It would be interesting to find out what is the percentage that is unhealthy in these fruits. And, to find out if the pesticides that have not yet been approved are harmful. Maybe the next step to take is to develop a pesticide that uses natural ingredients that are not harmful to the plants or people.

  • Grant Daniel

    How come organic apples are not on the “clean list”.

  • JustTheFacts

    On the contrary, Alar was and is a dangerous synthetic chemical pesticide. From the Columbia Journalism Review:
    “The so-called Alar scare occurred more than seven years ago, but it is still very much in the news – mainly because food and chemical industry trade groups have made it their rallying cry as they lobby for “agricultural-disparagement” laws meant to blunt criticism of their products. The Alar affair also has become a favorite media symbol for a false alarm. Reporters and pundits repeatedly refer to it as a prime example of Chicken Little environmentalism and government regulation run amok.
    And they are wrong.
    As conventional wisdom has it, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, manipulated CBS’s 60 Minutes into hyping a story on the dangers of Alar, a chemical sprayed on apples to regulate their growth and enhance their color. The February 1989 broadcast, largely based on the NRDC report “Intolerable Risk: Pesticides in Our Children’s Food,” told an audience of some 40 million that Alar was a dangerous carcinogen.
    Then, the tale continues, NRDC’s public relations firm, Fenton Communications, convinced other major news organizations to feature the story. Meryl Streep testified before Congress, and on TV talk shows, about Alar’s dangers. The public panicked: school systems removed apples from their cafeterias, supermarkets took them off their shelves, and orchard owners lost millions. The maker of Alar, Uniroyal Chemical Co., was ultimately forced to take it off the market, even though, the story goes, it posed no real health risk.
    Like most media myths, this one includes a fact or two. There was indeed an overreaction to the 60 Minutes report, as viewers confused a long-term cumulative threat with imminent danger. But Alar is a potent carcinogen, and its risks far outweigh its benefits. After extensive review, the Environmental Protection Agency decided in late 1989 to ban it because “long-term exposure to Alar poses unacceptable risks to public health.”
    Moreover, studies and reviews completed after the CBS story aired – including one by Uniroyal – confirmed the earlier ones the NRDC relied on, according to Jim Aidala, the EPA associate assistant administrator for pesticides. Alar, the trade name for daminozide, and its breakdown product during heating, UDMH, are animal and “probable human” carcinogens.
    Besides the scientific evidence, 60 Minutes has been repeatedly vindicated in the federal courts. On April 29, the Supreme Court upheld without comment an appeals court decision dismissing a $250 million class-action suit filed in 1990 against 60 Minutes by a group of Washington state apple growers, alleging the show falsely disparaged their product (Auvil v. CBS “60 Minutes”). In October 1995, the appeals court had held that “the growers have failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the falsity of the broadcast.” A year earlier the district court had dismissed the case for essentially the same reason.”

  • JustTheFacts

    Grant Daniel–
    The EWG2011 guide to the most and least pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables is set up with 12 conventionally-produced foods in the “dirty” category and 15 in the “clean” category.
    The remedy for consumers looking to eat conventional produce with the least chemical pesticide content is to purchase just the fruits and vegetables on the “clean” list: Onions, Sweet corn, Pineapples, Avocados, Asparagus, Sweet peas, Mangoes, Eggplant, Domestic cantaloupe, Kiwifruit, Cabbage, Watermelon, Sweet potatoes, Grapefruit, Mushrooms
    But for consumers looking to buy produce in ALL the categories — including the Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Imported nectarines, Imported grapes, Sweet bell peppers, Potatoes, Domestic blueberries, Lettuce and Kale/collard greens on the dirty list — the option is to buy organic.

  • Laturb

    Important report from EWG, especially if you have a mind to survive healthily into old age.

  • Heh, “Snopes” you’re not. Cute job of copy & paste cherrypicking there, “JustTheFacts” (hmmm, must be a typo – should be ‘JustTheBS’).
    The alar scare of two decades ago probably has more relevance to EWG’s contemporary fearmongering than even I realized. It became the playbook for enviro-anarchists’ preferred panic recipe: take one part spurious pseudoscience, two parts extra virgin bullcrap, fold in gullible talking heads on a popular television show, boil under the capitol dome with one vacuous celebrity. Serve piping hot to pre-frightened scientifically illiterate audiences across America.
    Here are factual recaps from 10 and 20 year anniversaries…

  • ICBM

    Nice try Mudddturdian One — The American Council on Science and Health that you cite in defense of the “goodness” of Alar actually got their start on the anti-environmentalist media circuit by criticizing the criticism of Alar — and reaping huge wads of cash from the chemical industry.
    They have since have gone on as a highly profitable front group to reap the benefits of of a wide range of corporate cash in their role of disinformation, obfuscation and deflection-by-finger pointing….
    Hmmmm…hey, Mudd is THAT who you work for?

  • Doc Mudd

    Nope, don’t work for ACSH. Never have. (Good to hear they’ve been so successful at popping your BS balloons, though!)
    I see you’re desperately keeping up the charade for your handlers over at NOFA. That’s a good pitchman, Gilman, keep flinging it against the wall, old boy. You maybe want to be a little more careful about believing your own BS, though – that’s how a lot of fanatics get themselves in a tight spot…like the organic sprout grower in Germany…and Tiny Greens Organics here in the US. Just sayin’.—sprouts-are-ki/

  • Justsoyouknow

    I find a few things about this interesting:
    1) The FDA does not consider pesticide contamination a critical hazard as “In U.S. produce unapproved pesticide residues occur infrequently and public health impact is typically not severe.”
    2) Most of the items on the ‘clean list’ are either root crops or are commonly peeled/pared prior to consumption (removing the majority of residue). But, when “most samples were washed and peeled prior to being tested” I’d say it’s fairly hard to peel lettuce, celery, strawberries, etc.
    3) Some people seem to think that eating organic is the solution, which is incorrect. They are entitled to their opinion, but it’s going to be a potentially detrimental tradeoff. If one eats organic, certain chemical residues may be avoided, but other hazards are much greater such as say escherichia coliforms 0104:H4 found in organic bean sprouts in Germany.
    All in all though, I’m hesitant to agree with the EWG on their study for some reasons beyond the peeling. Why would sweet potatoes but not regular potatoes be clean? They’re grown in more or less the same manner. And I’m not sure how canteloupes would be on the ‘clean’ list as they are somewhat porous and commonly heavily drenched in fungicides to avoid rotting in the fields.